Mission

In a modern Near East consumed by excesses of uniformity and order, diversity and multiple identities are often seen as perverse, inauthentic, and divisive.  Thus the term "Levant," traditionally used in reference to lands around the Eastern shores of Mediterranean, often distinguished from strictly “Arab” and “Muslim” lands, has come to carry a number of negative stigmas.  British historian Albert Hourani wrote that “being a Levantine,” meant living
 
… in two worlds or more at once, without belonging to either; it is to be able to go through all the external forms which indicate the possession of a certain nationality, religion, or culture, without actually possessing any.  It is no longer to have one standard of values of one’s own; it is to not be able to create but only to imitate; and so not even to imitate correctly, since that also requires a certain level of originality.  [In sum, being a Levantine] is to belong to no community and to possess nothing of one’s own; it reveals itself in lostness, pretentiousness, cynicism and despair.[1]
 
But the peoples of the Levant viewed things differently.  To them Hourani’s pejorative “not belonging … and not possessing things of one’s own” meant exactly the opposite; it meant being at home with everything, and being at one with everyone—all the time and all at once.  Indeed, most Levantines saw themselves as sophisticated, urbane, cosmopolitan mongrels, intimately acquainted with multiple cultures, skillfully wielding multiple languages, and elegantly straddling multiple traditions, identities, and civilizations.  They deemed their Near East a crossroads and a meeting-place where peoples and times blended without dissolving each other, and where languages, histories, ethnicities, and religions fused without getting confused.[2] 
 
Amin Maalouf, one of the most articulate cantors of this chameleon-like Near East, described his Levantine exemplar as one who would not be pinned down to narrowness of name, language, ethnicity, or religion.  The narrator of one of his historical novels, Leo Africanus, described himself as follows:
 
I, Hassan, the son of Muhammad the scale-master; I, Jean-Léon de Mediçi, circumcised at the hands of a barber and baptized at the hands of a pope, I am now called the African, but I am not from Africa, nor from Europe, nor from Arabia.  […] I come from no country, from no city, from no tribe.  […] From my mouth you will hear Arabic, Turkish, Castilian, Berber, Hebrew, Latin, and Italian vulgari, because all tongues and all prayers belong to me.  But I belong to none.[3]
 
Endorsing this same fluid, expansive identity model during the early decades of the twentieth century, Lebanese intellectual Antun Saadé (1904-1949) depicted the Levantines as
 
the fountainhead of Mediterranean culture and the custodians of the civilization of that Sea, [… A Sea] whose roads were traversed by [Levantine] ships, and to whose distant shores [the Levantines] carried [their] culture, inventions, and discoveries.[4]
 
More recently, in an impassioned indictment of the nationalist rigidity and cultural authoritarianism that have plagued the Near East of the past century, Syrian thinker Adonis (b. 1930) expressed hope in the restitution, rehabilitation, and valorization of the Levant’s millenarian multicultural traditions.  “I have no doubt in my mind,” he wrote,
 
That the lands that conceived of and spread mankind’s first Alphabet, the lands that bequeathed and taught the world the principles of intellectual intercourse and dialogue with “the other,” the lands that bore witness to processions of the world’s loftiest civilizations, from Sumerians to Babylonians, and from Egyptians to Phoenicians and Romans; these lands that spawned monotheism, humanism, and the belief in a single compassionate deity; these fertile and bountiful lands, I say most confidently, will no doubt shake off […] nationalist intransigence and immobilism, and will hurtle skyward toward modernity and progress.[5]
 
The Levantine Review is a peer-reviewed interdisciplinary Open Access Electronic Journal that aims to reflect on this hybrid Levantine Near East.  As Boston College’s flagship Middle East Studies journal, published twice a year by the Department of Slavic and Eastern Languages and Literatures, the Review is dedicated to a critical study of the Levant and its surrounding Mediterranean bailiwick, aiming to restitute the term “Levant” as a valid historical, geographic, political, linguistic, and cultural concept, and reclaim it as a positive and legitimate parameter of identity.  The journal proposes a study of the Near East from a broad, diverse, and inclusive purview, with the hope of bringing into focus the larger conceptual, geographic, social, linguistic, and cultural settings of the region.  In line with its commitment to an “ecumenical” approach, The Levantine Review welcomes new research in a variety Near Eastern Studies sub-fields and disciplines—examining narratives, histories, cultures, and intellectual traditions often overlooked in traditional scholarship.  The journal will deal with the Levant and the Mediterranean from the perspective of Middle Eastern Studies, History, Political Science, Religion, Philology, Anthropology, Linguistics, Literature, Security Studies, Women Studies, and other disciplines of the humanities and social science.  The Levantine Review’s aim is to advance an inclusive, deep understanding of the Near East, and cast a broad look at the region beyond soothing familiar settings, and prevalent dominant models.


[1] Albert Hourani.  Syria and Lebanon: A Political Essay (London: Oxford University Press, 1946), 70-71.  
[2] Michel Chiha, Le Liban d’Aujourd’hui (1942), (Beyrouth: Editions du Trident, 1961), 49-52.
[3] Amin Malouf, Léon l’Africain, (Paris: Livres de poche, 1987), 2.
[4] Labib Zuwiya Yamak, The Syrian Social nationalist Party (Cambridge, MA: The Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University, 1966), 89.
[5] Adonis, Al-Kitaab, al-Khitaab, al-Hijaab [Book, Discourse, Hijab], (Beirut, Lebanon: Dar al-Aadaab, 2009), 65-66.


ISSN: 2164-6678