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27 The invention of citizenship in Palestine • Lauren E. Banko

27 The invention of citizenship in Palestine • Lauren E. Banko

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Lauren E. Banko

serve to construct the citizen (Haste, 2004). The present chapter is framed by the application of

Isin’s argument to the struggle of Palestinian Arabs to define their citizenship – a struggle that

‘made’ citizens as well as the vocabulary and language of citizenship before and after the 1925

Palestine Citizenship Order-in-Council. The ‘making’ of citizens is multifaceted, and in Palestine

citizenship has been historically defined and redefined by both the Arabs inside and outside of

the territory, the British mandate authorities, the Zionist Organization, international regulations,

and the state of Israel.

Throughout the era of British administration in Palestine (1918–48) varied definitions and

notions of nationality and citizenship circulated, owing to national, regional, and international

connections across colonial and new national borders, especially during the 1920s and 1930s.

At that same time, an active global civil society emerged and fostered the markers of nationality

and citizenship in the Levant as ‘transnational’ ideas and notions of rights, responsibilities, and

national sovereignty took on meaning. Using the Palestine Mandate as a case study, the current

chapter seeks to explore new and useful ways of analysing and historicizing the ‘invention’ of

nationality and citizenship in the Arab Levant from the end of the Ottoman Empire. The chapter

explores the broader implications of these processes, including the continuation of colonial

struggles over subjecthood and citizenship by Palestinian Arabs today in Israel, the Occupied

Territories, and the diaspora.The notion of Palestinian citizenship has been shaped by the current

struggles for sovereignty just as much as by the pre-1948 influences of colonialism and ideas and

movements connected to the interwar global civil society.

During the final decades of the Ottoman administration, a large number of Ottoman nationals

migrated from the Levant to colonies or newly independent nations, and particularly to Latin

America. In order to better understand the process of civic identity formation and notions

of citizenship at the turn of the twentieth century, it is essential for historians to focus on

the construction of peripheral, or colonial, transnational thought. The general diaspora from

Ottoman Syria funnelled discussions, notions, and common behaviours of civic identity and

nationality across colonial borders. A new historical focus on the process of nationality and

citizenship formation can yield a more nuanced analysis of how Arab and other civil society

leaders created a space in Palestine for the interpretation of citizenship and the rights associated

with that status before, during, and after the interwar era.

Toward a transnational discourse of citizenship

In order to more thoroughly investigate the history of nationality and citizenship as not only

discourses and behaviours but also as ideological movements, the best method to employ is that

of transnational history. Isabel Hofmeyr (Bayly et al. 2006) succinctly points out the historiographical benefits of such an approach in her argument that historical processes are constructed

in the movement of actors and networks between sites and regions rather than simply in these

places. The development of nationality and citizenship and the language associated with each –

key components in the ‘making’ of citizens – in the twentieth century colonial Levant owes a

great deal to the transnational movement of people and ideas. A transnational history allows for

the juxtaposition of the global reconfiguration of borders and the institutions of documentary

identity with the evolution of certain notions and representations of citizenship that did not

depend solely upon nation-state or colonial borders.

Furthermore, drawing on the work of Ann Stoler (2000), historians can view colonial

discourses on citizenship and nationality during the interwar period as sites of production of

European power. In Palestine, these discourses included the added element of the Jewish national

home policy. The immigration regulations in support of the Zionists’ national home plan were


The invention of citizenship in Palestine

constructed with a particular type of Jewish immigrant in mind: Great Britain and the Palestine

Administration admitted immigrants who were self-sufficient, prosperous, entrepreneurial, and

white. According to British thinking at the time, colonial subjects could not become British or

citizens of overseas colonies with full rights to citizenship unless they were culturally European

or white (Stoler, 2000, p. 27).

Citizenship and nationality in the Arab Levant are not often studied with reference to the

post-World War I imposition of the provision of state succession in accordance with the Treaty of

Lausanne, ratified in 1924 by the Allied Powers and Turkey. The treaty stated that the successor

states to the Ottoman lands could impose a new nationality on their inhabitants. After 1924,

Ottoman nationals in the former Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire became nationals of

the British and French mandated territories. At the same time as the institutions of nationality and

citizenship emerged as essential markers of documentary identity, the interwar period witnessed

a huge increase of transborder movements and displacement. Greater numbers of non-citizens

moved into and through the political borders of sovereign nation-states – including emigrants

from Palestine – and devised their own conceptual frameworks to describe their situation and

make claims to ‘rights’ (Gutierrez, 2007).

