Palestinian Studies

2023 Workshop

Chandni Desai

Assistant Professor, University of Toronto

“The revolution of your pens and consciences”: Palestine and Afro-Asian Internationalism in Lotus

Lotus: An Afro-Asian Writings journal was a compelling experiment of internationalist literature and art published in Arabic, English and French from Cairo, and later Beirut and Tunis (starting in 1968 into the 1980s). The journal itself stemmed out of the Afro-Asian Writers’ Bureau (AAWB), the institutional formation responsible for cultural collaboration among formerly colonized peoples initiated at the
Bandung conference (1955). Palestinian writers and poets were frequently featured in the pages of Lotus including Ghassan Kanafani, Mahmoud Darwish, Mu’in Bsesio, Tawfiq Zayyad, Samih Al-Qassim and others. Prominent anti-colonial authors were also featured in the tri-lingual journal such as Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Nazim Hikmet, Suhail Idriss, Abdel-Wahab El-Bayyati, Alex La Guma, Mulk Anand Raj, Faiz
Ahmed Faiz, among many others. Lotus was considered a “militant” quarterly that opposed cultural and economic imperialism, colonialism, racism and supported non-alignment and Afro-Asian solidarity through the production of literatures of commitment (iltizam).
In 1977 after Egyptian president Anwar Sadat’s visit to Israel and his later signing of the Camp David Accords with the Zionist settler colonial state, Lotus moved from Cairo to Beirut into the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) offices in Raouche (west Beirut). The move to Beirut was a significant political gesture on behalf of the Lotus editorial board and the AAWB as they agreed to take a
firm stance against normalization with Israel, expressing anti-colonial solidarity with the Palestinian people. In its Beirut years, the Palestinian poet Mu’in Bseiso took up the editorship of the Arabic section of the journal and the Urdu poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz took up the editorship of the English section, marking a break from the Cairo years and the previous editorship of Yousef El-Sebai who was assassinated in
Cyprus in 1978. Lotus’s move into the PLO offices specifically speaks to the importance of the organization and liberation for Palestine as a central issue within anti-colonial networks during that time. While Beirut was a center for Arab culture and a host of dissident voices, the PLO’s move to the Lebanese capital in the aftermath of its expulsion from Jordan in 1971 attracted numerous fighters, revolutionary
intellectuals, writers, poets, filmmakers and artists from various freedom struggles who joined the ranks of the revolution or worked closely with them. During this period, Beirut became an incubator of anti-colonial networks and revolutionary internationalism which solidified Lotus’s move to the city which Maasri (2020) calls the “Arab Hanoi”.

In the scholarly literature on the AAWB and Lotus (Halim 2012; Azeb 2011; Djagalov 2020; Popescu 2020; Lee 2010, Yoon 2015), there is limited research on the particular role of Palestine and Palestinian cultural figures in AAWB and the contributions they and the revolution made to the association and Lotus. The scholarly limitation is astonishing as Palestinian cultural producers were regularly published in the Lotus journal and made important literary and political interventions, they became the highest number of recipients of the prestigious Lotus Prize for Literature, the journal was edited by renowned Palestinian cultural figures from 1977-1991 and it was housed in the PLO offices in

Beirut and Tunis. Additionally, in Palestine Studies while there has been important scholarship on Black-Palestinian internationalism (past and present) there is limited literature on Afro-Asian internationalism with Palestine during the aforementioned revolutionary period particularly in the realm of culture and more specifically relating to Lotus and the AAWB. As such, through an analysis of Lotus archival materials, in this paper I will argue that Palestinian cultural producers profoundly influenced third world figures and movements through their contributions in Lotus and the AAWB specifically on the following: (1) the role of “resistance literature” (Kanafani, 1967) as a site within the global struggle against colonialism, capitalist imperialism and racism; (2) the politics of third world radicalism and internationalism; and (3) a praxis of revolution. The paper also discusses the ways in which cultural producers from the global south expressed their revolutionary internationalism with the Palestinian revolution and their collective struggle for liberation and return. The paper attempts to respond to theconceptual question of what makes a revolutionary tradition anti-colonial, and will also address the gendered imbalances and limits of revolutionary cultural production within Lotus.

Chandni Desai is an assistant professor at the University of Toronto. She’s working on a book, tentatively titled Revolutionary Circuits of Liberation: The Radical Tradition of Palestinian Resistance Culture and Internationalism. Her writings can be found in the Journal of Palestine Studies, Race and Class, Curriculum Inquiry, Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education and Society, and several anthologies.