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PREMIERE PARTIE : DOSSIER THEMATIQUE

The Great Arab Revolt, Palestine and a Phoenicianist Civilizing Mission: Transregional Debates in the Mexican Mahjar Press

La Grande Révolte Arabe, Palestine et une mission civilisatrice phénicianiste : débats transrégionaux dans la presse du Mahjar mexicain
الثورة العربية الكبرى، فلسطين ومهمّة تحضيرية فينيقية المنحى: نقاشات عبر-إقليمية في صحافة المهجر المكسيكي
Camila Pastor de Maria Campos
p. 85-114

Résumés

Après un bref aperçu du développement de la presse du Mahjar mexicain au cours des trois premières décennies du xxe siècle, cet article traite de deux débats cruciaux dans la sphère publique transrégionale des migrants dans les années 1930 et 1940. Le premier porte sur la mobilisation diasporique autour de la Grande Révolte Arabe en Palestine sous mandat britannique (1936-1938). La crise politique et sociale que la révolte mit en scène dans le Machrek déclencha une effervescence médiatique dans le Mahjar mexicain qui aboutit à un changement qualitatif dans la représentation. La Palestine était radicalement transformée. Initialement présentée comme un espace de loisirs caractérisé par ses beautés naturelles et le pèlerinage chrétien en Terre sainte, elle devint le cœur de débats passionnés autour de « la question palestinienne » et de sa géographie morale. Dans ce processus, les modes de représentation des populations juives changèrent également. Elles cessèrent d'être appréhendées au prisme d'une histoire ottomane de coexistence des traditions religieuses dans le Machrek et furent resignifiées comme un peuple homogène, vecteur du projet impérialiste du sionisme européen. La couverture de la révolte ne suscita aucun écho dans la presse nationale mexicaine, ni au sein de la notabilité issue de la migration maronite et adepte des idéologies phénicianistes. Le débat a échoué dans l'effort d'engager le Mahjar mexicain sur les « futurs arabes » palestiniens, sauf peut-être sur le mode du spectacle. En revanche, dans le climat économiquement difficile et politiquement appauvri qui suivit la Grande Dépression, un deuxième débat crucial, qui dura une dizaine d’année, fut engagé entre la communauté migrante et des idéologues mexicains du mestizaje. Il porta sur la question de la désirabilité des Machrekis en tant que résidents permanents du Mexique et sur les limites de leur intégration dans la nation métisse. Les notables mobilisèrent les récits modernistes de la Nahda pour s'approprier l'ancienne colonisation phénicienne de la Méditerranée, désignant ainsi les migrants arabes au Mexique comme partenaires des élites locales d'origine espagnole (criollo) dans un effort civilisateur commun portant sur les populations mestizas et amérindiennes.

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1Migrant produced press was a crucial locus for debate in the Mexican Mahjar, tying those locally settled or in transit into broader audiences spanning Mahjars and Mashriq. The production of a range of periodicals first in Arabic and later in bilingual and Spanish language formats is indicative of the diversity of resources migrants mobilized. The early presence of a migrant intelligentsia literate in several scripts and languages is symptomatic not only of socioeconomic and educational diversity, but also of the processes encouraging intense migration out of the Mashriq in the final decades of the nineteenth century. These included the emergence of an educated middle class with transatlantic connections and imaginaries through the multiplication of French and American missionary and Ottoman educational institutions, the economic and political reforms of Ottoman modernity, and the progressive closure of the public sphere with the failure of constitutionalism and Abdelhamid’s return to absolutism after 1878. Mexican Mahjar periodical production changed profoundly with the transition from Ottoman administration (1878-1914), when periodicals were ephemeral, funded by migrant notables as outlets for particular political projects, to the French Mandate moment (1920-1946).

2Transnationalism as methodological and theoretical strategy affords recognition of the fact that migrants’ imaginaries and decisions do not necessarily conform to nation-state’s expectations of a single one-directional transit. Mobile Mashriqis across the American Mahjars often remained intensely mobile, and over a third eventually returned to settle in the Mashriq. Focusing mobility through a transnational lens allows scholars to think beyond the metaphor of diaspora, affording alternatives to the national histories of migrant reception that dominated the ethnography and historiography of migratory processes for decades. My work centers mobile subjects, their multiple experiences of mobility and the choices open to them as they wove trajectories across various jurisdictions and administrative frameworks. Rather than imagine migrant efforts as moves on the checkered horizons of identity politics or attempts at achieving what particular normative national projects demanded as assimilation, I trace their divergent investments and identifications as they crafted networks and defined the terms of their participation in colonial and postcolonial formations not of their own making.

3As analytic perspectives, transnationalism and transregionalism also allow us to explore the plurality, fragmentation and hierarchization of the public sphere (Fraser, 1990) generated by mobile subjects. The migrant press was an outgrowth of the literary and journalistic movements developing in the Mashriq during the second half of the 19th century, the Nahda or Arab Renaissance (Dakhli, 2009; Pastor, 2017). Some of the most prominent journalists active in Mexico had a Mashriqi formal education, for example José Helu, who arrived with his wife in 1898. Others, like José Musalem, studied locally, in his case in Oaxaca. The Mahjar press however developed a transnational public sphere, with the active participation of migrant journalists, both professional and amateur, from across the American Mahjars. Periodical publications often reproduced articles that had appeared in other magazines or journals. Among those favored for reproduction in Mexico were articles originally published in New York City’s Al-Hoda [The Guidance, published 1898-1972], which was widely read across the Americas. Journalists circulated across Mahjars along with their products, as a 1937 note titled “Social events of the month in the colony” published in El Emir, printed monthly from 1937-1968 in Mexico City by its head editor Alfonso Negib Aued, portrays:

  • 1 El Emir, no. 1, México DF, June 1937, p. 24.

The Lebanese Social Club, established by a group of lively young ladies of our colony, on this past April 17th offered, in the elegant venue of the restaurant Swastica, a ball in honor of M. Saloum Mokarzel, distinguished journalist, director of the daily al Hoda edited in New York.1

4The Mexican Mahjar press articulated global issues, Mashriq debates and questions emerging in transnational Mahjar perspective as well as the immediate context in which it developed: that of the evolution of the press in Mexico towards the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century.

5After providing a brief overview of the development of the migrant press in the first three decades of the 20th century, this paper will address two crucial debates in the Mexican Mahjar press of the 1930’s and 40’s. The first was punctual and fraught. It took the form of a chronicle of diasporic mobilization around the Great Arab Revolt in British Palestine (1936-1938). Following key figures touring the Hispanophone American Mahjars rallying support for the rebels, the chronicles make up a peculiar narrative, a cry in the desert so to speak. I argue that the political and social crisis that the 1936-1939 Palestinian Revolt articulated in the Mashriq triggered a storm of press coverage in the Mexican Mahjar which effected a qualitative transformation of representation. Palestine was radically transformed. Initially described as a geography for recreation characterized by natural beauty and Christian pilgrimage to the Holy Land, it became the axis of a heated debate around ‘the Palestine question’ and its moral geography. In this process, ways of representing Jewish populations also changed. They ceased to be understood through the Ottoman history of coexistence of multiple religious traditions in the Mashriq, resignified as a homogeneous people, vector of the imperialist project of European Zionism. Coverage of the Revolt elicited no echo from the mainstream Mexican press or interlocution from the Maronite Phoenicianist migrant notability. Though El Emir’s editor in chief, Alfonso Aued, presented an impassioned plea for increasingly besieged Palestinians, he failed to engage the Mexican Mahjar with such ‘Arab futures’ except perhaps in the modality of spectacle.

6In the economically difficult and politically impoverished climate in the wake of the Great Depression, the second key debate was a decade-long conversation across the migrant community and Mexican ideologues of mestizaje, as the foundational whitening racial project (Moreno Figueroa, 2020) of the postrevolutionary state, about the desirability, or not, of Mashriqis as permanent residents of Mexico and the limits to their integration into the mestizo nation. The debate, most intensely visible in El Emir, invoked and even cited pamphlets and press articles produced in the Spanish language Mexican mainstream press. For Mahjaris, the debate hinged on their appropriation of ancient Phoenician colonization of the Mediterranean, defining the Nahda as a Maronite civilizing mission which afforded situating Arab migrants in Mexico as partners to local Spanish descent (criollo) elites in a common civilizing effort over mestizos and Amerindian populations.

