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27 The invention of citizenship in Palestine • Lauren E. Banko
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
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.
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Amended Basic Law (2003). Ramallah, 18 March 2003.
Arsan, A., Lewis, S., and Richard, A. I. (eds.) (2012). ‘Editorial: the roots of global civil society and the
interwar movement’, Journal of Global History, 7: 157–65.
Bayly, C. A., Beckert, S., Connelly, M., Hofmeyr, I., Kozol, W., and Seed, P. (2006). ‘AHR Conversation:
on transnational history’, American Historical Review, 111 (5): 1441–64.
Bentwich, N. (1939). ‘Palestine nationality and the mandate’, Journal of Comparative Legislation and International
Law, 21, Third Series: 230–2.
Bhargava, R. and Reifeld, H. (eds.) (2005). Civil society, public sphere and citizenship: dialogues and perceptions,
Campos, M.U. (2011). Ottoman brothers: Muslims, Christians and Jews in early twentieth-century Palestine, Stanford,
CA: Stanford University Press.
Frevert, U. (2005). ‘Civil society in Western democracies: historical developments and recent challenges’,
in R. Bhargava and H. Reifeld (eds.) Civil society, public sphere and citizenship: dialogues and perceptions,
London: Sage: 59–83.
Gutierrez, D. G. (2007). ‘The politics of interstices: reflections on citizenship and non-citizenship at the
turn of the twentieth century’, Race/Ethnicity: Multidisciplinary Global Contexts, 1: 89–120.
Haste, H. (2004). ‘Constructing the citizen’, Political Psychology, 25: 413–39.
Hourani, A. (1983). Arabic thought in the liberal age 1798–1939, Cambridge: University Press.
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(eds.) Challenges to citizenship in a globalizing world: European questions and Turkish experiences, London:
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London: Zed Books: 15–43.
Isin, E. F. and Turner, B. S. (2007). ‘Investigating citizenship: an agenda for citizenship studies’, Citizenship
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Harvard University Press.
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in Palestine under Britain’s rule, Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff.
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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
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