As a result of the provisions of Lausanne and the subsequent 1925 Palestine Citizenship

Order-in-Council, most Palestinian emigrants did not receive ipso facto Palestinian citizenship.

They and their supporters at home began a struggle to obtain their citizenship, fashioning their

own meanings for, and behaviours of, civic and political identity; furthermore, these native

Palestinians crafted a discussion of citizenship rights and obligations even as they remained

barred from entry into Palestine.

Fifty years before the end of the World War I, the Ottoman Law of Nationality of 1869 first

created an imperial citizenship for the entire Empire; by 1918, middle-class Arabs shaped an

active Ottoman citizenship, expressed both in the Arabic press and the burgeoning grassroots civil

society (Campos, 2011). Under mandate administration, the process of inventing Palestinian

citizenship did not come solely from ‘the state’ in the form of mandate and British imperial

legislation. Aside from Elizabeth Thompson’s Colonial citizens (2000), a study on the process

of ‘making citizens’ in the French-administered Syrian and Lebanese mandates, precious little

research has been done on the ways in which emigrants and colonial citizens interacted politically and socially outside the sphere of the government. Historians of India have demonstrated

that distinctions between public and political dimensions of Indian society not directly part of

the state allow for a nuanced understanding of nationhood and colonial citizenship – a similar

situation occurred in the Levant (Bhargava and Reifeld, 2005).

A transnational history of civil society linked to the political language of nationality, citizenship, and rights can illuminate the defining features of Palestinian citizenship during the only time

that such a citizenship existed – between 1925 and 1948. Indeed, by 1918 a growing number of

political, nationalist Palestinian Arab individuals and associations formed a nascent civil society

that explored the meaning of an Arab primordial nationality, as well as demanding to receive

certain rights and that the government undertake certain obligations associated with nation-state

citizenship. The concept and values of citizenship – or ‘nationality’ (jinsiyya) – created a greater

sense of solidarity between Arabs at home and in the diaspora in their struggle to obtain this

status. In response to the restrictions in the Palestine mandate citizenship legislation that left

Arab emigrants and their children restricted from ipso facto citizenship, civil society organizations

and leaders refused to accept the mandate’s colonial, apolitical citizenship.

The discourses of ‘rights’ in the interwar period deserves further study, especially in the context of the struggles for citizenship, rather than subjecthood, and the contradiction in the Arab

Levant between self-determination and the colonial mandates. As Thompson (2000) and others


Lauren E. Banko

have shown (Bhargava and Reifeld, 2005), as colonized groups conceive of and demand rights,

it is through the wrangling between the colonizers and civil society over such political, civil,

and social rights that notions of citizenship emerge. Although the influence of British legislation

in Palestine looms large over the civil society discourses on citizenship by the Arab inhabitants,

civil society functions ‘as the very hotbed of citizenship’, and within this framework historians

can analyse the creation of that particular citizenship (Bhargava and Reifeld, 2005, p. 71).

The sharp international delineation of former Ottoman territory from 1918 to 1924 did

not translate into sharp and sudden delineations of Arab civic identity in Palestine. Rather, the

colonial nature of the war settlements hardened nationalist notions of a common Arab nationality

and the related rights to citizenship within a federated Arab union. Younger and more radical

civil leaders and groups in Palestine ‘reworked and customized’ concepts of liberal democracy,

such as the extension of political rights to the franchise after 1918 and used these concepts to

challenge colonial definitions of citizenship (Arsan, Lewis, and Richard, 2012).

The enactment of Palestinian citizenship

The Palestinian national is an enduring figure in the historical narrative of Palestine.The British,

with the ratification of the Palestinian Citizenship Order-in-Council of 1925, failed to take into

account the Palestinians’ own understanding of nationality and belonging to a nation-state. So too

have modern historians. As a result, the figures of the citizen and the national conflicted during

the Palestine Mandate: the British colonial administrators envisioned the former as apolitical and

the Arab population in Palestine imbued the latter (in editorials, articles, and protest letters and

petitions) as a status with full political, civil, and social rights.