From Enlightenment and popular presses to the industrial press

7Though periodical publications developed in the New Spain since the mid sixteenth century, diversifying with the eighteenth-century circulation of Enlightenment debates, they only emerged as a widely popular form in the second half of the 19th century. A multitude of actors turned to the press as a site affording the cultivation of communities, a forum for public debate incorporating local issues as well as international news. The use of the press as a space for debate came to index modernity, demonstrating a population’s competence in engaging public space – bourgeois space by definition. Press production in Mexico after independence in 1821 was subject to the power struggles between conservative and liberal elites that infused 19th century politics in Latin America. The Lares Law, for example, decreed in 1853, inscribed the most restrictive conditions. It was supported by conservatives, who were often monarchists and refused the concept of an autonomous citizenry with the freedom to openly criticize those in power. It was also championed by the Church, whose functionaries saw in such freedom the loosening of their surveillance over Catholic consciences and the spread of the dangerous ideas of the French Revolution to former Spanish colonies. For these very reasons, freedom of expression and of the press were banners of the liberal cause, which deliberately sought to exceed the limits to discourse approved by the Crown and Church. When liberals regained control of national politics in Mexico in 1861, they restored the 1857 Constitution which stipulated freedom of expression, and established the Organic Law of Freedom of the Press or Press Law. Also known as the Zarco Law, it instituted trial by jury for press crimes, eliminating preventive censure, confiscation of production and the easy jailing of journalists (Toussaint, 2006).

8The Zarco Law was modified in 1882 by Porfirio Diaz, the president in power from 1875-1910, affording the state an iron hand over periodical production (Toussaint, 2006). In 1888, Rafael Reyes Espíndola founded the daily El Universal, which became the official publication of the Porfirian administration. Numerous periodical publications established by foreigners residing in Mexico played a crucial political role in the late 19th century, expressing unfailing support for the president’s continued re-elections. Among them in 1888 were the Pabellón Español, which advertised itself as a ‘journal exclusively dedicated to the defense of Spanish interests’; the Trait d’Union, The Mexican Financier, Voz de España, and the magazine Revista Latino-Americana (Ruiz Castañeda, 1973: 215-217). It was not until after the 1910 Revolution and the new Mexican Constitution of 1917 that freedom of the press was again guaranteed.

9In spite of Porfirian control over workers’ organizations and the repression of opposition literature, workers movements generated a diverse and active press landscape as of the mid-19th century. Characterized by contending ideological and political projects, it spoke in tandem in the voices of mine, textile and tobacco workers, artisans and peasants. It began with the press of guild associations and then communist, socialist and anarchist newspapers denounced the interests of foreign capital and the land question. A conciliating press spoke in the name of mutual aid associations, sponsored by the Porfirian regime as antidotes to socialism and communism. These defended education and moral cultivation as solutions to workers’ conditions, condemning idleness and vagrancy. As the social movements that would eventually converge in the Mexican Revolution grew strong during the early years of the 20th century, a rising tide of opposition press overtook the worker’s press. This new independent press, liberal and revolutionary, whose contributors and editors were systematically persecuted and often exiled, was produced the length and width of the country and sometimes also from the safe haven of border towns like San Antonio, Texas, or Los Angeles, California. The revolution interrupted and co-opted the workers’ movement, and its press was reduced to the publications of the large workers unions (García Cantu in Bringas, 1988: 27-28).

10The press in Mexico evolved towards a new journalism model during the first decades of the twentieth century. In 1916, in the midst of revolutionary uncertainty, Felix Palavincini established a new daily, also called El Universal. It incorporated the trappings of modern journalism with a strong North American imprint, adopting new formats and discourses of news reporting that were slowly becoming hegemonic. El Excelsior, founded by Rafael Alducin in 1917, modelled itself on the Times of New York, competing with El Universal. Both were established following an industrial model, included English language pages and campaigned for the Allies during both world wars (Reed Torres in Ruiz Castañeda, 1973: 262). By December 1940, when the General Headquarters for Information were established as a division of the Ministry of the Interior, the number of periodical publications registered with the Mexican Postal and Telegraphs Office was 1,093, of which 426 were produced in Mexico City.

Ottoman Mexican Periodicals

11Arabic language and bilingual Arabic-Spanish periodicals multiplied in Mexico City in the first decade of the twentieth century, nearly thirty years into the establishment of the migratory circuit. Mashriqi press was less visible in Mexican public space than the periodical publications established in Euroamerican languages and scripts by other colonies of foreigners residing in Mexico. The migrant press was not supported by a state and did not share the production circuit of the new press industry. Its producers were rarely professional journalists; even those who had professional training in journalism usually made their living through other means. In fact, the Mexican Mahjar press might be best contextualized through the mutualist project which infused other early community institutions: the first associations established by migrants catered to communal solidarities, operating as shared savings funds for emergency redistribution and called themselves mutual aid societies.

  • 2 Special thanks for conversation and guidance on the press to my colleague Antonio Saborit. The circ (...)
  • 3 El Emir, no. 11, p. 9.
  • 4 For a partially digitalized archive of Al-Hoda and a brief description of its production see the Mo (...)
  • 5 El Emir, no. 13, June 1938, p. 9.

12During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, both criollo Enlightenment and popular press in Mexico had been characterized by extraordinary diversity, partly because publications were produced by social and political movements and shared their ephemeral trajectories. Periodical publications often openly declared the defense or diffusion of particular political projects.2 This trend also characterized the early Mahjar press in Mexico. Juan Beshara, early Mexican Mahjar editor, produced a chronicle of its first decades. Initially published in Arabic in his periodical Al-Ghurbal [The Sieve], his History of the Arabic Press in Mexico was later translated into Spanish and serialized in the magazine El Emir. Aued, El Emir’s editor, noted “The history of our press in Mexico is the history of our cultural flourishing and our material progress, and reflects, in turn, our social standing”.3 Since Beshara had been one of the core protagonists of the process, his account constitutes a sort of autobiography of the migrant press and is sprinkled with intimate commentary on how the development of the press reflected community fissions. Al-Sharq [The East], initially owned by Yusuf Karam and later by Abraham Bechalani and Alejandro Gabriel, started out as a bilingual Arabic-Spanish monthly publication in 1905, only a few years after Nahum Moukarzel founded Al Hoda in Philadelphia.4 The project was a success and it soon appeared every two weeks and then daily. About Saut Al-Meksik [The Voice of Mexico] we know through Beshara that “Because of a controversy in the colony regarding the construction of a church, a new periodical appeared called “Sudal Maxik”, Eco de México” in 1906.5 Born of controversy, it went on to a long life however, continuously published until 1940.

  • 6 El Emir, no. 13, p. 15.

13Beshara noted that powerful cliques with political agendas were a source of patronage for journalists. Power rings commissioned publications to commemorate and inflect political events, for example when: “Influential people of the capital invited M. José Saleh Helu to put out a newspaper in Arabic. ‘Al Jawater’ was then founded… the first issue appeared… in 1908 to honor the date of the promulgation of the Ottoman Constitution.”6 José Helu’s Al-Khawatir [Thoughts] thus began as an Arabic language biweekly, becoming a daily, later appearing as bilingual in Arabic and Spanish in 1909. Beshara lamented that some short-lived periodicals were associated with competing political projects:

  • 7 El Emir, no. 13, p. 17.

In spite of this, there was a fracture in the Colony, because of the creation of an Ottoman consulate, having as official candidate Nasib Bey Kuri, which didn’t please some who instead championed the Mexican politician and banker Don Francisco Pimentel y Fagoaga, Director of the Central Bank. Of this controversy several newspapers were born, divided into two camps, each supporting the politics of the party that created it.7

14Al-Kadaa [The Decision] was created in 1909 to promote Nasib Bey Kuri’s candidacy for the post of Ottoman consul in Mexico. Were some of the periodicals, which apparently succumbed to mundane unviability, like the ephemeral Diario Era Nueva [New Era Daily] edited by Jalil Daher’s, or Vida Nueva [New Life] founded by Rashid Khuri who arrived in Mexico from Brazil, among those involved in the consulate controversy? Or was this an unsuccessful transplant from the denser South American Mahjar horizon of publication? Periodicals were numerous in Brazil and Argentina, where large numbers of migrants concentrated. Argentina had a particularly active cluster of periodicals and presses that translated classic texts like the Quran and Kalila wa Dimna. Meanwhile Al-Khawatir honored Mexico’s 1910 independence centennial with a month of special issues. Al-Huruades/Sucesos [Events] was a Maronite religious magazine coordinated by Father Chekrala Juri. A circle of Mahjaris writing in Arabic emerged in South America in 1916, calling themselves Al Rabitat al Qalamiyya and Al-Andalus (Martinez Lillo, 2008). In later decades, the Latin American Mahjar at large was referred to as Al-Andalus (al-Mulaththam, 1956).

  • 8 French literates had already been alphabetized in Latin script, and the linguistic distance between (...)

