Written in an effort “to frame questions of culture and power in different terms” from those of Edward Said, this case study of Ottoman Alexandria before the French invasion in 1798 (identified by Said as the “launchpad of modern Orientalism”) reveals “lines between empowered and powerless, even East and West,” blurred or erased by “cosmopolitan mixing. . . . So much attention is paid to the way that empires divide people against each other that it is easy to forget how empires have also brought populations together, forcibly at times, yet often with enduring effects. The cosmopolitan possibilities of empire, as opposed to narrower definitions of national belonging, would shape the life of Etienne Roboly,” whose complicated existence in Egypt—as a citizen of both or neither the French state and/nor the Ottoman—is the focus of this study. The author asks her readers to glean from this article two “lessons”: first, that “nation-states, as the briefest glance at twentieth-century history will confirm, have often proved themselves hostile toward minority populations. Yet we have also been taught to see empires as evil things, which makes the second lesson— that empires have sometimes been more accommodating of difference than many independent nations—seem somewhat counterintuitive. . . . The history of Alex-andria invites us to look at how empire may provide an umbrella of common security for a range of cultures to coexist, and even at times intermingle.” Still, “the larger question is whether and how inclusionary definitions of belonging can be made to oughtweigh exclusionary ones,” regardless of the political context.
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Maya Jasanoff; Cosmopolitan: A Tale of Identity from Ottoman Alexandria. Common Knowledge 1 April 2019; 25 (1-3): 384–400. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0961754X-7299510
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