The colonial processes involved in the creation of Palestinian citizenship have been discussed

only from the international law perspective (Qafisheh, 2008). The colonial creation of citizenship

in the Arab world in the era of international mandates was unique, but in Palestine it was even

more so, because the terms of the Palestine Mandate forced Great Britain to create as apolitical

a citizenship as possible: the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine was the driving force for mandate policy. Colonial administrators walked a fine line in their legislation on

nationality to ensure that the future Palestinian citizenship only granted limited civil and political rights to Arabs. The Palestine Mandate Administration could not enact legislation until the

Turkish Republic signed the Treaty of Lausanne, which provided for the aforementioned provision of nationality succession. The treaty’s provisions for nationality have received scant study

in the history of identity in the Levant and in the interwar era in general. A deeper analysis of

these provisions, including their role in ideologically ‘making citizens’ is crucial to understanding

interwar citizenship in Palestine.

The Arabic terminology used to refer to citizenship in the interwar era deserves further

and broader study, as this vocabulary served to bolster the Arabs’ struggles for full and equal

citizenship. The Palestinian Arabs referred to ‘citizenship’ (muwa-tana) with a term more akin

to ‘nationality’ (jinsiyya). The reasons behind the inconsistencies are not entirely clear, but the

use of jinsiyya conveyed more of a sense of ethnic identity (qawmiyya). The phrases and terms

for nationality and citizenship are important to the changing language used to define each

status. Intellectuals in Greater Syria in the mid-nineteenth century used hubb al-watan (literally,

lover of the homeland) to refer to a sense of patriotic, active citizenship, but the reasons for

muwa-tana’s sparse use during the mandate period should be placed within a broader discourse of

citizenship in the Levant (Hourani, 1983; Al-mu’allam Boutros al-Bustani, 1981). On the other

hand, Palestine’s first Attorney General, Norman Bentwich, explained that for the Arabs, whilst

nationality was a matter of race and religion, citizenship marked a modern allegiance to a state


The invention of citizenship in Palestine

(Bentwich, 1939, p. 231). A wider study of the creation of Palestinian citizenship and citizenship

elsewhere in the interwar period must give greater attention to the subtle differences in the

language of citizenship between colonial legislators and colonial ‘citizens’. As part of a broader

study, the counter-discourses and definitions of nationality and citizenship by Arabs are central

to the historicization of identity in the Levant.

Finally, the role of emigrants in shaping notions and rights of citizenship can be further

emphasized not only in the case of Palestine but also as part of the transnational history of the

twentieth century. The Palestinian Arab diaspora, numbering between 20,000 and 30,000 by the

early 1930s and heavily concentrated in Latin America, made constant appeals from the mid1920s to the mandate authorities for their ‘right of return’ (haqq al-’awda) to Palestine as citizens

(Sawt al-Sha’b, 1927). Indeed, Palestinian citizenship was not ‘made’ only from on high, but

rather the definitions of the status from the Arabs themselves fostered a more understandable and

even rhetorical notion of civic identity and citizenship rights.

Citizenship and ‘peoplehood’ in Palestine

The globalizing scope of Palestinian citizenship can be studied in terms of an expansion of

Palestinian nationality alongside restrictions on citizenship after 1948. As Isin and Turner (2007)

argue, although globalization is assumed to create an interconnected world that places little importance on traditional citizenship, citizenship continues to be of vital importance to political institutions. For those who at present consider themselves Palestinian Arab nationals – including those

without West Bank, Gaza, or East Jerusalem residency – lack of citizenship means a lack of access

to the political rights of citizenship such as the franchise. Nationals who are stateless, including the

refugees in those Arab countries that have traditionally denied naturalization to Palestinians, have

access neither to the political, civil, or state resources of the Palestinian Authority nor to resources

of any other government as citizens. After the declaration of Israeli statehood in May 1948, the

social existence of Palestinian nationals has been accepted globally but the political and civil rights

and obligations of these nationals – dependent on a viable state – do not exist (2007, pp. 12–14).