15It is likely, as Fouad Soufi has argued for the Algerian press of the same period, that these Mahjar periodicals were read aloud in groups, reaching, engaging and informing not only the literate but also those who clustered around them (Soufi, 2015). The abundance of early Mexican Mahjar press alerts us to the presence of migrants literate in Arabic and Spanish, reflecting the expansion of Ottoman state education as well as the French and North American missionary efforts in the Mashriq, especially in rural Christian areas but also in Beirut, Saida and other towns as we know through the work of scholars working on state and missionary education (Fleischmann, 2002; Makdisi, 2000, 2008; Sbaiti, 2008; Provence, 2011, 2017). In Puebla, an astounding 88.63% of Mahjari men and 57.78% of women were reportedly literate (Alonso Palacios, 1983: 101). If literacy itself, not to speak of multilingual literacy, represented a considerable resource in early twentieth century Mexico, literacy in French afforded not only a shortcut to the acquisition of competence in Spanish, but familiarity with a language admired and emulated by the Porfirian elites.8 Familiarity with French language and ways was locally legible as a marker of elite status, and opened many doors.

Mexican Mahjar Mandate Press

16The consequences of the transition from Ottoman to French Mandate administration for migrants’ press projects mirror Mahjar associational life more broadly. A new set of concerns and institutions emerged towards the end of the First World War. New periodicals sprang up as part of the new constellation of power brought about by France’s Mandate in the Mashriq. The initial effervescence and multiplication of venues in response to the hopes raised and dashed by the prospect of independence from Ottoman rule gave way to intense debates around the reality of French rule which brought French policing and intervention into the associational landscape. Associations calling themselves political parties appeared on the Mahjari horizon for the first time. Their names reflected the surging debate over the fate of the Mashriq after the impending Ottoman collapse and the territorial dismembering of the Empire. These associations indexed fierce disagreements between Pan-Arabists advocating the independence of Greater Syria, a diverse entity incorporating the current nation-states of Syria, Lebanon, Israel/Palestine, as well as parts of Iraq and Jordan, which clashed with Maronite factions seeking an independent Christian Lebanese nation.

  • 9 El Emir, no. 13, p. 17.
  • 10le Docteur Youssef Chmouti, établi au Mexique depuis 16 ans” (ministère des Affaires étrangères, L (...)

17French favor was crucial to the survival of periodicals under the Mandate, and to the trajectories of migrants in the Mahjar. Political rivalries manifest in the press were consequential. Greater Lebanon was a successful new periodical run by José Musalem, a Syrian migrant. He went on to establish Al-Ghurbal [The Sieve], published from 1922 to 1996, for some time under the care of Juan Beshara and eventually of Selim Abud. Originally in Arabic but later bilingual as La Criba/Al-Ghurbal, it called itself an illustrated Arab weekly and intended to bring together Arabic speakers of Lebanese, Palestinian, Syrian and Iraqi nationality in brotherhood. José Cheremonte on the other hand, a Pan-Arabist who had once sought to be the local Ottoman consul, established the United Syria Party and an associated daily publication, Al-Itihad Al-Suri [The Syrian Union] in 1917, which appeared in French, Arabic and Spanish. Beshara observed that: “A fission also caused the failure of the newspaper Union Siria [Syrian Union] launched by Chukri Baaclini in 1924, a disagreement so severe that Baaclini had to leave Mexico and settle in Havana, where he continued to publish his newspaper”.9 Cheremonte was exiled to Havana by the Mexican government in 1927, after having all his assets confiscated. His uncle, M. Elias Youssef Tannous Chmouti of Batroun, filed a complaint with the French Mandate High Commissioner in Beirut, requesting French authorities to intervene on behalf of his nephew, “Doctor Yusef Chmouti, who has been established in Mexico for 16 years”.10

  • 11 M. Youssef Chmouti, alias Joseph A. Shemonti a été expulsé du Mexique en mai 1927, à la demande de (...)
  • 12 Ministère des Affaires étrangères, La Courneuve, Serie E Levant, Vol. 411, p. 66.
  • 13 “Jadis infectée de germanophile et qui restait ralliée plus ou moins sincèrement à nous après la gu (...)

18French investigation of the case resulted in the following response: “M. Youssef Chmouti, alias Joseph A. Shemonti, was expelled from Mexico in May of 1927, at the request of his own Syro-Lebanese fellow countrymen, whom he constantly provoked in his newspaper, whether by attacking the families of his political adversaries or through blackmail and manipulation. Since Chmouti’s hostile attitude towards us, already noted by this legation on October 4th 1920, had continued until his expulsion, it does not seem to me that the re-entry of the petitioner to Mexico is a desirable thing.”11 The offending periodical was El Correo de Oriente [Courrier of the Orient], published by Cheremonte after the failure of Al-Itihad Al-Suri.12 Editors sometimes tried to change the stripe of their discourse but remained tainted by past work. José Helu’s Al-Khawatir for example, had survived at least until 1933, when M. Hubert F. Dussol, Chargé d’Affaires of France in Mexico, complained about it scathingly to the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, describing the publication as one “formerly infected with Germanophilia and which remains dubiously loyal to us after the War”.13 Excerpts were translated into French and sent on to higher authorities, injuring Helu’s reputation given the periodical’s critical views on the limits of French protection.

19After the turbulent 20’s, periodical production settled, with Maronite dominated Francophile periodicals integrating contributors and a broad readership across the North, Central and South American Mahjars and addressing interlocutors in the Mashriq as well. Of the periodicals produced during this second peak in the migratory pulse, two, Al-Ghurbal (1922-1990) and El Emir (1937-1974) were particularly long-lived. Though Al-Ghurbal appeared initially as an Arabic language broadsheet, it went through three phases, slowly transitioning to a bilingual broadsheet and eventually to a Spanish language monthly magazine. Its third phase is available through a partial digitalization hosted by Mexico City’s Centro Libanes website, the early decades are unknown except through single broadsheets which occasionally surface in archival settings (at the Lebanese National Library for example). El Emir was produced as a Spanish language monthly magazine from its inception in 1937.

Producers, consumers and the construction of authority

20Periodical publications like Al-Ghurbal and El Emir were characterized by a peculiar restriction and differentiation of their readership. Along with the popularization of the history, geography and literature of the Mashriq, the construction of Mahjari community within the framework of Mexican national space was one of El Emir’s explicit objectives, as its first editorial advertises:

  • 14 El Emir, no. 1, México DF, June 1937, p .4.

Facts clearly show that the Lebanese Colony is not merely an agglomeration of immigrants but a coherent unit, an ensemble of wills with a common aspiration: honoring the faraway homeland in every way… Our strength is that in presenting the homeland’s history, we gather closer together. Sharing with those living in the provinces how those in the capital work, telling those who live in the north what the inhabitants of the south do. Building constant communication between these and those, regardless of economic or social category…14

21The magazines were consumed primarily by migrants, producing community insofar as it was mobile subjects who cultivated affiliation to migrant institutions and larger migrant networks who were likewise aware of and subscribed to such periodicals. Aued mentions as another goal his intention to “Further intellectual exchange between two like-minded cultures which had several centuries of contact”, bringing the Lebanese colony closer to “the Mexican people”, in contrast to Arabic language journalism, whose audience in Mexico was limited to a migrant notability that spoke and read fusha and their entourage.

  • 15 Among frequent collaborating author’s, Maria Morandeira, Habib Estefano’s Cuban wife.

22Engaging the limited public of the Mahjar, the magazine interpellated and differentiated populations within the community through variations in form and content; gender and generation are the most salient distinctions. As objects that made their way to subscribers every month, publications like El Emir were leafed through by different family members. Youth read in search of representations of their social life and a Middle East of outstanding natural beauty to be proud of as its “children at a distance”. Attempting to define a gendered public sphere for them, women’s pages displayed prototypes of womanly beauty along with instructions on how to attain them through exercise, makeup and fashionable dress. Ladies also consumed the portrayal of significant social events that in turn provoked the circulation of commentary and evaluation. Portraits of and texts by notable Mashriqi women intellectuals were also sometimes included.15 Written by male authors, the news reporting intended to be read and debated by adult males presented a strong contrast to the sections facilitating women’s cultivation. Patriarchs and young men accessed a masculine public sphere defined through news of current events and political debate.

  • 16 El Emir, no. 2, p. 16.
  • 17 El Emir, no. 3, August 1937, p.14.

