[R6396] The Cultural Cold/Hot War in the Arab World

Created by Adey Almohsen
Wednesday, 12/01/21 11:30 am


In the politically fraught context of the early Cold War (1940s–70s), art, poetry, literature,
criticism, design and print cultures constituted sites of hegemonic struggle by which the US countered
Soviet and Maoist communist visions with its own capitalist model of democracy and liberal conception
of individual freedom, thus structuring what scholars have identified as a ‘Cold War Modernism’
(Barnhisel 2015; Crowley and Pavitt 2008). US cultural campaigns during the Cold War have received
apposite interdisciplinary attention and have been gaining traction among scholars of the Middle East.
In the Arab world in particular, the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF)—a covert CIA global
operation and one of the most important and long-standing US campaigns during the Cold War—
subsidized Arabic bulletins and hosted a number of cultural events (Holt 2017). The CCF also financed
key modernist poets such as Badr Shakir al-Sayyab (1926–64) (Colla 2015) and eventually consolidated
its patronage of a particularly liberal circuit of modernism through the infamous Arabic cultural journal
Ḥiwar (Dialog 1962–67) edited by Tawfiq Sayigh (1923–71) (Holt 2013; Maasri 2020). On the publishing
front, the Franklin Book Programs (FBP) operated branches in Beirut, Cairo, and Tehran with the stated
aim of advancing publication practices and industries in the global south (Haddadian-Moghaddam
2016). Despite its laudable efforts, the FBP was not a neutral organization with ties to the United States
Information Agency (USIA) and, to a lesser extent, the CIA. The USIA also funded art residencies of
select US modernists, such as that of the abstract painter John Ferren in Lebanon 1963–4 (Rogers 2011).
Such cultural campaigns proceeded in conjunction with US military, economic, and
intelligence operations in the region and in the heat of anticolonial national liberation struggles, not
least a mounting Arab-Israeli conflict. This tense historical conjuncture has embroiled Arab individuals
with ‘imperialist funding’—often tarnishing them with the brush of treason—and complicates still how
we might study today Arab configurations of so-called ‘Cold War Modernism’ and US cultural
interventions. This roundtable aims to open-up this debate.


Art/Art Hist; Hist; Intl Rltns/Aff; Lit; Art/Art Hist; Hist; Intl Rltns/Aff; Lit; Art/Art Hist; Hist; Intl Rltns/Aff; Lit



Sarah Rogers

(Middlebury College)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Elizabeth Holt

(Bard College)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Robyn Creswell

(Yale University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Zeina Maasri

(University of Brighton)
Panel Participating Role(s): Organizer; Presenter;

Adey Almohsen

(Grinnell College)
I study the social and material history of ideas, print culture, and critical thought in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) from the early nineteenth century to the present. My research and teaching interests include: modern MENA history, politics,...
Panel Participating Role(s): Chair; Organizer; Presenter;