Since the beginning of the new millennium, leakers and whistle-blowers have been hailed as heroes in prompting the redress of democratic governance gone wayward. The emergence of WikiLeaks has initially reinforced the necessity to correct the role of mainstream journalists and media as the ‘fourth estate’, or as the critical watchdog holding regimes (elected or autocratic) and big business in check and keeping them from abusing power, manipulating citizens and/or consumers, and maintaining the order that best suits their interests. Social media networks as well as digital media sites have multiplied the arenas in which leaks and scandals become manifest, bearing the promise of radical transparency. In over two decades, this genre of journalism has thrived across the ideological spectrum from the extreme right to the radical left, and has transformed perceptions of the media as well as the way in which publics construct worldviews and seek, find, and interpret news.
Nowadays, scandalizing, leaking, revealing, and unveiling are used almost exclusively to produce affect, to mobilize a constituency in the denunciation of traitors, in the claiming of moral high ground, in the cancellation of an ‘other’, all in the time-space of a mousepad click. Surging like meteoric flashes, scandals dissipate as soon as they have erupted, leaving a trail that coalesces as undecipherable toxic residue in a repository of affects that cannot form the soil for a lucid, concrete, or elaborate political subjectivity. A string of leaks, scandals, and hacks cannot be the basis for resistance against the contemporary currency of fascism (racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and misogyny), the insatiable plunder of living resources, and the extreme accumulation of wealth.
‘Cultures of Scandal’ is inspired by transformations in digital culture as well as by highly polarizing crises around cultural events that surged as disruptive manifestations in the past few years in Europe and in the Arab region. What do the strategies of denouncement and mobilization aim to produce or destroy? What are they manifestations of? How do these campaigns impact practitioners and institutions, and what can they generate? Participants will reflect on practices of shaming and exposure from the 19th century to the present, examining how these practices contribute to our understanding of the canon, the archive, cultural development, and history. Engaging with contemporary examples centered around Arab politics and culture both in the region and in the diaspora, participants will also address the meaning of scandal in the context of art practices and institutional responses.
Welcome and General Introduction
Rima Mismar (AFAC)
Georges Khalil (EUME)
Rasha Salti and Tarek El-Ariss (Curators)
Panel Discussion: Affective States/Archival Records
Rana Issa and Christian Junge will explore reading practices, communities of readers, and their relationship to scandal. Stefan Tarnowski will reflect on narrativity, cinematic capture, and the experience of time confronting indifference.
Moderated by Friederike Pannewick
Rana Issa, Carnal Feasting and Literary Scandal: How Ahmad al-Shidyaq Theorized the Literary
Christian Junge, Striving for Affect: Amateur Readers and Aswany's Bestsellers on Social Media
Stefan Tarnowski, The Cunning Present: Yarmouk and the Times of Generation, Siege, and SARD
17:30–18:00 Coffee break
Little Palestine: Diary of a Siege (Lebanon/France/Qatar, 89 minutes, 2021)
Followed by Q&A with dir. Abdallah Al-Khatib
The district of Yarmouk, at the outskirts of Damascus, sheltered the largest Palestinian refugee camp in the world from 1957 to 2018. The regime of Bashar Al-Assad perceived the camp as a hideout for rebels, so the Syrian army held a siege from 2013 until the camp surrendered a few years later. Gradually deprived of food, medicine, and electricity, Yarmouk was cut off from the rest of the world. Abdallah Al-Khatib was born in Yarmouk and lived there until his expulsion by Daesh in 2015. Between 2011 and 2015, he and his friends documented the daily life of the besieged inhabitants. Hundreds of lives were irrevocably transformed by war and siege — from Abdallah’s mother, who became a nurse taking care of the elderly at the camp, to the fiercest activists, whose passion for Palestine was gradually undermined by hunger.
Leaks, Hacks, and Scandal: Arabic Culture in the Digital Age
Layal Ftouni and Tarek El-Ariss
Leaks, Hacks, and Scandals maps the changing landscape of Arabic culture in the digital age by offering conceptual frameworks for new modes of writing and circulation, and practices of exposure and dissent.