23The periodical included several sections attractive to all. Social pages presented great density of photography reproductions celebrating young children, marriageable debutantes, young men congratulated for successful completion of university degrees. They also documented, again largely through photography, community religious, political, and cultural events such as Christmas and Easter gatherings, theatrical representations, charity events, the French 14th of July and after the second World War, the North American 4th of July, gala dinners celebrating illustrious businessmen, whether local notables or migrants in transit through Mexico, and Christian life cycle rituals like first communions, weddings and funerals. Other densely illustrated sections celebrated the Mashriq, its traditions and its modernity, its natural and social landscapes. Readers were invited to remember and if they hadn’t been there, to visit as tourists “the one thousand suggestive spots in Lebanon”16 or certain “famous corners”.17

24Though it never circulated widely beyond the migrant population, El Emir developed an interconfessional and transnational public. Publishing political and cultural briefs, interviews and editorials, covering news in Mashriq and Mahjar, it included notable obituaries like Mustafa Kemal Pasha’s, the text of the new Syrian and Lebanese constitutions, text and music of the Algerian March and French consular announcements regarding national status and nationalization options, calling migrants to register with the French authorities. It published letters and contributions from readers living in the Mexican provinces and in every corner of the Latin American Mahjar: Tucuman, Argentina; Santo Domingo; Honduras; Cuba; the United States. Mahjar intellectuals contributed articles and conference transcripts, notably Habib Estefano (1888-1946) from Argentina and Esteban Fayad from Venezuela; its circulation contributed to the making of the greater American Mahjar.

The 1936 Palestinian Revolt as spectacle

25Guy Debord has argued that in modern industrial formations, life “announces itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. All that which was lived directly has become estranged in a representation” (Debord, 1967: 15). Spectacle, whose most immediate and overwhelming form are the media, does not constitute a series of images but a social relationship between people, mediated by images. In his analysis, our modern appetite for spectacle is derived from industrial conditions of production. Mashriqis in the Mexican Mahjar came to relate to events unfolding in British Palestine as spectacle. The particular estrangement afforded by media coverage was compounded by multiple distances mediating migrants’ relationship to Palestine. Though inhabitants of a common Bilad al-Sham, the majority of Mashriqis in Mexico had travelled from what are now Syria and Lebanon, with only a few families arriving from Ottoman or British Palestine. Despite sustained economic and affective investment in the Mashriq, press narratives and other practices cultivating continuities could not elide the materiality of Mahjari distance from everyday life in the Mashriq. In both senses, Mashriqis in Mexico were spectators to the escalating conflict. Finally, textual representation of the conflict became ever more spectacular, notes initially titled “Palestine of Blood and Fire”, transitioned to “The Dangerous Chimera: the Jewish State in Palestine”, followed by the impassioned “The Palestinian Tragedy and our Duty” and the final manicheism of “Arabs or Jews- whom will Great Britain favor?”

26In Mexican industrial press coverage and sometimes in the Emir, reportage as a genre emulated the detached style of the North American professional press. The suppression of explicit political positioning constructed a claim to objectivity, making these reports into texts that are difficult to question, rather than politically innocent accounts. In Mexican criollo media giants such as El Universal and El Excelsior, 1948 provoked punctual coverage of the armed confrontation. The advances and retreats of contending armies, their relative strength, crises and disgraces were narrated in a deliberately neutral affect, carefully eliminating all indexes of proximity to unfolding events in order to report them. The Mahjar press however, as it is visible in El Emir, presents an important contrast. Printed articles, which were often the verbatim transcripts of live public oratory, present an explicit affective charge. Affective proximity characterized Mahjari press, in which coverage of the Palestinian process became politicized and garnered urgency a decade earlier than in the mainstream Mexican press.

27El Emir’s discourse on the Palestinian region was radically transformed between 1937, when the periodical was initially published and 1939, when coverage of the Palestinian Revolt intensified. Palestine as a spectacle of natural beauty presented through the depiction of landscape was supplanted by the textual spectacle of the conflict and human suffering. The initial descriptions of a geography of recreation gave way to heated debate around the ‘Palestine question’ and its moral geography. Coverage migrated from the periodical sections intended for a general public, neutral in terms of gender and generation, to the masculinized public sphere of political and moral debate.

Representing Palestine, representing Jewish populations

  • 18 El Emir, no. 1, p. 16.

28The first number of El Emir presented a portrait of Transjordan in its Geography Section, something like a brief encyclopedic introduction.18 A similar description of Palestine proper appeared three months later in the same section:

  • 19 El Emir, no. 3 August, p. 33.

Palestine, which is under British Mandate, is divided into five districts… the population of Palestine is calculated at 120,000, of which 40,000 are Israelites and 80,000 Arabs… The capital is Jerusalem… Tel Aviv, only city in the world with a completely Jewish population and which has more than 90,000 inhabitants. Before 1914 it was considered a neighborhood of Jaffa, it is now considered an independent city and has grown in importance, having modernized… Jaffa, the second largest port and main exporter of oranges…19

29The text framed these ‘facts’ through a Biblical history of the region, noting the importance of Bethlehem and Jerusalem as sites of Christian pilgrimage, constitutive of the Holy Land.

30The same number included a note about the impending partition of the area under British Mandate, in terms that reflect more concern about access to the Holy Land for Christendom than for the futures of local populations:

  • 20 El Emir, no. 3 August, p. 6.

The constitution of the Palestinian state
London - The Commission of Inquiry on Palestine has published its recommendation. This report comes to the conclusion of dividing Palestine into two sovereign States, one Jewish and the other Arab. These two states will be under British Mandate.
This recommendation, in dividing the two states, attempts to end the eternal conflict between Arabs and Jews. Concerning the Holy places, Great Britain commits to sustaining the historical character of Jerusalem, Nazareth and Bethlehem, guaranteeing free access to these places for the entire world.20

  • 21 El Emir, no. 5, October 1937, p. 17. The map is titled “Projet de partage de la Palestine”.

31A map in the fifth number’s Graphics of the Orient section again reports on the partition project as a geographic and administrative fact, without problematizing it: “We publish an engraving of Palestine as divided by the British Mandate, which has fractioned it into three parts, the north part bordering with Lebanon for the Jews; the corridor that spans the Holy Land – Jerusalem, Nazareth and Bethlehem – which remains directly under British mandate, and in the southern part, along with the interior, a Palestinian-Arab state has been created.”21

32At this point, the magazine still included articles on spectacular sites in Palestine, like María Yunis de Henaine’s piece Mount Carmel:

  • 22 El Emir, no. 6, November 1937, p. 16.

Mount Carmel, situated next to the Mediterranean Sea, is fertile and abundant in all manners of fruit; besides this, the majesty and beauty of its topographical position, the gentleness of its climate, the balmy environment of its varying flowers and aromatic plants, are described in Sacred Scripture, which employs the words Promised Land that brings forth milk and honey… It rises majestic covered in abundant olive plantations, which grow strong and healthy on its skirts, its flora is most beautiful and varied, such as there is no other in Palestine. It is a sight to behold, Mt Carmel, especially in the springtime, all of it sown with most beautiful flowers, varied in their color and in their species, which grow strong and healthy even in the cracks of rocks…they make time spent on the Holy Mount lovely and delightful, the inimitable and varied song of little birds of showy feathers that inhabit it, including their queen, the eagle, who hides her nest in the crevices of its inaccessible rocks… It can be said with no exaggeration that Muslims, Bedouin, Druze, Hebrews and Protestants; people of all creeds, come to offer up their prayers at this cave…22

  • 23 El Emir, no. 14, July 1938, p. 24.

33In this piece, published in two parts, Palestine is proposed as an earthly paradise where ‘people of all creeds’ join in their adoration of a creator manifest in the geography’s generosity. The earliest coverage of the Arab Revolt, “Palestine of Blood and Fire” emulates a disaffected professional style even as it introduces ambivalence given the affective proximity of Palestinian Arabs, brothers to Mashriqis in the Mahjar: “Emir will continue to inform on the case, since it cannot continue to be indifferent to the fate of a brotherly country bordering on our Lebanon.”23

  • 24 El Emir, no. 3, p 30, visit of the Maronite Patriarch to the Jewish community of Beirut; on Jewish (...)
  • 25 El Emir, no. 3, p. 30.

