December 07 Letter
AN OPEN LETTER TO ALL MEMBERS
from AMEWS President
Happy Holidays to one and all. I hope everyone gets a chance to slow down from our hectic academic life, and re-energize in the company of friends and family.
I want to take this opportunity to articulate my vision and hopes for AMEWS in 2008-2010, while acknowledging that I cannot launch any project without your full support and collaboration.
As I said in my November 2007 message, I would like to honor the past accomplishments of AMEWS by pushing us even further as spokespersons for the academic field itself, and for the women who inhabit and inform the field. The academy depends on us, and we should hold the academy, and ourselves, accountable to the women we speak for and write about: our sisters, our mothers, our aunts and nieces—ourselves and our loved ones. Many of us have chosen this academic field, this particular discipline, because we are personally invested in the circumstances of women in the Middle East. This personal commitment translates into some of the best scholarship available about women in and from the Middle East.
But we must not dissociate the “academy” from the “real world,” and my hope is that our scholarship can indeed translate into improved circumstances for women in and from the Middle East, in the reality of our everyday lives. Keeping politics out of our scholarship, if indeed that were possible, would simply allow other scholars to shape our political reality.
I have two main goals for AMEWS during my presidency—in addition to maintaining our ongoing endeavors, including our journal, the graduate student essay award, increasing membership, the annual meeting, networking, responding to crises (hopefully not too many), and growing sustainably.
My first goal is to organize and host a conference on the status of Middle East Women’s Studies today. In order to do that, I hope to meet with the advisory board in early 2008, and brainstorm the logistics of such a conference. I would like this conference to differ from other conferences on Middle Eastern women by centering the voices of the new generation of students and scholars who are seeking to establish themselves today in a field they have not shaped, and that does not always reflect their contributions, their needs, their voices and aspirations. Veiled or belly-dancing, we continue to be exoticized, and can only break the silence (and censorship) and end our misrepresentation when we allow for solid discussion of the other facets to our lives: our cultural work as film-makers, anti-occupation activists, revolutionaries, professors, lovers, organizers, lawyers, radical mothers, sometimes veiled, sometimes belly dancing, and sometimes, oftentimes, just going about our business in comfortable jeans or elegant skirts. What better host for such a conference, such a vital networking stage, such an empowering space, than the Association of Middle East Women’s Studies itself? If not AMEWS, then who?
My second goal is to forge greater alliances between AMEWS and various Women’s and Gender Studies centers in the Middle East and North Africa region. Many of you already have connections with colleagues abroad, outside of the country you reside in, and I am hoping that AMEWS will serve as the network that allows for collaborative projects between these various centers, but also as a channel of horizontal communication, intellectual exchange, and mutual learning and teaching between us all. An obvious place to start is for those of us in the US to ask our institutions to host Fulbright scholars from the MENA region, while scholars in the Middle East can arrange for US-based academics to teach, and of course live, in the countries we “lecture” about, so as to bring more immediacy to our scholarship. But I have no doubt many of you have other ideas, suggestions, thoughts, and input, and I eagerly look forward to hearing from you.
These plans are still relatively immature in my own mind, and I am sharing them with you at this early stage, so as to incorporate your feedback from the very beginning. I cannot do it alone, nor would I want to. Our strength is in our numbers and our diversity.
Again, Happy Holidays, and I look forward to serving AMEWS to the very best of my ability.