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Emerging Identities from the Current Refugee Crisis

Essays and Interviews
Rashid Khalidi

An Interview with Lubna Fahoum 

 

Brown Journal of World Affairs: Much of your work has focused on Arab and Palestinian identities. To begin, what would you define as identity? Do you adopt the perspective that identities are constructed or that they are already established?

Rashid Khalidi: To start, I’m a historian; I’ve dealt with issues of identity, whether Arab or Palestinian, in my work, but I have done so via historical meth- odology: reading memoirs and newspapers, among other sources. I agree with most theorists who see national identity as being both relatively modern and constructed—though identity is quite frequently constructed from preexisting materials. These can be religious, historical, cultural, or geographical. It’s not as if when you say that identity is constructed, you mean that it is completely imaginary. Thus when Benedict Anderson uses the term “imagined communi- ties” to describe groups that never actually meet, he understands that they have a clear sense of themselves—a national identity—via the impact of what he calls “print capitalism.” These identities are modern and constructed, but they are nevertheless quite real. This is equally true of Palestinian or Turkish or Israeli national identities, regardless of all of the enormous differences between them.