34The representation of Jewish populations also slowly transformed, as Jews were cast out of the brotherhood. The scarce references to Jewish spaces and peoples that appeared before the 1938 politization emphasized shared spaces of life and labor among Jews and Maronites in Beirut, or a reputed ancestral medical expertise among Jews.24 These were manifest in coverage of Maronite Patriarch Antoun Arida’s visit to the Jewish community of Beirut in 1937. The article prints a speech pronounced by M. Farhi, Jewish community leader, praising the Patriarch as ‘ideal of concord and fraternity’, respected by the community as ‘beloved and recognized leader of all of Lebanon and the spiritual father of its inhabitants’. Farhi described the Patriarch as instilling veneration, good will and gratitude in the Jewish community, which gladly expresses its loyalty towards the state whom he represents: “And time, far from weakening our links to the country we inhabit, only strengthened our feelings of loyalty and devotion towards Lebanon, which today, following the example of its glorious ally, France, knows how to uphold in fact and in law a regime of liberty and egalitarian justice for all its citizens with no distinction of race or confession.”25

  • 26 El Emir, no. 15, p. 12; no. 16, p. 32; no. 17, p. 31; no. 18, p. 15, 30; no. 19, p. 14; no. 20, p.  (...)
  • 27 El Emir, no. 15, p. 12; no. 17, p. 31.
  • 28 El Emir, no. 18.

35During and after the 1936-1938 conflict, Jewish populations became associated ever more frequently with European Zionism, perceived as a threat to Mashriqis and to the stability of regional politics. Published as a series of six articles that began in the magazine’s 15th number, “The Dangerous Chimera: the Jewish State in Palestine” 26, which sometimes appears as “The False Chimera”, is the translation of a pamphlet published in Paris in 1917. Authored by Shaikh Yusef el Jazen, identified as a former Deputy of the Lebanese Chamber, it presents a serene critique of the issues surrounding the creation of a Zionist Jewish state. El-Jazen was concerned by the exclusionary foundations of such a project as well as by its expansionist logic.27 He argued that European Jews had no more rights over Palestine in the present time than Arab-moors over Andalucia, or Copts to an independent state. He questioned the need for a Jewish state invoking the temporal distance from the last instance of one, also expressing concern for the difficulties that could be faced by Jewish populations outside of Palestine if a Jewish state were to be established. Al Jazen also emphasized the centrality of Palestine and its spaces to Muslim and Christian mysticism, especially for the numerous Russian pilgrims. He ends his analysis on a cordial note: “On the other hand, the disciples of Theodor Herzl are free to have a contrary opinion and to seek its realization… We will follow their movement with keen sympathy, given our racial affinity.”28 He proposed that working jointly, “like bees”, might be more conducive to a land of “milk and honey” than exclusions and conflicts.

The radicalization of migrant opinion

36The breaking point came in El Emir with the impassioned editorial “The Palestinian Tragedy and our Duty”, published on November 1938 in the magazine’s 18th number. Recognizing that this intervention exceeded his original intent in producing a periodical, Don Alfonso Aued, the editor, denounced the global press, cinema and periodical publications for representing events with a systematic bias. As a result, “the reader, who is not well informed on matters in the Near East – the majority – believes that Palestinian Arabs are barbarous and love disorder”. Aued suggested an alternative narrative: Great Britain, seeking funds during the first World War, promised Palestine to British Jewish notables. Once victorious, Great Britain took over the country without local consent and allowed an expansive immigration: “The Jews, with British support, have entered Palestine as a conquered country, attempting to displace its former inhabitants economically and materially”. Aued argued that support for Zionist imperialism was not limited to Great Britain, since it received financial support from the “judeo-yankee plutocracy”. Palestinians, whom the author now referred to as ‘the Palestinian people’ have responded to the situation with a series of revolutions of which the most recent is the most intense and long-lasting: “It is no longer one group, or some groups, but the entire nation. Noble example of an entire people that struggles against the force of intrigue, the power of money and the strength of arms to defend its territory and preserve its identity”. He considers that, dying in struggle, Palestinians have done their duty as “civilized men”. Such conditions even make Arab Jews of Palestine “enemies of the newcomers”. He concludes: “In the face of all these facts, is there any Lebanese who does not feel the duty to see to his Palestinian brothers?” In a problematic turn, he ends with “That before the river of lies about Palestine, brothers in language and tradition might be erected a mountain of truths. For the time being, destiny begins to avenge the Palestinians. In Germany, Jews are expelled and their property confiscated. As the Scriptures say, ‘Wish not unto others what you don’t want for yourself!’”

  • 29 El Emir, no. 23 and 24, April and May 1939, p. 23.

37Coverage of the conflict ended in April/May 1939, without any overt reference to the Yiddish language press produced in Mexico City, some of it Zionist (Gleason, 2017) and some anti-Zionist (Acosta, 2022), with a special report on “The Palestinian Arab Commission in Mexico, a noble and delicate mission.” An extensive reportage of four full pages, it included portraits of the three main representatives of the Palestinian Arab Committee that arrived in Mexico City from Tampico: M. Jamil Bey Beyhum, M. Emilio Gouri and Mme Nasek Abed de Beyhum. They had been touring the United States and Mexico for eight months, “pronouncing speeches and talks before compatriots with unprecedented success.”29 The brilliant genealogies, academic credentials and transnational political trajectories of this trio of Palestinian notables that came to Mexico after campaigning in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt were highlighted. Their tour of the American Mahjar constituted the final phase in a new Palestinian strategy according to Jamil Beythat of appealing directly to the Arab peoples, seeking the unity that would allow them to pressure Great Britain:

  • 30 El Emir, no. 23 and 24, April and May 1939, p. 23.

I come with the great patriot and well-known Palestinian journalist M. Emilio Gouri, as delegates of the Palestinian Arab Committee presided by the Grand Mufti of Palestine, Hajj Amin Hussainigreat patriot who lives out his exile in Lebanon. Our goal is to explain to emigrants in America the true situation in Palestine and request their support for the thousands of orphans and widows of the heroic people whose fathers and husbands fell valiantly in the field of honor. Not only Palestinians struggle for this dear land, with them fall side by side in combat Lebanese, Syrians, Iraqis, Transjordanians who make their way in despite British vigilance and the giant barbed wire fence on every Palestinian border, like a new Chinese Wall. Palestine has become a sort of key possession, the object of a common struggle for all the states of the Orient, as a symbol of their liberation.30

  • 31 El Emir, no. 23 and 24, April and May 1939, p. 20-21.

38Face to face with Palestine however, Aued had little to say about struggle. His narrative slid to the spectacularnot to the suddenly too concrete conflict, but to the spectacle of riches: “Bayhum… belongs besides to one of the most ancient and aristocratic Lebanese families… In interviewing him, we encountered a man of aristocratic manners, exquisite conversation and refined education which shine in enjoyable talk full of convincing arguments that forces the interlocutor to listen”.31

Arab Modern

  • 32 El Emir, May 1939, p. 15.

39Alfonso Aued, lifelong editor of the Mexican Mahjar periodical El Emir and later author of a History of Lebanon, observed in May 1939 that: “it is to the travelling, colonizing, seafaring peoples that humanity owes its progress. The Phoenicians, Portuguese and Spanish worked for the unification of culture and civilization”.32 In the wake of the 1921 and 1929 economic crises, Mahjaris were increasingly targeted as undesirable and cast outside the boundaries of the nation throughout Latin America. Restrictions to migration legislated in Mexico in 1926 turned fifty years of liberal Porfirian migration policy on its head and efforts to curb arrivals multiplied over the next decade given the scarcities generated by the Great Depression. Articulating alternatives to xenophobic state and popular discourse, Mahjaris used their status as French protégés and Mexican ideologies conflating race, class and religious tradition to secure privilege (Pastor, 2017). Writing histories within the academy or on its fringes in the Mahjar press and community chronicles, Lebanese nationalists like Alfonso Aued and William Nimeh used Nahda themes of Phoenicians as conquerors and vectors of universal civilization to legitimate access to the American Mahjars, recovering an Arab past suitable for the migrant present. Conquest claims were afforded by the modernist anticolonial recuperation of Ottoman imperial representations of the New World producing locals as savages (Pastor, 2014). They constituted an intervention in Latin American debates on the desirability or undesirability of Mashriqis as migrants and reflected the global interwar zeitgeist, which privileged racial sciences and exclusions (Yankelevich, 2004; Alfaro-Velcamp, 2007; Pastor, 2017).

40At the turn of the twentieth century, elites in geographies subaltern to Europe began developing the nationalisms that would launch decolonization, establishing foundational fictions for postcolonial states. Struggling to dismantle European hegemony locally, anti-colonial nationalists rooted in distinct colonial histories nevertheless complied with an overarching Eurocentric narrative. Colonized elites claimed the postcolonial state by displaying familiarity with European modernity, often acquired through migration and education in metropolitan centers (Duara, 2003). The modernist intelligentsia gestated through Ottoman reform and integration into the world economy during the long nineteenth century, initially active in migratory circuits spanning the Arab and European Mediterranean, extended mobility to the American Mahjars.

