The politics of Arabic script [article]

Genna Burrows, University, The Australian National, University, The Australian National
2016
This thesis explores the politics of Arabic script. Across multiple time periods and geographies, I open up the ways in which the Arabic alphabet has been politicised and strategically deployed in cultural debates. Focussing on the cultural dimensions of Arabic - the idea and visual form of script - I investigate how persistent, historical discourses have come to shape the way Arabic has been understood and used to effect complex political outcomes for individuals, communities, and nations. I
more » ... tuate the core of this thesis in the context of contemporary politics – in terror, war, and security – and argue that the ways in which individuals come to 'know' the alphabet are often racially coded and can work to reinforce systematic discrimination. While scholarship has begun to open up the field of 'alphabet politics', the political role of Arabic had not yet been comprehensively explored. My question therefore required that I build a conceptual foundation – a way of understanding the political work of Arabic script – as well as identifying how the script has contributed to certain social and political environments. Moving between past and present, I demonstrate that the Arabic script has been consistently used to articulate social threats and exclude unwanted identities. In this role, the Arabic script has been used to draw the line between the civilised West and the barbaric East, to inflame fears about immigration, and bolster orientalist discourses. Perhaps most critical of all, the script itself has come to act as a sign of terror. However, the construction of threat is only one aspect of Arabic politics. This thesis also examines the ways in which the script has been used as a powerful tool of art and revolution, particularly in events such as the Arab Spring. To this end, I explore the way in which aesthetic forms of Arabic script have been taken up to challenge totalitarian regimes, define community identities, and produce resistant, urban space. Here, I focus on disciplines such as Arabic calligraphy, digita [...]
doi:10.25911/5d76351c5336a fatcat:75jp4gz5dbdhxbjibs7hgkna2a