Panel Discussion: Mobilizing Shame: Outrage, Resistance, Virality
While Heather Jaber and Lina Attalah will reflect on notions of whistleblowing, mobilizing shame and outrage in digital realms and journalism, in both the European and Arab contexts, Hanan Toukan will examine why and when certain artworks become "scandalous."
Moderated by Georges Khalil
Heather Jaber, Digital bahdala as a Didactic Performance of Belonging in Lebanon
Hanan Toukan, The Scandal That Never Was: The Palestinian Key of Return and German Imaginaries of Sovereignty
Lina Attalah, What Knowing: On the Divulgent Function of Media Today
18:15–18:45 Coffee break
I Signed the Petition, dir. Mahdi Fleifel (2018, 10 minutes, Color/B&W)
Introduction by Rasha Salti
Immediately after a Palestinian man signs an online petition, he is thrown into a panic-inducing spiral of self-doubt. The short film exposes anxiety about online activism in a fraught political environment.
Kader Attia, The Deep State of Iconocide
Investigating the processes by which images lapse from the field of visibility, Attia reflects on hypervisibility as a strategy of blinding and erasing. Drawing on Algerian psychoanalyst Karima Lazali’s work around erasure, Attia will explore further how the Deep State (effectively the imperial machine) is able to perversely mobilize bureaucrats as well as citizens in erasing visual traces of crimes it has committed.
Rana Issa works at the balancing point between public humanities, activist engagements, and academic curiosity. She writes in a variety of genres and languages and has occupied leadership roles in various aspects of cultural production. She is currently writing a bilingual (Norwegian, Arabic) queer memoir on motherhood, with support from the Norwegian Union for Non-Fiction Writers and Translators, The Free Word Foundation, and AFAC. She is co-recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts award for her ongoing translation of 19th-century author, Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq’s travelogue to Europe, Tickets to London and Paris by the Remarkable Ahmad Fares. Her book The Modern Arabic Bible was published by Edinburgh University Press in 2022.
Stefan Tarnowski is an Anthropologist whose research brings together political and media anthropology, with a particular focus on the aftermaths of the 2010–11 Arab Revolutions. He completed his dissertation at Columbia University’s Department of Anthropology in April 2022, and is currently a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Cambridge.
Christian Junge is a Lecturer and Research Assistant at the Center of Near and Middle Eastern Studies at the Philipps-University Marburg. His research focuses on Modern Arabic Literature and Culture. In his first book, he explored the ‘Nahda’ as an expression of social and cultural criticism in the Arabic literature and philology of the 19th century. His current book project deals with affects and emotions in Egyptian literature from 1990 to 2020 and analyses affective fields in Egyptian society.
Friederike Pannewick is Professor for Arabic Literature at the Philipps-Universität Marburg/CNMS, and member of the board of directors at the Forum Transregionale Studien, as well as co-director of the research program ‘Europe in the Middle East—The Middle East in Europe’ (EUME). She is a member of the Executive Council in MECAM, Merian Institute for Advanced Studies in the Maghreb, Tunis. Recent (co-)edited volumes include Martyrdom and Literature: Visions of Death and Meaningful Suffering in Europe and the Middle East from Antiquity to Modernity (2004); Conflicting Narratives: War, Violence and Memory in Iraqi Culture (2012); Commitment and Beyond. Reflections on/of the Political in Arabic Literature since the 1940s (2015); Entanglements of the Maghreb. Cultural and Political Aspects of a Region in Motion (2021).
Abdallah Al-Khatib was born in 1989 in Yarmouk. He studied sociology at the University of Damascus. Before the revolution, he worked for the UN as coordinator of activities and volunteers. He created with several friends the humanitarian aid association Wataad, which carried out dozens of projects in several regions of Syria, and in particular in Yarmouk. He participated in several documentary films relating the life of the Yarmouk camp, and notably was one of the cameramen of 194. Us Children of the Camp, which premiered at Visions du Réel in 2017. The German magazine Peace Green identified him as one of the 2014 ‘peacemakers’. In Sweden, he received the Per Anger Human Rights Award in 2016. Abdallah currently lives in Germany, where he was recently granted refugee status.
