Bisan Lecture Series – Joel Beinin – Egyptian Popular Culture in Late-Ottoman and Mandate Palestine

The next Bisan Lecture webinar will take place on Wednesday, March 8th at 7pm Palestine time (6pm Central European Time, 12 noon US Eastern time). We will have the pleasure to welcome Prof. Joel Beinin (Stanford) who will speak (in English with simultaneous Arabic translation for those who wish) on Egyptian Popular Culture in Late-Ottoman and Mandate Palestine. You can register for the event on Zoom here.

Dear Colleagues,

In her Bisan Lecture on February 8th, Prof. Juliet Floyd (Boston University) tracked the evolvement of Turing’s ideas on computation, with a particular attention to the influence exerted on him by Ludwig Wittgenstein’s lectures in Cambridge – some of which he attended himself, and of others he probably learnt from friends who did. According to Floyd, Turing wasn’t only influenced by Wittgenstein’s novel ideas regarding “forms of life” and their importance for understanding our concepts – he also influenced Wittgenstein, especially in the way the latter thought of algorithms in relation to human actions as “language game”. Traces of this influence can be clearly found in The Blue and Brown Books of 1933-4. Throughout her talk, Floyd pointed out the philosophical ideas about the nature, limits and the foundations of logic shared by Turing and Wittgenstein.

Floyd first presented briefly the evolvement of the model of computation now generally referred to as the “Turing Machine”, which proved that there cannot be a general algorithm to determine in advance what an algorithm will do on a particular input. Then she moved on to analyze and interpret what came to be known as the “Turing Test”, published by Turing as a philosophy article in 1950. Floyd dismissed readings of the Turing Test as answering questions about machines having consciousness or epistemological queries about machines masquerading as human beings. Rather, she reads it as a social experiment regarding human-to-human exchanges in the presence of machines. For Turing (as for Wittgenstein), notions such as ‘freedom’, ‘agency’ and ‘intelligence’ are inherently social, embedded in human forms of life, in everyday experiences.

In the discussion following the lecture, the questions revolved mainly around different uses of the notion of ‘intelligence’ (especially as used by computer scientists), the historical and political context of the Turing-Wittgenstein scene discussed in the lecture, and contemporary implications of Floyd’s argument regarding artificial intelligence. 

You can watch the video recording here. The lecture slides are available here.

We are pleased to announce that the next Bisan Lecture webinar will take place on Wednesday, March 8th at 7pm Palestine time (6pm Central European Time, 12 noon US Eastern time). We will have the pleasure to welcome Prof. Joel Beinin (Stanford) who will speak on

Title: Egyptian Popular Culture in Late-Ottoman and Mandate Palestine

You can register for the event on Zoom here.

Abstract: During the late Ottoman and British Mandate periods, Palestine was an integral component of the audience for the new forms of “colloquial mass culture” that emerged in Cairo as it became the cultural capital of the entire Eastern Arab (Mashreq) region. Egyptian artists featured in the new technology of audio recordings like Shaykh Salama Hijazi and Munira al-Mahdiyya, the touring theatre troupes of Naguib al-Rihani and Yusuf Wahbi and the Egyptian National Theater, and the giants of interwar Egyptian popular music – Umm Kulthum and Muhammad Abdel Wahhab – regularly appeared and were warmly received in Palestine.

However, popular Egyptian performers did not come to Palestine to affirm or reinforce its Arabism. They came because they earned substantial fees for their performances and because they had large and loyal audiences there, some of whom were Jews. And they performed in both Arab and Jewish-owned venues. The presence of Arabs and Jews at concerts or in movie theaters did not necessarily mean that they liked each other or that their families and friends approved of such associations. Neither did they dislike each other as a matter of principle.

This ambiguous legacy was manifested in the political uproar over the naming of streets in honor of Umm Kulthum and Abdel Wahhab in Jerusalem, Ramle, and Haifa in 2020. This was not an indicator of Arab-Jewish coexistence under Israeli rule as myopic leftists and centrists imagined. It was not an indication that music can overcome any political divide as self-styled apolitical musicians professed. And it was certainly not represent a conciliation with terrorism, as hysterical rightwing agitators proclaimed. It was, in the present as it was in the past, a phenomenon in which spectators and fans read themselves into the meanings of the work of artists they witnessed, heard, and most importantly, admired and enjoyed.

Biographical Sketch: Joel Beinin

Joel Beinin is the Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History and Professor of Middle East History, Emeritus at Stanford University. His research and writing focus on the social and cultural history and political economy of modern Egypt, Palestine, and Israel, and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He taught at Stanford from 1983 to 2019 with a hiatus as Director of Middle East Studies and Professor of History at the American University in Cairo from 2006 to 2008. In 2001-02 he served as president of the Middle East Studies Association of North America.

He has written or edited twelve books, most recently: A Critical Political Economy of the Modern Middle East (Stanford University Press, 2021); co-edited with Bassam Haddad and Sherene Seikaly; The Independent Left in Israel, 1967-1993: A Collection in Memory of Noam Kaminer [in Hebrew] (Mevaseret Tziyon: November Books, 2019); co-edited with Carmel Kaminer, Matan Kaminer, Smadar Nehab Kaminer, and others; Workers and Thieves: Labor Movements and Popular Uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt (Stanford University Press, 2016).

This lecture is sponsored by the Bisan Center for Research and Development, Scientists for Palestine and the Center for Palestinian Studies of Columbia University

Hoping to see many of you at this webinar, we send you our best regards.

The Bisan Lecture Series Steering Committee

Next BLS webinar

– Wednesday April 12, 2023, 7 pm Palestine time

Prof. Nergis Mavalvala (MIT)

Title: The Warped Universe: the quest to discover Einstein’s elusive gravitational waves

– Wednesday May 10, 2023, 7 pm Palestine time

Prof. Ivar Ekeland (Université Paris-Dauphine)

To receive BLS announcements, you can subscribe to the mailing list here.

BLS Statement of purpose

In concert with Scientists for Palestine and the Bisan Center for Research and Development, and in keeping with their joint commitment to full integration of Palestine in the global community of learning, the Bisan Lecture Series sponsors discourses on subjects of cultural, scientific, and societal importance by leading research experts and public intellectuals of varied heritage and viewpoint. The interactive webinars are free and open to the public, and recordings of each will be posted soon afterward.