41Public debate on the question of Ottoman relations with Euro-America surged across Mashriq and Mahjar, producing Nahda narratives concerned, like other anticolonial nationalisms, with situating Arabs as both heirs to a glorious ancient civilization and cosmopolitan moderns. In formulating an Arab modern, reformers operated within European discourses of nationhood whose ideologues were often enthusiasts of empire. Perverse Trojan horses, the categories of modernity, of its political thought and emancipatory rhetoric, contained assumptions that enforced Europe as omnipresent referent (Chakrabarty, 1992, 2000), conditioning Arab views of non-European others (Pastor, 2014). Modernist Nahda claims had emancipatory as well as subordinating effects as they intersected with criollo postcolonial modernism in the Mexican Mahjar debates on who constituted desirable or undesirable migrant arrivals.

42The metaphor of nations awakening from a long period of slumber separating their ancient glory from modern subalternity was common to many regions of the colonial world. It became central to a global subversive discourse of civilization in which African, Arab, Asian, and Euro-American critics of the West converged. Anticolonial leaderships legitimated their mobilization and transformation of the people by appealing to an alleged ancient unity, describing the nationalisms they sought to build as national awakenings (Duara, 2003: 6.). Arab nationalisms were founded on the trope of decline during the period of Ottoman administration; a medieval condition or ossification from which Arabs were finally jostled awake through an unsettling but felicitous encounter with Euro-American modernity on the brink of the twentieth century (Hitti, 1943: 213). Nationalists who embraced Euro-American presence in the Mashriq extended credit for the Nahda awakening to particular imperial nations, reflecting personal patronage circuits. Abd El-Jalil, a professor at the Catholic University of Paris, refers to European, especially French Orientalists: “It is hardly necessary to say that it [the Nahda] owes much to the work of Orientalists. We recognize our immense debt to them…” (Abd El-Jalil, 1943: 7). Or “It was America’s knock that awakened the Arab East from its medieval slumber and set it on the road to modernism and national progress in the 1870s” (Hitti, 1943: viii).

43Imagined as culturally and morally closer to European empires than their Muslim compatriots, Christian Arabs had acquired the privilege of missionary education disproportionately. Christian nationalists emphasized an Arab literary renaissance as crucial precursor to political consciousness and attributed the Nahda to Christian Arabs of Bilad al-Sham. Dawn (1991: 3) argues that this interpretation was first popularized in the West by George Antonius in his 1938 The Arab Awakening, and later in a more ambivalent and complex form, restated by Sharabi 1972, Tibi, 1981 and Hourani (1981, 1991, 2003). It also occurs in Abd El-Jalil (1943), Hitti (1943), Sayegh, and Atiyah (1958). Abd al-Jalil suggested that a revived concern with the Arabic language initially emerged among Christian populations; he noted that as early as the seventeenth century, a movement championing Arab linguistic purism developed in Christian circles in Aleppo (Abd El-Jalil, 1943: 219).

44The Mexican Mahjar press presented variations on this theme in the 1930s and 40s. (Nimeh, 1946: 282-83). Lebanese Christians were attributed a stellar role based on the Uniate churches’ historical ties to Rome, with Maronite sensibilities detaching Lebanese experience from that of Syrians:

  • 33 “Duaihi y el Renacimiento Libanés”, El Emir, no. 6, November 1937, p. 14-15.

…as of that time [Arab language and literature] sank into the dark depths of a lethargic slumber which would have been eternal but for the indefatigable efforts of the Lebanese and the missionaries, both French (who arrived in 1625) and American (who arrived in 1820). Syria had its flourishing in the time of the Greeks and the Romans and later in the time of the Arabs. Its decadence began with the arrival of elements that neither had a culture nor knew how to assimilate: The Kurds, Turks, Mamlukes and Turcomans, who under the banner of Islam dominated the Syrian people, far superior to them in culture and civilization. And thus the torch that illuminated the ancient world went out. The decadence of Syria was followed by the decadence of Phoenicia, because the rulersMamlukes, Turksdid away with everything. The schools of Aleppo that existed during the reign of Saladdin disappeared. Fanaticism and ignorance reigned during several centuries. This lethargic life – which went on for a long time  was followed by a renaissance, slow at first but which later accelerated, and the movement which began as a religious one, became a social one. The achievement is due to the popes of Rome, who in educating young Lebanese men later caused them to found national schools and spread culture in the Orient.33

45Syrian civilization was given a Greek, Roman and Arab pedigree, distinct from the Lebanese Phoenician past. The Nahda was imagined as originating in the Uniate churches’ cultivation of links with Rome since the sixteenth century. Once the Melkite and Maronite churches recognized papal authority, religious scholars occasionally travelled to study or teach in Europe, especially after the establishment of the Maronite College in Rome in 1584 (Eddé, 2001: 135-7). Crafting respectability in an overwhelmingly Catholic country, Mexican Maronites recruited the Pope as suitable Nahda sponsor.

Genealogies for Travelers and Conquerors

46Christian histories of the Nahda buttressed debates defending Mahjaris as desirable conquerors in El Emir (Pastor, 2012, 2014). Mashriqi intellectuals defending their desirability as immigrants in Mexico were eventually, though not initially, validated by local state ideologues and intellectuals. Their modernist genealogical construction which began with fantasies about Phoenician pasts turned indignant with the publication of José Vasconcelos’ ¿Que es el comunismo? in 1936. Minister of state and foremost ideologue of the postrevolutionary national project, Vasconcelos celebrated the Día de la Raza as commemoration of the “Discovery of America”:

We are gathered to celebrate the most important event in our American history, the discovery that linked the New World with Europe, incorporating all of these territories into civilization… Day of the Race; that is to say, the date of homage to the Spanish race in whose glories we have a share because we are part of Hispanic culture and because a branch of our ancestors sailed in the caravels of the immortal expedition… The transcendence of Colon’s findings resides in the fact that he made his discovery as a Spaniard in the company of Spaniards… and since Spaniards were then the most cultured nation of Europe, they were not content to fill the deserts with half naked offspring like any barbarous tribe, but rather in three centuries of incomparable civilizing effort they built the twenty-something nations which constitute the Latin world of America… So that our fathers the conquerors and explorers, as well as our teachers the missionaries, were when they arrived in these territories the flower of the Europe of their time, and the first among races in the World. (Vasconcelos, 1936: 105-09).

47Vasconcelos launched his hundred and twenty page pamphlet rumination on the Spanish Civil War and the defects of the Calles administration by lamenting the expulsion of “defenseless Spaniards” during the Mexican Revolution and their substitution in the national landscape by Jews and Syro-Lebanese: “deaf persecution ended up replacing in our cities and towns, our own Spaniard, with the communist Jew who today exploits petty industry and a good part of commerce, but speaks English; by replacing him with the Syro Lebanese who does not improve our race, but worsens it” (Vasconcelos, 1936: 11). Vasconcelos identified progress, democracy and civilization with Christianity, and saw all of these incarnate in the Spanish tradition. He envisioned the empowerment of Latin America through a confederation of Hispanic nations, given Spain’s reluctance to engage in enlightened imperialism.

  • 34 Zacarías, El Emir, no. 16, 1938, p. 4.

48Mashriqi journalists responded to Vasconcelos in the Mahjar press, situating migrants as conquerors of Mexicans or Americans through narratives sharing two assumptions. The first, about the nature of American populations, followed Vasconcelos in bisecting them into civilized (European) and inadequately civilized (Indian). The second construed the Lebanese as Western, Phoenicians with a bit of Arab blood and some superficial cultural markers like language, food and music, who in their rural manifestations in fact morally surpassed the West.34 Through both their Phoenician and Arab genealogies, the argument went, Lebanese were the offspring of conquerors, racially white vectors of civilization, just as worthy as the Spanish of conquering Mexico. Ultimately, Mashriqis emerged as legitimate partners to Latin American criollo elites in the necessary project of civilizing the Indian majority of the American nations.

  • 35 Zacarías, El Emir, no. 16, 1938, p. 4.
  • 36 Zacarías, El Emir, no. 16, 1938, p. 4.

