The Crime of Nationalism: Britain, Palestine, and Nation-Building on the Fringe of Empire – KELLY (THT)

KELLY, Matthew Kraig. The Crime of Nationalism: Britain, Palestine, and Nation-Building on the Fringe of Empire. Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2017. 264p. Resenha de: SCHONK JR., Kenneth. The History Teacher, v.52, n.3, p.529-530, may., 2019.

Matthew Kraig Kelly argues that the long-held conception that Palestinian nationalism is equal to criminality was a conscious construct by British and Zionist (“Zionist” is used here to represent Israeli nationalists) agents to marginalize and negate Arab agency in the Middle East. At its core, The Crime of Nationalism is the story of how ideas, opinions, and biases become discourse. Specifically, Kelly reconstructs the evolution of what he calls the construction of a “crimino-national” narrative of the Great Revolt of 1936 and its immediate and long-term aftermath (p. 2). At the onset of this era, Palestinian insurgency was taken by the British at face-value: a burgeoning nationalist movement seeking political agency in the years after Sykes-Picot, when British interests in southwest Asia were increasingly influenced by Zionist leaders. As tensions flared in 1936, the British began to categorize Palestinian action as criminal and terrorist, thereby associating any and all action by the latter as irrationally violent and dissolute. Within a period of just a few years, Arab transgression—whether it was conducted through political negotiation or in public protest—was defined as violence intent on undermining the ascendant Anglo-Zionist social order.

Kelly queries as to who has the right to use force. Through the use of letters, political missives, and newspaper accounts of all sides involved in this conflict, he convincingly argues that the British came to undermine Palestinian efforts to utilize violent—and peaceful—tactics in their nationalist endeavors. Such efforts yielded myriad results for the British. Primarily was that Arab action in Palestine was saddled with a discourse of violence, thereby negating any nationalist outcome.

Relatedly, such a discourse has had the effect of creating a global consensus that Palestinian nationalism was—and is—tantamount to criminal and terrorist activity.

Moreover, this direct involvement by the British in defining Palestinian action helped to justify any violent actions by the British and Zionists as being done in the name of justice and the maintenance of social order. In sum, these actions enabled the British and Zionists to self-justify their own use of force against Palestinians. This narrative transgresses both the historiography and conventional wisdom of the era that, Kelly argues, has been constructed by the British and has been incorrectly reified in scholarly works on the history of Palestine. As such, Kelly serves to correct this historiography, shedding light on how an ahistorical narrative becomes cemented.

This book has many applications for syllabi in myriad undergraduate and graduate courses on the modern Middle East, as well as those on the British Empire.

Adopters should not be dissuaded by the relatively brief time period covered in The Crime of Nationalism, as the implications of the events in question have relevance up through the present day. Less obvious is the teaching applicability in global history courses on nationalism, crime and criminality, and historical theory. Kelly consistently and effectively demonstrates how events in Palestine were influenced by and had connections to historical events and agents abroad. One such example regards the specter of recent events in Ireland, and how this shaped Britain’s response to the Great Revolt of 1936 and the events that followed in its wake. Thus, the book has a transnational aspect that provides a point of entry—and value—for those who may not be experts in the history of the Middle East. Moreover, Kelly’s arguments regarding the discursive construct of criminality will be of great interest and use for courses on the history of law and order. Additionally, the book has applicability in courses on historiography and historical methods. How Kelly corrects the narrative of the Great Revolt demonstrates the value of an applied empiricism that employs a post-modern analysis of the construction of historical discourse. As noted above, Kelly rightfully intends this as a work that corrects a historiography that has long perpetuated mistruths about the events of 1936. In this regard, The Crime of Nationalism teaches to transgress—that is, how to skillfully and tactfully provide voice to the historically marginalized.

Kenneth Schonk Jr. – University of Wisconsin–La Crosse.

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