Layal Ftouni is an Assistant Professor of Gender Studies and Critical Theory at the Graduate Gender Programme, and a research affiliate at the Institute of Cultural Inquiry (ICON), at Utrecht University. Layal is currently working on a new research project (2020–2024), funded by the Dutch Research Council (NWO), tentatively entitled Ecologies of Violence: Affirmations of Life at the Frontiers of Survival. Before joining Utrecht University in September 2016, Layal lectured (2013–2016) at the Centre for Media and Cultural Studies at SOAS, University of London and completed her PhD at the University of Westminster. She also co-founded the Arab Cultural Studies Group and edited (with Tarik Sabry) Arab Subcultures: Transformations in Theory and Practice (I.B.Tauris, 2017).
Tarek El-Ariss is an author, a scholar, and the James Wright Professor at Dartmouth College, where he teaches Middle Eastern Studies and Comparative Literature. Trained in philosophy, literary theory, and visual and cultural studies, his work deals with questions of displacement, modernity, and the somatic in literature and culture. He is the author of Trials of Arab Modernity: Literary Affects and the New Political (Fordham, 2013) and Leaks, Hacks, and Scandals: Arab Culture in the Digital Age (Princeton, 2019), and editor of The Arab Renaissance: A Bilingual Anthology of the Nahda (MLA, 2018). He’s the recipient of the EUME fellowship in 2012 and the ACLS in 2015. In 2021, he received a Guggenheim fellowship to complete a forthcoming book entitled, Homo Belum: An Autobiography of War.
Georges Khalil is the Managing Director and Academic Coordinator of the Forum Transregionale Studien, and of the research program Europe in the Middle East—The Middle East in Europe (EUME). He was the Coordinator of the Working Group “Modernity and Islam” (AKMI) at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin from 1998–2006. He studied History, Political Science, and Islamic Studies in Hamburg and Cairo, and European Studies at the Europa-Kolleg Hamburg. He co-edited Di/Visions. Kultur und Politik des Nahen Ostens (2009), Islamic Art and the Museum. Approaches to Art and Archeology of the Muslim World in the Twenty-First Century (2012), and Commitment and Beyond: Reflections on/of the Political in Arabic Literature since the 1940s (2015).
Heather Jaber is an Assistant Professor in residence at Northwestern University in Qatar with a joint appointment across Communication and Liberal Arts Programs. She received her PhD in communication from the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania and holds an MA in media studies from the American University of Beirut. Jaber’s research examines digital culture, affect and emotion, and transnational media. Her work examines the affects and emotions that sustain national imaginaries in the MENA region by analysing the digital performances which work to unsettle or repair them. She has published in the International Journal of Communication, Critical Studies in Media Communication, Science, Technology, & Human Values, and Kohl: A Journal for Body and Gender Research, amongst other popular reviews/venues.
Hanan Toukan is Professor of Middle East Studies. Her teaching and writings sit at the intersection of international politics, Middle East politics, postcolonial studies, visual cultures, and cultural studies. Prior to joining Bard College Berlin, Toukan was Visiting Assistant Professor of Middle East Studies at Brown University and Visiting Professor of Cultural Studies of the Middle East at Bamberg University. She has also taught at Freie Universität Berlin and SOAS, University of London in Media and Film Studies, as well as in Politics and International Studies. She is a recipient of several research awards including most recently from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation for her current research project on migration and the visual politics of museums in Europe and the Middle East. Her book The Politics of Art: Dissent and Cultural Diplomacy in Palestine Lebanon and Jordan (2021) is published with Stanford University Press. The book is based on her PhD undertaken at SOAS, University of London, which won the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) Malcolm H. Kerr Award for Best PhD in the Social Sciences in 2012. Hanan Toukan is a Fellow at the Europe in the Middle East—The Middle East in Europe (EUME) research program at the Berlin-based Forum Transregionale Studien.