49Miguel Zacarías commended Mexican playwright Adolfo Fernández Bustamanteauthor of the play El Baisano Jalil, later made into a film (Alfaro-Velcamp, 2006)on his portrayal of a Mashriqi migrant family in a letter reproduced as an editorial piece in El Emir in September of 1938. Zacarías lamented the short-sightedness of Mexican immigration policy, based on loose criteria of nationality and certain economic requirements rather than on the crucial criteria of “race, religion, morality and customs; that is, the ensemble of characteristics which make these migrants’ assimilation easy or difficult, desirable or undesirable.”35 He argued that the Spanish and Lebanese were among the migrant populations adversely affected by such policy: “both immigrants, the Spanish and the Lebanese, individuals of white race and Christians.”36

50Aued described Mahjaris as abstract Phoenician conquerors and colonizers, hinting at their conquest of the Americas at large; or more specifically as conquerors of the Mediterranean, Spain and the Americas. He argued that they were equivalent to the Spanish colonizer in their modern Latin American adventure, given elaborate parallels construed across the histories of both peoples. Phoenician were the conquerors of the conquerors of Iberoamerica, the Spaniards their descendants. In an editorial titled “The Lebanese and the Progress of America,” Aued narrated parallel and interlocking racial histories for Mashriqis and Spaniards in the Mediterranean:

  • 37 Aued, El Emir, no. 19, December 1938, p. 3.

The first to dominate Spain were Phoenicians and Carthaginians—our ancestors—, the Spaniard has Phoenician blood in his veins. The Lebanese in turn is a direct descendant of the Phoenicians. Later, Greeks and Romans conquer the ancient Phoenician land and they also impose their dominion on the Iberian Peninsula. Yet Arab blood also mixes in Spain and Lebanon. This way, indestructible parities were created which give ethnic parity to the two peoples, the Spanish and the Lebanese.37

51According to Aued, spiritual parity of Spanish and Lebanese peoples derived from the fact that both have labored and battled in defense of the Christian faith. Parallels continue in their encounter with the Americas:

  • 38 Aued, El Emir, no. 19, December 1938, p. 3.

And with the same agility with which the ancient Phoenicians sail the seas, the Spaniard crosses the pond… Comes to America… Conquers all and obtains all, but at the same time gives his blood, his language and his religion to the land in which he arrives… In turn, the Lebanese [man] comes to America and he is not satisfied to make his fortune, but ties himself to America’s blood, establishes his house and does not forget the motherland but loves the new land.38

52Spanish and Mashriqi accumulation in the Americas is a noble enterprise, a generous surrender. Aued distinguished the legitimacy of Mashriqi partnership with criollo nations by contrasting the noble restraint of Mashriqi profit from the irresponsible accumulation of North American and European migrants:

  • 39 Aued, El Emir, no. 19, December 1938, p. 4.

And the noble character of this labor is fully understood when it becomes known that, even after twenty or thirty years, most of those merchants don’t make fortunes greater than twenty or thirty thousand pesos… Big industry and mining require enormous capitals. They are exclusively in the hands of the Americans and Europeans. Culture and science are French and Spanish imports. All of this has been useful to the upper middle class, the Indian has been left aside. He is considered a stranger to all these goings on… when the revolution came, the Indian had had no contact with the Western world other than through the Lebanese who had gone all the way to his house in order to dress him and the ancient missionary friars who taught him their religion and tried to get him to learn their language… But now the Lebanese is no longer a stranger who will introduce something unknown [to the people], now, because of his home already established, because of his wealth, already made in America, he is the brother who is helping to forge the new homeland… The Lebanese is, in the evolution of the Americas, an unquestionable truth of civilization and progress.39

53Mashriqi businessmen were thus construed as morally as well as racially, ethnically and spiritually equivalent to the criollo postrevolutionary elites, willing, capable, and responsible partners to their modernizing mission.

54Careful to sustain the parallel without positing the modern migrant as a direct conqueror, Aued argued that the Spaniards’ civilizing achievements had remained unfinished: “Three hundred years have not been enough to fully inject Western customs into the indigenous peoples”. And this is where the modern partnership between civilized peers became crucial to progress:

  • 40 Aued, El Emir, no. 19, December 1938, p. 4.

Where elegant or rich commerce disdained to go he goes and begins by selling suits to the people who scarcely clothe themselves… not only does he change the way of dressing, he transforms footgear: huaraches (sandals) are substituted by leather shoes and tennis shoes. And the significance that dress has for the progress of a people is no secret for anyone. Peter the Great, Mustafa Kemal Pacha in Turkey, saw this problem clearly: they understood that the feeling of inferiority that their people had before the French, the English etc. was due, more than anything else, to clothing…40

55Some authors went as far as attributing the origins of the Universal civilization claimed by the West to Phoenicians:

  • 41 “El Origen de los Libaneses”, Emir, p. 8 (Esteban Fayad?).

I take up my pen to sing the great deeds of my ancestors,
who contributed to contemporary civilization
the foundations on which it rests.41

  • 42 Aued, El Emir, May 1939, p. 47.

56Repetition across authors projected community claims as recurrent truths: Phoenicians propagated the alphabet among all the countries they visited. Cadmus carried it as far as the Greek islands, a seed of civilization that cleared away the clouds of ignorance and barbarity.42 In this vision, Western civilization as a whole, including its industrial imperial permutations, is derivative of an early Mashriqi golden age.

57In El Emir’s seventy third number, Leonardo Kaim and Aziz Hatem again took issue with Vasconcelos’ characterization of Mashriqis as undesirable. Vasconcelos replied in May 1943:

  • 43 Correspondence reproduced in El Emir, no. 73, p. 16.

I cannot and should not take back the affirmation I made about the Spanish race being superior and more desirable as a migrant race. This does not hinder appreciation and tenderness towards people or migrants of other races. Thus, as you have pointed out to me, I have friends whom I appreciate and respect in the Syro-Lebanese colony; but this does not mean that even today the Syro-Lebanese race could demonstrate a capacity for cultural creativity, a spiritual development comparable to the Spanish. Of my own Mexican people, it would be absurd to say that their historical level and their qualities could be compared to those of the Spanish. Therefore, I think that stirring up resentment regarding self-evident facts does not contribute anything to the conviviality of the different races that have to coexist peacefully in democracies.43

58Vasconcelos seemed unshakeable in his evaluation of Mahjaris and Mexicans as less worthy than the Spanish. Their common subordination to his European ideal however, facilitated their equivalence.

The Phoenician Civilizing Mission

  • 44 El Emir, no. 1, 1937; El Emir, Revista Mensual. Published monthly 1937-1968 Mexico City. Aued, Alfo (...)

59Two book-length histories of Lebanon emphasizing Phoenician origins were written and published in Mexico in 1945, under the title Historia del Líbano [History of Lebanon]. Their authors were William Nimeh and Alfonso Aued, Mexican Mahjar intellectuals with strong connections to Lebanon and the Mahjar at large.44 Nimeh was by profession a gastroenterologist. Both were Lebanese by birth, naturalized Mexican citizens. The 1946 reprint of Nimeh’s Historia includes a section of Mensajes, an appendix to the main text in which notable figures congratulated him on his book and addressed a patriotic message to the Spanish-speaking Mahjar, especially directed at youth. These included the Maronite Patriarch and two looming characters of the Mahjar intelligentsia, Gibran Khalil Gibran and Habib Estéfano.

  • 45 Aued, El Emir, May 1939, p. 55.

60Aued and Nimeh invoked ancient Phoenician hegemony in the Western Mediterranean to claim Phoenicians as conquerors in the European tradition, suggesting that Phoenicians shared in the European burden of spreading civilization to primitive peoples. Aued titled the eighth chapter of his History of Lebanon “The British of Antiquity- the Phoenician fleet, colonizer of the Mediterranean.”45 Nimeh contended that Phoenician conquest was a peaceful affair: “…we are authorized to assert that Phoenicians were really the apostles of peace and that, even in their colonizing enterprises they never used violence or committed barbarous acts… thanks to their metal weapons they conquered the primitive inhabitants, who ignored that such wonderful weaponry existed, very quickly” (Nimeh, 1945: 88).

61Another recurrent claim was that of an early Phoenician discovery and conquest of the Americas. Nimeh goes so far as to attribute the great Amerindian traditions to them:

The Phoenicians were the first great colonizers of History, the first colonizers who implanted their civilization everywhere, in all its aspects, beauty, love and material improvements… THERE WAS NO CORNER, NO MATER HOW REMOTE, THAT THEY DIDN’T KNOW; and abandoning their Mediterranean lake, they traversed Hercules’ columns (Gibraltar), circumnavigated Africa in three years, from the shores of the Red Sea to the Cape of Good Hope, and they built the city of Dakar, reaching as far as the British Isles and the shores of America in the middle of the XII century B.C. This last fact, extremely interesting, has been sufficiently revealed with the findings in Brazil and in Santo Domingo, the specialists in the matter assert that the small group of Phoenicians which conquered the Brazilian coasts probably founded the Inca, Maya and Aztec civilizations and reached as far as the Yucatan Peninsula. (Nimeh, 1945: 94)

62The early Phoenician discovery of the Americas continues to be defended in the early twenty-first century by leading community intellectuals (Edde, 2001; Martínez Assad, 2003: 188-89). Situating Phoenician traders at the origin of great Amerindian civilizations staked two claims, one universalizing and the other localizing. Grandly, it claimed a Phoenician origin for universal civilization, regardless of where or when civilization flourished. In the context of the post-Revolutionary Mexican national project, it also portrayed Mahjaris as already local. Not only were the Phoenicians at the origin of the Mediterranean civilization that conquered the New World, they were also the root of New World civilizations themselves. Phoenicians were always already there in the Spanish/Indian fusion championed by Vasconcelos as the essence of the Mexican.