Historians have been guilty of pigeonholing Arab nationalism as a linear process; in light of

the contentious history of Palestine and the state of Israel, Palestinian nationalism has received the

same treatment. Of course, many histories of the region and its people have not depicted such a

narrow development of nationalism, but only a very few connect nationality and citizenship with

nationalism and peoplehood in Palestinian history. At the time that the Palestine Administration,

in collusion with the British Government, shaped citizenship for Jewish and Arab inhabitants of

the mandate, Great Britain established the territorial sovereignty of Palestine. In doing so, certain

administrators rarely acknowledged that the Palestinian Arabs themselves felt they constituted a

nation in Palestine.

That idea of statehood and popular sovereignty, and its practical (although often partial)

embodiment elsewhere in the interwar decades such as in the new Turkish republic, Iraq, Egypt,

Syria, India, Iran, and Latin America, spurred local leaders and associations to recognize the

importance of a Palestinian Arab political and civic identity (Kurzman, 2008). As elsewhere in

the global South, Western Europe, and North America, national leaders and groups in Palestine

argued that the government could derive legitimacy only from the population considered to be

citizens. The struggle of Palestinian Arabs to receive recognition as political citizens of a nation –

rather than apolitical colonial citizens under a mandate – continued through the late 1940s, even

as the creation of Israel stripped them of Palestinian citizenship.

After the war for Palestine in 1948 and Israel’s victory, the Palestinian Arabs lost the only

citizenship they had ever had as Palestinians. From 1948 until the promulgation of the 1952


Lauren E. Banko

Nationality Law of Israel, Arabs in Israeli territory were deprived of any nationality or citizenship, in clear contravention of the law of state succession (Kattan, 2005). The implications of the

international nationality provisions faded with the end of World War II and the formation of the

United Nations. The changes this caused for citizenship norms and definitions have not been

properly applied to the post-1948 history of the Palestinian citizen and therefore it is unclear what

these changes mean, if indeed they are significant, for modern-day Palestinian nationals in the

Occupied Territories and in the diaspora. After 1950, Palestinians under Jordanian rule in the West

Bank became Jordanian citizens while Palestinians in the Gaza Strip received a separate citizenship

identity from that of Egyptian nationals. In the Arab states where Palestinians sought refuge, the

citizenship of their country of residence has not always been forthcoming. In the areas occupied by

Israel in 1967, Israeli military authorities issue identity cards (hawiyya) to Palestinian Arabs, but the

cards do not translate into citizenship (Khalil, 2007). Passports issued by the Palestinian Authority

(PA) are not equal to citizenship and are given only with Israeli approval (Jad, 2004).

In 1968, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) National Charter included Article 4,

which stated Palestinian identity passed by blood, jus sanguinis, and the aftermath of the expulsion in

1948 did not negate that identity or cause a loss of membership of any Palestinian in the political and

civil community. Article 5 then defined the Palestinians, for the first time officially under a Palestinian

quasi-government, as ‘those Arab nationals who, until 1947, normally resided in Palestine regardless

of whether they were evicted from it or have stayed there’.The PLO did not provide a definition of

citizenship, but the trajectory of both citizenship and nationality discourses of the mandate era can be

clearly seen in post-occupation legislation (Palestinian National Charter, 1968).

In 1995, the PA drafted an unpublished citizenship law, but because the Authority operated

under Israeli occupation, it could not regulate citizenship. Next, the third Draft Palestine

Constitution gave citizenship to any Palestinian resident of Palestine before 1948, by descent by

fathers and mothers, and, importantly, it passed indefinitely to future generations born outside

the territory. Again, the interwar discussions and practices of citizenship as they had been understood by Palestinian Arabs and civil society reappear as akin to a given in PA legislation. Further,

all those with the right of return were to have Palestinian nationality (Khalil, 2007). The latter

provision is important for the current discussion of globalized citizenship and the relationship

between sovereignty, state institutions, the lack of statehood, and nationality.

Before the November 2012 vote to recognize Palestinian statehood by the UN General

Assembly, the most recent official mention of nationality is from the Basic Law of the PA in

2003. However, the Basic Law does not define whether nationals outside the West Bank and

Gaza are to be given voting rights (Amended Basic Law, 2003). The relationship between

nationality and citizenship is a thorny and unresolved one. The practicalities of that relationship

must be fleshed out in a new ‘invention’ of Palestinian citizenship if the PA intends to build

lasting statehood institutions. For example, government policies and discourses in Israel of late

have created a consciousness that the citizenship of the Israeli Arabs is a ‘conditional privilege’

for Arab residents (Rouhana and Sultany, 2003, pp. 10–14). Their national status as Palestinians

has determined the conditional nature of their Israeli citizenship (or residency, for East Jerusalem

Arabs). In the absence of a Palestinian citizenship associated with a sovereign state, these debates

over nationality and citizenship deserve greater attention.

