This chapter explores the pro-uprising images that workers shared over WhatsApp and imagine. I argue that their political aesthetic is distinct from “Arab Spring artwork” displayed in regional and Western capitals – art produced by self-recognised (and institutionally-recognised) “artists.” When I talked to my informants about why they shared any given image, it was evident some idea of political “intentionality” is at the heart of aesthetic choices. We learn in this chapter that workers are not interested in pictures that (re-)present aspects of regime violence – like scenes of smashed bodies, or mutilated flesh. Rather, images set as profile pictures on WhatsApp, or passed to each other over Bluetooth, appeared to always intend to do something within the context of an emergent revolutionary commitment. They broke with the barrier of fear and asserted everyday people as a new political force. Worker artwork brashly traverses prior limits of what could be said and not said. And this was achieved not by presenting visceral images capturing of regime violence, but by superimposing a donkey’s face over the president’s head.
This chapter examines the backlash to diaspora and thinks through the attempts to ‘write out’ diasporas of colour in the Global North through discourses of ‘anti-multiculturalism’ and ‘the left-behind’/‘traditional’ working class. Through a focus on the United Kingdom, the chapter examines how ‘anti-multiculturalism’ reached its peak at a time when social distance between groups in the United Kingdom was identified as decreasing, and that the discourse of ‘the left-behind’ as a code word for ‘white working class’ emerged as the working class is increasingly made up of migrants and people of colour. The chapter devotes significant attention to examining why these two discourses have had such purchase in wider political, media and academic debates. The chapter argues that anti-immigration sentiments in the Global North are closely bound up with, if not at times used as a proxy for, showing discomfort and resentment of settled diasporas of colour in the Global North, and most importantly against their demands for equality. Worries about new migrations are closely entangled with anxieties about existing diasporas of colour. It argues that discourses of ‘anti-multiculturalism’ and ‘the left-behind’ have become convenient codes for providing an armoury for excessive and exclusive nationalism and majoritarianism, and for doing white identity politics without the need to mention colour.
This chapter discusses the limitations of conceptualising diaspora while ignoring empire, and reproducing methodologically nationalist scholarship. It recaps how and why the book has attempted to go beyond these limitations and summarises how the book seeks to change the terms of the discussion of diaspora from one of in-betweenness, of alienation, of being stuck between home and away, and of straddling and falling through gaps. Instead of these poor yet over-used metaphors for diaspora, it is argued that we need to examine how diasporas understand, talk to and negotiate with, as well as unsettle, disrupt and decolonise, the new home and the home that is left behind. In order to study these, we need to unpack the ingenious ways in which diasporic actors translate, rewrite, represent, challenge and decolonise. As such, our discussion of diaspora can uncover how diasporas not only fought against their othering, but also made significant contributions and shaped ideas about freedom, equality and human dignity in the metropole and globally – especially on issues of race. As the chapter argues, diaspora has always been inextricably connected to the global and to the decolonial, so it is high time that diaspora studies matched this. The chapter concludes by highlighting how culture wars are revived and put to work as part and parcel of the recent backlash to diaspora in the Global North.
In this concluding chapter, an anecdote is relayed about a youthful rebellion that exists as a wider metaphor for the differences between individual acts of rebellion and a greater insurrection, as related to Syria. By centralising rural-to-urban workers and the development of a rebel populist rupture, this book concludes with hopes to help pinpoint those overlapping political, economic, and even technological conditions that generate support for oppositional forces and to illustrate what is to be gained from really focusing on the mass component of emerging social movements. From France’s yellow vests to renewed civil demonstration in Lebanon, the world is now awash in unruly insurrections. These movements all have particular contextual demands, yet they appear united in some key structural features similar to what, in the Syrian context, the book labels “rebel populism.”
The final chapter examines how Syrian labourers in Beirut circulated, from the edges of the civil war, a range of “conspiracy theories” that purported to make sense of what – by 2014 – appeared a chaotic and persistently tragic series of events. Arguments ranged from accusations concerning masonic plots ushering in the end of times to the suggestion of an elaborate Shia plan to engulf the entire region. As foil to Chapter 1 and 2, this final chapter shows how the arguments men made during after-dinner conversations still, even at this late stage, attempt to retain and reinforce core populist political identities carved out during 2011’s populist rupture: al-shaʿb [the people] and al-niẓām [the regime]. But these conspiracy theories, especially when they take on sectarian logic, tidy up loose ends despite evidently complicated political splintering. I show how these popular political theories worked to constitute and extend political borders, identities, and territories from the Syrian conflict into workers’ daily lives in Lebanon. But also, how, as the revolution was lost, political theories from the 2011‒2012 period, that men once based around dignity, class, solidarity, and rural resentment, became increasingly anchored in notions of “Shia plots,” sectarian duplicity, and reified socio-religious identities. I conclude that this is an evident degeneration in political beliefs and commitments and represents a late-stage, conflict-driven mutation of rebel populism itself.
The dominant narrative of the Syrian uprising is that regime violence suppressed mass protests calling for “freedom of expression and democracy,” and that, consequently, a movement once liberal and democratic degraded into a sectarian civil war. Stepping back from a sarcastic joke from a worker dismissing the Ba’athist ideological pillars – “Unity, Liberty, Socialism” – this chapter examines transformations in Syria’s political economy. We learn that what’s being objected to here is not only the violence of the state’s repressive arm but also its abandonment of a welfare pact between the city and the countryside. The chapter examines, in turn, how the “Populist Authoritarian” Ba’ath state did enact material transformations that coalesced around its those initial headlines – “unity, freedom, and socialism.” However, we then see how, due to a series of liberalising reforms in the 1990s, deepened in the 2000s, anti-poor outcomes began to constrain the future of the men who made that joke. Thus, in a bid to understand their sarcasm that this chapter moves gradually toward the book’s central analytic framework. We learn how the Ba’ath party’s social contract snapped, lost its remaining populist credentials, and exposed workers and peasants to the increasingly unfettered capitalism. Labour migration thus shifts from a means to build a future to a mechanism of survival. The Assad government, under a global push toward market liberalisation, thereby lay its own populist powder keg.
