Constructing Palestinian/Arab Nationalism in Exile: An Exploratory Study of Cartoonist N?ji? al-‘Ali?’s Cartoons

By Sadam Issa
Submitted to Session P3565 (The Mixed Media of Representation, 2013 Annual Meeting
Art/Art Hist
Middle East/Near East Studies;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
The purpose of this study is to show how the cartoons of the Palestinian diasporic artist N?ji? al-‘Ali? constructs and maintains a sense of national identity in exile. The chapter draws on some of his anthologized cartoons published in the 1970s and 1980s by cartoon anthologies. My analysis relies on Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Community, John C. Turner’s theory of self- categorization, and Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe’s theory of antagonism in the construction of the “US” and the Other.” I argue that al-‘Ali?’s political cartoons provide a discourse that articulates the Palestinian “imagined community” in national term from the historical position of exile. Such an articulation provides fields for identifications among Palestinians whether internally displaced or in the diaspora. al-‘Ali?’s cartoons produce antagonisms to give rise to the Palestinian “imagined community.” I base this argument on the assumption that we cannot fully understand how the Palestinian national identity is shaped without looking at the work of artists in exile. Understanding the Palestinian national identity necessitates focusing not only on the wars inflicted on the internally displaced Palestinians, otherwise and ironically referred to as the “inside” (Felis?iniyo al-D?khil), but also the wars inflicted on the refugees (Filis?iniyo al-Shat?t). The model of long-distance nationalism I am setting out applies to refugees.
Benedict Anderson’s Long-Distance Nationalism describes the contribution of political figures in their nation building. Anderson’s “The New World Disorder” provided an example that explicates the nature of this type of nationalism. He said that the survival of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) is possible “not only because of its national appeal and its ruthless methods, but because it has gained political and financial support in the United States and inside England, weapons on the international arms market, and training and intelligence from Libya and in the Near East” (13). I will follow a different approach in this study by focusing on “ordinary individuals” (Birgit Bock-Luna, The Past in Exile 20), such as al-‘Ali?.
The study reveals that the Palestinian identity is constructed through deploying folkloric and national symbols such as the K?fiyyah, and the key, and through portraying the Palestinian nation as a woman. Deploying these symbols aims at raising the consciousness among the Palestinian community, and then invokes a communal response: National resistance. The surveyed cartoons also deploy some Palestinian cultural repertoire in creating fantasies about a threat to the nation (i.e. Israel as a rapist of the Palestinian nation).