Toward a refashioning of Palestinian citizenship

institutions and rights

The differences in definition and practice between nationality and citizenship resonate with

the ongoing discussions on the meaning of nation-state-centred citizenship in the midst of an


The invention of citizenship in Palestine

increasingly globalized world. For Palestinian Arabs, both nationality and citizenship are necessary preconditions for enabling access to ‘state’ institutions and benefits. The debates over

how to effectively regulate citizenship in the occupied Palestinian territories make clear that

nationality and citizenship cannot be equated in status because they do not equally privilege

access to the same benefits. From the time that the League of Nations and the Allied Powers

partitioned Greater Syria and Iraq as mandated territories, the struggle of the inhabitants of

those territories to achieve the status of citizens in a liberal democracy has been waged against

British and French notions of colonial citizenship. The ramifications of that struggle are most

clear in the case of Palestine, the mandated territory that failed to achieve statehood for its

Arab population.

Still, the colonial notions of citizenship have impacted the contemporary meaning of citizenship elsewhere in the Arab Levant. Notably, many Lebanese have demanded a revision of the

country’s nationality law to allow for nationality to pass by blood in a matrilineal line as well as

paternally. In the case of Palestinian Arab legislation after 1967, controversy over paternal jus sanguinis nationality has largely been avoided. Struggles over the transfer of citizenship demonstrate

that in the Levant nationality and citizenship have been conflated to suit political situations and

colonial or nationalist intentions.

Nationality in its own right in the Levant has long been perceived as related to ethnicity,

but nationality alone cannot offer institutions and rights associated with citizenship. At the core

of citizenship inclusion in the modern state is the regulation of power. Citizenship determines

the criteria for membership in the decision-making processes of a state, and it determines who

receives the state’s assistance and benefits. In the case of an independent Palestinian state and

‘civic peoplehood’, the criteria for citizenship must be more than superficially stated in order

to give Palestinian nationals – whether refugees, citizens of Israel, or residents of the occupied

territories – clear terms for membership of that state and hence access to its decisions. But what

of the fragmentation of those who claim to be nationals? Or of the legal argument of Victor

Kattan (2005) that all Palestinians have been denationalized after 1948 and remain without

nationality because of the lack of a sovereign Palestinian state to provide nationality?

Asem Khalil (2007) notes that once a Palestinian state comes into existence, the relationship

between Palestinian nationals and Palestinian citizens must be defined. He argues that those

entitled to the power to draft a constitution and vote are the total of Palestinian nationals but

those who actually have the power to actively do this are not the same – they are instead institutions that represent citizens. Therefore, if nationality is the criterion for citizenship, it is essential

to recognize that the Palestinian national and the Palestinian citizen are not the same.

In the 1920s and 1930s, mandate legislation denied tens of thousands of Palestinian emigrants their citizenship and entry to Palestine. Their representative civil societies in the diaspora

demanded that British officials and the League of Nations give these natives the right of return.

Because of the influence of civil society and the circulation of ideas on nationality, democracy,

and national rights in the Levant, the Palestinian Arabs argued that nationality entitled them to

the rights and responsibilities of Palestinian citizenship. Since the mandate ended, Palestinian

nationality has achieved international recognition, but civil and political rights are not associated

with nationality. Although it is difficult for historians to envision a complete rejection of contemporary nation-state definitions of citizenship to a more globalized and inclusive one, we cannot

ignore that citizenship has historically been an invented, ‘made’ status, ready for manipulation by

nationalists and imperial powers alike to suit certain objectives. With that in mind, the historical

struggles for citizenship by formerly colonized peoples necessitate that the rights associated with

citizenship and nationality remain malleable in order to be reinvented in the absence of – or the

creation of – the nation-state.