63Mahjar intellectuals must have been convincing in print and beyond because by the time Nimeh’s History of Lebanon appeared, Vasconcelos prefaced it in glowing welcome:

But America is a land which belongs to all men, and since we are fortunate to have among us a distinguished groups of Lebanese, who by the way show themselves to be good Mexicans, it is convenient that we know what the small but illustrious nation which is the cradle of our compatriots of Lebanese origin is and has been. Dr. Nimeh’s book, “History of Lebanon” provides us with the means to access this knowledge. Dr. Nimeh is a distinguished professional… An expert in history and Arab topics, this prepares him to understand the Spanish, insofar as the Arab element endures in the Spanish. Not an unimportant influence, excepting the religious aspect, which is of course antithetical in the two cultures. Dr. Nimeh’s book saves us from a common error, which is to mistake the Lebanese for the Arab, the Syrian, even the Turk. The Lebanese is distinct from all other groups of the Orient. Most Lebanese are of Phoenician origin, though some Arab blood runs in their veins and their language is Arabic. And it is well known that the Phoenicians were the first colonizing people in history. Once Phoenician power had disappeared, the Lebanese, now living in a Roman province, contributed to the glory of the Empire, were part of the Roman army and mixed with the patricians. Likewise, at the dawn of Christianity the Lebanese take the lead and contribute martyrs and saints very early on… In modern times, Beirut has been a cultural center with a strong French influence… Souls with affinities to our Western tradition, it is only natural that they will soon assimilate to the idiosyncrasies of the American nations and become collaborators in their progress… Dr. Nimeh’s book should not then be exotic for us, but something that is already part of the Hispano-Mexican heritage. (Vasconcelos in Nimeh, 1946: 9-10)

64Vasconcelos was finally happy to recognize Mashriqis as another conquering element in his vision of mestizaje, the racial and cultural mixing which he argued constituted the distinctive and vital force sustaining the Mexican nation. Phoenician origins and French influence over the Mashriq ensured Mahjari affinities with Mexico’s “Western tradition”, making them adequate collaborators to national progress. The Mahjari campaign to make migration palatable to the Mexican public continued with the support of local journalists, for instance the Unión Libanesa Mundial published journalist Enrique Castro Farias’ Aporte Libanés al Progreso de America in 1965.

Conclusion

65Through their press production, Maronite Mahjaris in Mexico actively defined the terms of their participation in Mexican Mahjar social formations by invoking and intervening in two key debates. They inscribed boundaries that produced them as distinct from Muslims and Jews, through a refusal to identify with the Palestinian Arab Revolt of 1936-1938. In a decade-long parallel debate, they produced local Amerindian and mestizo populations as subordinate to Arabs and Phoenicians. Articulating alternatives to xenophobic state and popular discourse, Mahjaris used their status as French protégés and Mexican ideologies conflating race, class and religious tradition to secure privilege.

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Notes

1 El Emir, no. 1, México DF, June 1937, p. 24.

2 Special thanks for conversation and guidance on the press to my colleague Antonio Saborit. The circulation of Enlightenment debates in the Hispanophone American world, which included the production of specialized periodicals, has become the object of a growing historiography.

3 El Emir, no. 11, p. 9.

4 For a partially digitalized archive of Al-Hoda and a brief description of its production see the Moise Khayrallah Center of Lebanese Diaspora Studies: https://lebanesestudies.omeka.chass.ncsu.edu/collections/show/58 (consulted Oct. 22 2021).

5 El Emir, no. 13, June 1938, p. 9.

6 El Emir, no. 13, p. 15.

7 El Emir, no. 13, p. 17.

8 French literates had already been alphabetized in Latin script, and the linguistic distance between Spanish and French as Romance languages is much less than that between Spanish and Arabic.

9 El Emir, no. 13, p. 17.

10le Docteur Youssef Chmouti, établi au Mexique depuis 16 ans” (ministère des Affaires étrangères, La Courneuve, Serie E Levant, Vol. 411, p. 50).

11 M. Youssef Chmouti, alias Joseph A. Shemonti a été expulsé du Mexique en mai 1927, à la demande de ses propres compatriotes syro-libanais qu’il provoquait sans cesse dans son journal, soit qu’il attaquait les familles de ses adversaires politiques ou qu’il se livrât a des manœuvres de chantage. Par ailleurs, comme l’attitude hostile de Chmouti, déjà signalée par cette légation le 4 octobre 1920 s’est continue à notre égard jusqu’à son expulsion il ne me semble pas que la rentrée du requérant au Mexique soit une chose désirable (ministère des Affaires étrangères, La Courneuve, Serie E Levant, Vol. 411, p. 60).

12 Ministère des Affaires étrangères, La Courneuve, Serie E Levant, Vol. 411, p. 66.

13 “Jadis infectée de germanophile et qui restait ralliée plus ou moins sincèrement à nous après la guerre” (ministère des Affaires étrangères, La Courneuve, Série E Levant, Vol. 617, p. 175).

14 El Emir, no. 1, México DF, June 1937, p .4.

15 Among frequent collaborating author’s, Maria Morandeira, Habib Estefano’s Cuban wife.

16 El Emir, no. 2, p. 16.

17 El Emir, no. 3, August 1937, p.14.

18 El Emir, no. 1, p. 16.

19 El Emir, no. 3 August, p. 33.

20 El Emir, no. 3 August, p. 6.

21 El Emir, no. 5, October 1937, p. 17. The map is titled “Projet de partage de la Palestine”.

22 El Emir, no. 6, November 1937, p. 16.

23 El Emir, no. 14, July 1938, p. 24.

24 El Emir, no. 3, p 30, visit of the Maronite Patriarch to the Jewish community of Beirut; on Jewish medical tradition no. 5, p. 32-33

25 El Emir, no. 3, p. 30.

26 El Emir, no. 15, p. 12; no. 16, p. 32; no. 17, p. 31; no. 18, p. 15, 30; no. 19, p. 14; no. 20, p. 26.

27 El Emir, no. 15, p. 12; no. 17, p. 31.

28 El Emir, no. 18.

29 El Emir, no. 23 and 24, April and May 1939, p. 23.

30 El Emir, no. 23 and 24, April and May 1939, p. 23.

31 El Emir, no. 23 and 24, April and May 1939, p. 20-21.

32 El Emir, May 1939, p. 15.

33 “Duaihi y el Renacimiento Libanés”, El Emir, no. 6, November 1937, p. 14-15.

34 Zacarías, El Emir, no. 16, 1938, p. 4.

35 Zacarías, El Emir, no. 16, 1938, p. 4.

36 Zacarías, El Emir, no. 16, 1938, p. 4.

37 Aued, El Emir, no. 19, December 1938, p. 3.

38 Aued, El Emir, no. 19, December 1938, p. 3.

39 Aued, El Emir, no. 19, December 1938, p. 4.

40 Aued, El Emir, no. 19, December 1938, p. 4.

41 “El Origen de los Libaneses”, Emir, p. 8 (Esteban Fayad?).

42 Aued, El Emir, May 1939, p. 47.

43 Correspondence reproduced in El Emir, no. 73, p. 16.

44 El Emir, no. 1, 1937; El Emir, Revista Mensual. Published monthly 1937-1968 Mexico City. Aued, Alfonso Negib ed., Biblioteca del Colegio de México.

45 Aued, El Emir, May 1939, p. 55.

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Camila Pastor de Maria Campos, « The Great Arab Revolt, Palestine and a Phoenicianist Civilizing Mission: Transregional Debates in the Mexican Mahjar Press »Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée, 152 | 2022, 85-114.

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Camila Pastor de Maria Campos, « The Great Arab Revolt, Palestine and a Phoenicianist Civilizing Mission: Transregional Debates in the Mexican Mahjar Press »Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée [En ligne], 152 | 2022, mis en ligne le 20 décembre 2022, consulté le 18 avril 2024. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/remmm/18701 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/remmm.18701

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Camila Pastor de Maria Campos

Profesora Investigadora, División de Historia, Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE); camila.pastor[at]cide.edu

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