Panel 2G

From Migrants to Diaspora: Middle Eastern Communities in the West

13.45 – 15.45
Chair: Gretchen Head, Yale University

“Iraqis Don’t Have Hygge”: The Uhygge Short Stories of Hassan Blasim

Annie Webster, SOAS

This paper responds to the statement that “Iraqis don’t have hygge” by exploring the ‘uhygge’ short stories of Iraqi author Hassan Blasim. An untranslatable Danish word, ‘hygge’ refers to the enjoyment of life’s simple pleasures, a sense of well-being and cosiness; its antonym ‘uhygge’ describes a scary, sinister, or shocking experience. Over the past year a wave of books has flooded the international book market with titles such as How to Hygge: The Secrets of Nordic Living (2016), promising to induct non-Nordic readers into the comfort of hygge. Yet in a recent article on hygge, the owners of Wuff & Konstali Food Shop – one of Copenhagen’s most popular hygge spots – claimed that Iraqis living in Denmark do not understand, and do not participate in, hygge.   The paper explores two short stories by Iraqi author Hassan Blasim, who now resides in Finland. ‘The Reality and the Record’ (2009) and ‘Dear Beto’ (2013) depict Iraqi characters struggling to adapt to life in Nordic countries with nightmarish consequences. The first part of the paper asserts that these short stories are uhygge in their sinister surrealism and are examples of a growing body of horror fiction by contemporary Iraqi authors, particularly those in the diaspora. The second part extends the logic of hygge as a marketable commodity in the neoliberal structures of world literature to argue that the concept of uhygge presents a disturbing challenge to the comfort and capital of hygge from the ‘uncosy’ peripheries of this model occupied by Iraqi diasporic literature.

Yemeni, Muslim, and Scouse: Patterns of Migration, Transnational Islam, and Methodological Approaches

David Harrison, University of Leeds

The Liverpool Yemeni community, despite its vibrant history, has received little academic or public attention. The present humanitarian crisis in Yemen and the Liverpool community’s response make the need for research all the more relevant. Yemenis stand in a unique position as  Liverpool’s largest Muslim community. In other areas of the UK Muslim populations are largely of South-Asian origin. The Liverpool-Yemeni community provides a glimpse into an often overlooked British-Arab-Muslim space in which multi-faceted diasporic identities are being constructed in local and transnational terms. This paper focuses on the initial stages of my research in terms of conceptual and contextual framings and therefore it is unlikely that data from fieldwork will be available. My paper will examine the historical pattern of migration from Yemen to the UK, and how UK Yemenis have, throughout, remained active in matters relating to Yemen. It also addresses concerns of the community: notably, ‘visbility’ within the UK and within wider “Muslim” communities. I argue that despite increased emphasis on ‘Islam as a global umma’ in certain sections of the Muslim community, a hybrid Liverpool-Yemeni identity takes precedence over a de-ethnicised, de-territorialised Islam. Consequently, the notion of ‘Islam as a global diaspora’ is touched upon, calling into question a ‘theory of diaspora’. Given that studies of diaspora and migration, particularly of Muslim communities, have become more abundant, this research on the Liverpool Yemeni community questions key concepts relating to diaspora and religion, bringing a new perspective to the field from a ‘city of immigrants’.

Politics and Popular Genres: New Aesthetics from the Palestinian Diaspora

Gretchen Head, Yale University

The conditions prevailing throughout much of the Palestinian diaspora have created a representational crisis whereby older narrative forms are often inadequate. This paper will suggest a potential solution to this crisis through the work of Larissa Sansour, a video artist born in East Jerusalem who was educated in the United States and now lives in London. Through an analysis of her video work Nation Estate (2012), In the Future, They Ate from the Finest Porcelain (2015), and her collaborative graphic novel The Novel of Nonal and Voval (2009), I will consider how Sansour’s imagining of what Reem Fadda has called an “active futurity” represents a new stage in Palestinian aesthetics. Although the explicit use of the term postmodern would be inappropriate, Sansour’s work shares many of postmodernism’s modes of representation as Linda Hutcheon has characterised them: historicity paired with self-reflexivity and parody, an interest in process over product, the breakdown of the boundaries between art forms and between art and life, and a reimagined relationship between the artist and her audience. Sansour’s appropriation of popular genres, from science fiction to the archetypal superhero comic, aims to be an especially salient way to subvert popular culture, bringing it into the service of political action. Yet her deliberate play with the lines separating complicity and critique risks appearing to have abandoned the political in favour of empty parodic reference. This paper will argue that the ironic speculative futures offered in her work are a critique designed to change the present.

The Palestinian Expatriates

Amira Halperin, The Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

The paper explores the political role of the Palestinian community in Europe and their links with the Palestinian community at ‘home’ – Gaza and the West bank. The research provides an insight as for the Palestinians daily life, political activism, links with the hosting states and the increasing role of the new technologies in the life of the Palestinians in the Diaspora. The new media has changed the media consumption practices of the Palestinians, as well as their global visibility – whereas in the past, the Palestinians’ state aspirations were a local story which took place in a remote area, today this story is being told to wide audiences worldwide by professional media outlets, and most importantly by the Palestinians themselves, using thousands of chats, social websites, blogs and more, for this purpose.


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