Lauren E. Banko


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Orientalism and the construction

of the apolitical Buddhist subject

Ian Anthony Morrison

Numerous projects have explored the manner through which various subjectivities and practices

have been forgotten, marginalized, and/or depoliticized as a result of the dominance of orientalist conceptions of citizenship and the political. Scholars such as Talal Asad (2003), Wendy Brown

(2006), Engin Isin (2002a, 2002b, 2005), Sabah Mahmood (2005), and Bryan Turner (2003)

have conducted important studies that illustrate the way in which occidental citizenship was

historically and discursively constructed through its differentiation from its oriental other. In

doing so, these studies remind us that the construction of citizenship, while often masked in the

language of universality, is only possible on the basis of multiple relations of alterity.

Within orientalist conceptions of citizenship, the development and presence of citizenship in

the Occident is juxtaposed with its absence in the Orient.The emphasis of much of the literature

that critically engages with discourses of political orientalism has been on revealing and critically

interrogating the depiction of subjects and practices associated with Islam or Islamic societies as

non-political, and their presence in the political realm as a threat to the political. These studies

demonstrate the manner in which practices and subjects associated with Islam are not recognized

as properly political within dominant discourses of citizenship. Instead, they are viewed as either

‘merely’ religious or are disqualified from the political because of their dangerous failure to differentiate between the political and the religious. Whether deemed merely or dangerously religious, subjects and practices associated with Islam appear as the non-political other of occidental


This focus on Islam in critiques of political orientalism is understandable, given the increasing

stigmatization of Muslims within discussions of human rights, social cohesion, and security.

While it is undoubtedly true, as Said (1978) asserts, that the Orient has come increasingly to be

associated with Islam and that orientalist discourse can at times deny varieties of difference in

the oriental world through the depiction of an indistinct oriental Other, the dominant Western

discourse of citizenship is not constituted only through its differentiation from a singular oriental

subject. While all oriental subjects are designated as non-political and lacking the qualities of

citizenship, they are not all constituted as such in a like manner. In other words, within orientalist discourses of citizenship, various oriental subjects are differently constructed as lacking

the qualities necessary for citizenship through the application of a diverse set of strategies and

technologies. Consequently, to understand the manner in which political orientalism delimits


Ian Anthony Morrison

and governs political subjectivity, it is necessary to investigate the specific mechanisms through

which different subjects and practices are made to appear as the other of citizenship.

This chapter engages in such analysis through an investigation of the location of Buddhism

within discourses of political orientalism. While orientalist narratives of citizenship construct

subjects and practices associated with Islam as anti-political, those associated with Buddhism

appear as apolitical – as a turning away from the political or a rejection of politics, rather than

a potential agent of religious contamination of the political. Citizenship and non-citizenship

always emerge historically through various strategies and technologies such as affiliation, identification, dissociation, and misrecognition (Isin 2002a: 25). Therefore, in order to comprehend

and critique the manner in which orientalist discourses of citizenship delimit the possibilities of

political subjectivity, it is necessary to explore the manner in which the figures of Buddhism and

the Buddhist subject are deployed within this discourse.

Citizenship and orientalism

The most commonly cited example of political orientalism is Max Weber’s (1927) examination of

the emergence of citizenship in the Occident (Isin 2002b, 2005, 2008; Turner 2002). Weber’s

socio-historical analysis of the rise of modern Western society is exemplary of orientalist scholarship for two main reasons. First, his historical investigations of non-Western societies and religions draw heavily on the work of the major figures of orientalist scholarship of the nineteenth

century. Secondly, Weber’s studies demonstrate what Said labels a belief in ‘a sort of ontological

difference’ between East and West (Said 1978: 259–60).

In order to determine the elements that contributed to the emergence of modern occidental

society, Weber engages in extensive comparative socio-historical studies. Within these analyses,

non-Western religions and societies serve as ‘negative cases’ (Tambiah 1973: 3), the study of

which allows him to determine both the conditions that permitted the development of modern

occidental society and those that prohibited such development in the non-Western world.

In other words, Weber’s analysis of the Orient permits him to identify: a) those elements of

occidental society whose presence permitted the emergence of Western modernity and whose

absence in the Orient prohibited such development; and b) those elements of oriental society

responsible for inhibiting the development of particular features of Western modernity. Weber’s

argument was not that all conditions necessary for the development of modern society were

absent in the oriental societies. In fact, he acknowledges that some of these conditions were

often present in particular oriental religions and societies. It was only in the Occident, however,

‘that all were present and appeared regularly’ (Isin 2005: 36).