This chapter begins with a discussion on translation and anthropology to highlight how they have been central to the construction and translation of the Global South to the Global North. The aim of the chapter is to provoke a new thinking of diaspora by turning the tables on this, and focusing on how diasporas unsettle and trouble North-centric visions and epistemologies. It argues that how diasporas decolonise must be a central aspect of diaspora theorising. Through a focus on examples of diasporas in the Global North, but especially in the United Kingdom, it explores how diasporas should not simply be seen as mediators but as agents who speak back and challenge the worldviews in the Global North, aiding foreignisation and decolonisation. It considers them as the ‘Global South in the Global North’. Diasporas also speak back and challenge worldviews in the home left behind, aiding decolonisation of the homeland at a distance. The Bristol Bus Boycott, the strike at Imperial Typewriters, the Grunswick Dispute, the mobilisations following the Grenfell Fire, the Windrush Scandal, Black Lives Matter and many others are examples of how diasporas challenge and expand understandings of freedom, equality and dignity in the metropole and globally. The book introduces concepts such as ‘radical remembering’ and ‘radical inclusion’, and posits them against ‘social inclusion’. The chapter thus shows how we can rethink diasporas and conceive of them as agents of globalisation and of decolonisation rather than mere consequences of these, as conventionally constructed.
This chapter uses the insights of translation studies and advances a variety of useful conceptual tools and heuristic devices for investigating diaspora. It discusses why diaspora should be conceptualised as translation, demonstrating that translation is a useful metaphor for understanding the movement and struggles of diasporas, and for explaining the asymmetry, frictions, retelling and relationships inherent in diasporic dialogues. More importantly, as the chapter shows, the field of translation studies provides much insight, from which we can learn, enabling us to apply and extend our understandings in diaspora studies. Just as those whose native language is not English constantly translate themselves, diasporic groups have to translate their identity struggles and battles in order to communicate, interact and be accepted. Such translations of identities, cultures and battles brought from home can be conducted via different strategies – for example, diasporas can foreignise or domesticate, erase and rewrite. The chapter unpacks the lure of translation for diaspora, and introduces concepts such as ‘diaspora as rewriting and transformation’, ‘diaspora as erasure and exclusion’ and ‘diaspora as a tension between foreignisation and domestication’. It argues that diaspora should not be seen as a halfway house, employing the often-used and tired metaphors and imagery of diaspora as being stuck between the home and the host. It should instead be conceived of as comprising agents who translate, speak back and challenge the world-views in the Global North and the home left-behind.
This book proposes a novel way of conceptualising diaspora by examining how diasporas do translation and decolonisation. It critically engages with, and goes beyond, two dominant theorisations of diaspora, which are coined ‘diaspora as an ideal-type approach’ and ‘diaspora as hybridity approach’. If diaspora is to have analytical purchase, it should illuminate a specific angle of migration or migrancy. The aspect defended in this book is how diasporas do translation and decolonisation. The book explores such issues by conceiving of diasporas as the archetypal translators, who put new identities, perspectives and ideologies into circulation. They can domesticate, rewrite, erase and foreignise. They bring disruptions and destabilisations. The book examines such processes by advancing a variety of useful conceptual tools and heuristic devices for investigating diasporas, such as ‘diaspora as rewriting and transformation’, ‘diaspora as erasure and exclusion’, ‘diaspora as a tension between foreignisation and domestication’, ‘radical inclusion’ and ‘radical remembering’, with a specific focus on and examples of diasporas in the Global North. It also provides a detailed empirical study of Kurdish diaspora in Europe and unpacks how ethno-political translations of their identity are central for the transnational battles of Kurds, including how they undo colonisation, carrying out both foreignisations and domestications in their engagements with the Global North, and exposing links between their predicament and Europe. Additionally, the book considers the backlash to diasporas of colour in the Global North through an examination of the increasing discourses of ‘anti-multiculturalism’ and ‘the left-behind’/‘traditional’ working class.
This introductory chapter sets out the main rationale of and premise for the book. It argues that diaspora is far too often understood and examined as emerging out of ethno-political struggles within nation-states, and told from the perspective of push factors. Diaspora research has become too tightly hemmed into the history, sources and understandings of the nation-state. It is often examined as a case study without necessarily informing how the case study expands or challenges existing conceptualisations of diaspora, or without reference to wider contemporary social, political and global debates and orders. This has brought limitations to diaspora research as it has severed the links between empire and diaspora on the one hand, and the transnational dimensions of diaspora research on the other. As a consequence, the spatial and temporal dimensions of diaspora research are curtailed and the potential of diaspora as an analytical tool is not always realised. The book aims to contribute to diaspora theorising by conceptualising diaspora as translation and decolonisation. It seeks to expand diaspora conceptualisations spatially and temporally by weaving translation and decolonisation into examinations of diaspora. The chapter also summarises arguments presented in all five substantive chapters of the book, and examines how they can help to expand thinking and understanding of diaspora, making it more appropriate for our global age.