Lina Attalah is co-founder and chief editor of Mada Masr, an online news organization at the forefront of investigative journalism in Egypt. She leads a team of fearless reporters who expose high-level corruption and misconduct in the midst of the country’s harsh crackdown on independent voices. Attalah is the recipient of the 2020 Knight International Journalism Award presented by the International Center for Journalists to honor outstanding journalism that has an impact. She has been the driving force behind Mada Masr since it launched in 2013. In 2017, she was recognized as a ‘New Generation Leader’ by Time magazine, which called her the ‘Muckraker of the Arab World’.
Mahdi Fleifel is a Danish-Palestinian film director. He was raised in the refugee camp Ein el-Helweh in Lebanon and later in a suburb of Helsingør in Denmark. In 2009 he graduated from the National Film and Television School at Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire. In 2010 he set up the London-based production company Nakba FilmWorks. His debut feature documentary, A World Not Ours, picked up several awards. His short film, A Man Returned, won the Silver Bear and the European Film Nomination at the Berlinale and his film, A Drowning Man, was in the Official Selection at the Cannes Film Festival 2017.
Kader Attia was born in 1970 in Dugny, France. Raised in Paris and Algeria, he studied philosophy and art at the École Supérieure des Arts Appliqués Duperré and the École nationale supérieure des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, as well as at the Escola Massana, Art and Design Centre in Barcelona, Spain. Before his studies, he spent several years in Africa and South America; today he lives and works in Berlin and Paris. For over two decades, Kader Attia has worked with the concept of ‘repair’ in his artistic practice. It allows him to investigate the dialectic between destruction and repair, in which repair is understood as a way of cultural resistance as well as a means for a society or a subject to reappropriate their history and identity. In 2016, Attia founded La Colonie in Paris’ 10th arrondissement as a space for the exchange of ideas and discussions focusing on decolonization, not only of people but also of knowledge, attitudes, and practices. Driven by the urgency of social and cultural reparation, La Colonie aims to reunite what has drifted apart or been broken. Since March 2020, the space has been closed to the public due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Rasha Salti is an independent curator of art and film.
Rima Mismar is the Executive Director of the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture (AFAC).
The Arab Fund for Arts and Culture – AFAC was established in 2007 by cultural lobbyists as an independent initiative that funds individuals and organizations in the fields of cinema, performing arts, literature, music, and visual arts while facilitating cultural exchange, research, and cooperation across the Arab world and globally. Since its inception it has become internationally and regionally recognized, working with a range of reputable institutional partners, and has issued more than 2,000 grants to date.
ICI Berlin Institute for Cultural Inquiry is an independent research institute dedicated to exploring how diverse cultures can be brought into productive, rather than pernicious, confrontation. It defines itself through projects that are designed to traverse different disciplines and stimulate theoretical and critical interventions of cultural inquiry. The Institute enacts an expansive and deliberately dissonant understanding of culture that includes cultural formations (involving categories of class, gender, sexuality, and race) as well as fields of knowledge production (science, art, economics, law, media, politics). It understands itself as a catalyst of reflection and experimentation within a larger research landscape in Berlin and beyond, frequently also as a link between scholarship, cultural work, artistic practices, and activism.
Europe in the Middle East—The Middle East in Europe (EUME) is a research program at the Berlin-based Forum Transregionale Studien. EUME seeks to rethink key concepts and premises that link and divide. It builds upon the previous work of the Working Group Modernity and Islam (1996–2006), the idea of ‘learning communities’, and the principle of ‘research with, rather than research on’. EUME invites and hosts scholars from and of the Middle East as fellows. Through its experience and practice, it offers space for open debates on processes of translation, fragmentation, and mobility of ideas and people, for rethinking questions of historical legacies, politics, society, and citizenship in times of upheaval. So far, more than 250 scholars have been EUME Fellows.