According to Weber (1927: 318), the failure of citizenship to develop in the Orient can be

attributed to a common feature of oriental societies – the absence of autonomous cities. In the

Occident, the development of the autonomous city can be traced back to the establishment of

juristic forms of fraternity in antiquity and the communes of the Middle Ages. In both instances,

a select portion of the population united under an oath obliging them to administer and protect

the city against external enemies. As such, a rational recognition of common interest, rather than

kinship, formed the basis of the bond uniting members of the group. It was on the basis of these

confraternities that in the Occident there developed a ‘way of seeing the polity as embodying

spatial and political unification’ with ‘the citizen as a secular and universal being without tribal

loyalties’ (Isin 2002b: 117).

According to Weber, such confraternity did not develop in the Orient for two main reasons.

The first of these is what Weber (1927: 321–2) refers to as the ‘water problem’. Owing to a need for

large-scale irrigation projects, a large centralized bureaucracy was required in oriental societies.


Orientalism and apolitical Buddhism

These large-scale projects necessitated and enabled the development of a centralized army with a

monopoly of force. As a consequence, the oriental city was unable to attain sufficient autonomy

from the king. The army that formed in oriental society was never the brotherhood in arms of

the city but always the army of the king (ibid.: 320–1). As a result, the development of a polis

was stifled.

A second factor cited by Weber as inhibiting the development of a common civic identity

was the persistence of magic in oriental religions. As Weber argues, in the Orient the presence

of religiously mandated barriers between groups hindered the formation of rational communities

based on common interest (Weber 1927: 322). In the occident, in contrast, ‘the magical barriers

between clans, tribes, and peoples … were … set aside’ (ibid.: 322–3). According to Weber,

the dissolution of magical bonds in the occidental city can largely be attributed to elements of

Christian theology. He points specifically to the Pentecostal miracle, in which multilingual abilities

and an evangelical mission were divinely bestowed on Jesus’s disciples (Weber 1927: 322). The

Pentecostal miracle articulated a notion of community based in a commonality of faith rather than

blood. As such, it served to undermine and permitted a transcendence of kinship associations.

Weber further articulates that Christianity’s institutional form acted as a check on the centralized power of the king. The church, as an independent hierarchical power, developed systematic

theology and practices, as well as a substantial bureaucracy. Because of its size and scope, it could

not ‘be easily uprooted and act[ed] as a check on political power’ (Turner 2002: 262). Through

both its transcendence of magical kinship bonds and its role as a check on the centralized power

of the monarch, Christianity permitted the development of civic bonds within the medieval

occidental city that, in its absence, were not possible in oriental societies.

As orientalism portrays citizenship as ‘a unique occidental invention that oriental cultures

lacked and … the citizen as a virtuous and rational being without kinship ties’ (Isin 2002b: 117),

the oriental subject always appears in opposition to this neutral, abstract citizen of the occidental

public sphere. The perceived inability of oriental subjects to wholly and authentically adopt this

persona, attributed largely to religious attachments, is an issue that prompts concern for social

cohesion within contemporary discourse. Consistent with political orientalism is the concern

with the purported inability of Muslims to wholly and authentically adopt this persona, recognize

the necessary distinction between the religious and public spheres, and behave according to the

standards of each. As Cécile Laborde (2005) articulates, this concern is related to the apparent

absence of a separation of civil and religious spheres in Islam. Islam is seen as all-embracing, a

system of belief in which, ‘everything pertains to religion’ (Laborde 2005: 321). Moreover, the

loyalty of Muslims to the democratic state is seen as compromised by an overriding allegiance

to the global Umma. Consequently, it is asserted that Muslims find it difficult, if not impossible,

to bracket their religious identity, values, obligations, and loyalties, and adopt the persona of the

universal citizen proper to the public sphere.

Not all orientalized subjects, however, are objects of such concern. Unlike the portrayal of

Islam and Islamic subjects, Buddhism and Buddhist subjects are not depicted as unable to conduct

themselves as citizens because of divided loyalties or an inability to recognize the distinction

between public and private spheres and modes of behaviour. In fact, contemporary popular

discourse remains largely silent with regard to the relationship between Buddhism and citizenship. Whereas any presence of Islam in the political sphere provokes considerable concern, if not

alarm, the presence of Buddhism in this sphere and at times the direct involvement of members

of religious orders in political uprisings have not provoked similar apprehension in the West.

The different reactions to the presence of Islam and Buddhism in the political sphere are

particularly evident in a comparison of the portrayals of, and reactions to, the uprisings of the

‘Arab Spring’ and the ‘Saffron Revolution’ in Myanmar in 2007, the Yellow- and Red-Shirt


Ian Anthony Morrison

protests in Thailand between 2008 and 2011, and widespread protests in Tibet and neighbouring

regions of China in 2008. The ‘Arab Spring’, while generally celebrated by Western governments and media as an awakening of the Arab people, has also been greeted with anxiety and

reservation. For many observers the revolutions in the Middle East and the potential for democratization are seen as fraught with danger, either because the democratic face of the revolutions

may serve to hide its ‘true’ Islamist nature or because the masses, unable or unwilling to recognize

the distinction between religious and political spheres, will hijack the fledgling democracies by

electing Islamist governments. In both senses, the fear is that, despite the stated democratic goals

of the uprisings, the Arab Spring is a potential Islamist Trojan Horse.

In contrast, despite the prominent role of members of the sangha and other Buddhist organizations in the uprisings in China, Myanmar, Thailand, and Tibet, and, at times, a framing of

these conflicts in religious terms, these uprisings were not met with fear or reservation in popular

Western discourse. To the frustration of the Burmese, Chinese, and Thai authorities, who

attempted to portray the role of Buddhist monks in these uprisings as a violation of Buddhist

principles and/or an inappropriate entry of religion into the political realm – and even, in the

case of the Tibetan uprising, as a counter-revolutionary attempt to reinstall a feudalistic theocracy – the preponderance of official and popular sentiment in the West, if not championing

these uprisings, failed to condemn them as intrusions of religion into the political realm. Rather

than appearing as a dangerous corruption of the political sphere, the presence of Buddhist

monks seems to have accorded these struggles a certain legitimacy and moral authority. In a

certain sense, the presence of Buddhist religious figures and their harsh treatment at the hands

of state authorities seem to have rendered these struggles non-political, not in the sense of being

‘merely’ or ‘dangerously’ religious, but as transcending the ‘mere’ politics of interest, elevating

them to a status of non-political, ethical struggles for justice and human rights. Thus, within

contemporary dominant Western discourse, the presence of Buddhism in the political sphere,

unlike that of Islam, has not evoked anxiety or condemnation.

Buddhism and political orientalism

The differences in the depictions of, and reactions to, the presence of Buddhism and Islam

within the political sphere can be partially attributed to the position accorded to Islam within

contemporary geopolitical events and phenomena, as well as the fact that, as Said (1978: 2–3)

suggests, the Islamic Orient is ‘the place of Europe’s greatest and richest and oldest colonies, the

source of its civilizations and languages, its cultural contestant, and one of its deepest and most

recurring images of the Other’. While this may, in part, explain the anxiety that Islam provokes,

it does not account for the aforementioned depiction of Buddhism. Moreover, merely pointing

to the anxiety induced by geopolitical events does little to discern the specific technologies and

strategies through which political orientalism constructs its non-political Others and governs the

limits of political subjectivity.

In order to understand the specific mechanisms through which the Buddhist subject is made to

appear non-political, it is necessary to examine its particular location within political orientalist

discourse. To do so, it is once again helpful to return to an examination of Weber’s sociohistorical analysis. In his analysis of Buddhism in The Religion of India (1917), Weber indirectly

discusses the inability of Buddhist societies to establish either confraternity or independent cities.

However, he attributes this failure to neither the persistence of magical kinship bonds nor the

‘water problem’. Rather, Weber ascribes the absence of confraternity to a dearth of sentiments of

neighbourly love or brotherliness in Buddhist doctrine, and the failure to establish independent

cities to Buddhism’s association with monarchical patrimonialism. Through an analysis of these


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27 The invention of citizenship in Palestine • Lauren E. Banko

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