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A Contact Threesome:
Americans, Arabs, and Imperialists
Henry Grey Gorman
Submitted to the Faculty of the
Graduate School of Vanderbilt University
in partial fulfillment of the requirements
for the degree of
MASTER OF ARTS
Paul A. Kramer, PhD
Samira Sheikh, PhD
A Contact Threesome: Americans, Arabs, and Imperialists
In 1927, Henry Emerson Fosdick, a harsh critic of militarism and empire, advocate of scientific Christianity, and minister to New York's wealthiest citizens traveled to Palestine to see his faith's birthplace. On this trip, he visited Jerusalem, the site of Jesus's death and resurrection. But when he went to commemorate the Passion, he rejected the crowded Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which sat on the traditional site of Golgotha, the hill where the Romans executed and entombed the Son of Man.
Instead, he suggested that pilgrims visit the “Garden Tomb” of Charles “Chinese” Gordon, a British general slain at Khartoum by the Mahdi's anti-colonial uprising, because he found it peaceful and reverent.1 Thus, to find a holy site that fit his spiritual sensibilities, Fosdick substituted a British imperial martyr for Christ himself. Just as Christian doctrine holds that Jesus's body was marked by the spears of the Roman soldiers who occupied his homeland, Fosdick's travel narrative bears wounds from its author's contact with the British empire and its discourses.
In 1856, Henry Harris Jessup (1832-1910), scion of an old New England family, Yale graduate, and Presbyterian minister, crossed the wide Atlantic to spread Protestant Christianity to the people of Ottoman Syria, where he lived and preached for more than half a century. Seventy-three years later, another Protestant minister, Henry Emerson Fosdick (1878-1969) visited the Levant in order to make far-briefer trip to the Holy Land. Both were ecumenical Protestants whose faith comfortably co-existed with science. Both enjoyed connections to America's elite and the patronage of millionaires. And despite those ties, both experienced marginality in the Middle East, and depended on Europeans who, though empire, wielded much more power there, to help them access the Levant. Both men needed their physical protection and interpretive assistance. In the pages that follow, I will perform a close reading of Jessup's 1910 missionary narrative Fifty-Three Years in Syria and Fosdick's 1927 travelogue 1 Harry Emerson Fosdick. A Pilgrimage to Palestine. New York: MacMillan, 1927. p. 249 1 A Pilgrimage to Palestine. I argue that these accounts were marked by their authors' dependence upon the European empires, and that when we analyze how Americans interacted with non-Western places beyond their sphere of influence, we must consider their interactions with European imperialists and other powerful expatriates who lived there as well as their encounters with the “natives.” To do so, I'm going to need to break with the way that scholars in the humanities in general, and historians of the relationship between the US and the Middle East in particular, talk about contact.
Most simply narrate meetings between Americans and the Other.2 In some cases, scholars explain all of Americans' narratives of their encounters as total products of the discourses they brought from home.
In the worst cases, they dehistoricize those discourses and treat them as parts of an essentialized American identity.3 These writers usually are trying to critique American exceptionalism, but instead they perpetuate it. Even writers who avoid this trap often ignore the context that made interactions between Americans and their Others possible. Some post-spatial turn scholars have tried to contextualize encounters by locating them in spaces like Mary Louise Pratt's “contact zone” where interaction can occur.4 However, they usually focus exclusively on “hetero” interactions within those zones-- that is, those between the visitor and the “Other.” But American travelers visited physical places inhabited by people who they identified with-A sampling of the works I am talking about here: Ussama Makdisi. Artillery of Heaven: American Missionaries and the Failed Conversion of the Middle East. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008; Thomas Kidd. American Christians and Islam: Evangelical Cultures and Muslims from the Colonial Period to the Age of Terrorism. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009; Stephanie Stidham Rogers. Inventing the Holy Land: American Protestant Pilgrimage to
Palestine, 1865-1941. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2011; “William McClure Thompson's The Land and the Book:
Pilgrimage and Mission in Palestine” by Helene Murre-van den Berg, “American Protestant Missionary Beginnings in Beirut and Istanbul: Policy, Politics, Practice, and Response” by Habib Badr, “Evangelization or Education: American Protestant Missionaries, the American Board, and the Girls and Women of Syria” by Ellen Fleischman, and “Muslim Response to Missionary Activities in Egypt with Special Reference to the Al-Azhar High Corps of 'Ulama” by Umar Ryad, all in H. L. Murre-van Den Berg [ed]. New Faith in Ancient Lands. Leiden: Brill, 2006; J.J. Brumberg. “Zenanas and Girlless Villages: The Ethnology of American Evangelical Women, 1870-1910.” The Journal of American History 69, no. 2. 1982. pp. 347-371.
3 For U.S.-Middle East relations, Thomas Kidd is an especially bad example. Other people produce international versions of this sort of “export narrative.” See, for example, Michael Adas. Dominance by Design: Technological Imperatives and America's Civilizing Mission. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2006.
4 This analytic is from Mary Louise Pratt. Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation. New York: Routledge,
1992. pp. 7-9
those between the imperialists and the Other, shaped Americans' experiences. I want to “queer” Pratt's contact zone and examine how “homo” interactions-- between the visitor and people they identified with-- mediated the experience of contact. Americans' experiences in areas dominated by European empires were a product of imperial threesomes, and the “homo” third party in the encounter shaped the narratives that these experiences generated. I suggest that we depart from the binary models which cut across almost all humanities writing about contact, and talk about triangular encounters instead. In the pages that follow, I will discuss the Levant's geopolitical landscape, Jessup and Fosdick's backgrounds, and four ways that triangulation shaped their experiences of the the region.
Throughout the 19th century, the Levant nominally fell under the jurisdiction of the Ottoman Empire, but the once-mighty Sublime Porte's power was fading, and the territory carried a messy patchwork of overlapping sovereignties. The central government struggled to control the military governors, or pashas, who ruled Mesopotamia, the Levant, Egypt, and Tripolitania, who possessed considerable autonomy. In turn, the pashas struggled with local nobles, like the Shehab Emirs of Lebanon, who had to negotiate with powerful local groups like the region's Druze tribes to maintain their rule.5 At the same time Britain and France wielded immense local influence through alliances with local elites and a series of agreements known as the Capitulations. Their citizens enjoyed extraterritoriality, their consuls could boss local officials about, and they dispatched gunboats and soldiers to intervene in internecine conflicts.6 In 1860, the two countries led an intervention to stop a religious war in Ottoman Syria, and afterward, France occupied the region.7 The two countries claimed 5 Donald Quataert. The Ottoman Empire, 1700-1022. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. pp. 100-110 6 Ibid, pp. 79-80 7 Leila Tarazi Fawaz. An Occasion For War: Civil Conflict in Lebanon and Damascus in 1860. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994. pp.109-111.
Britain turned this outlying province of the Ottoman Empire into a de facto colony.8 Hence, the two European powers both possessed a measure of imperial control in the region.
The Sublime Porte tried to resist the Europeans' imposition on its sovereignty claw back its authority over its Arabic-speaking provinces. In the “Auspicious Incident” of 1826, Sultan Mahmud II disbanded the Janissary corps and established a modern-style army.9 Then, in 1836, he inaugurated the Tanzimat reform, a program of legislation intended to build a modern Ottoman bureaucracy and an “Ottoman” national identity.10 In 1898, another independence-seeking Sultan, Abdulhamid II, tried to break away from Britain and France by aligning his country with their great geopolitical rival, Germany. The Germans agreed to help finance the construction of a railroad from Istanbul to Baghdad, in exchange for the valuable right to pump oil along its length. This alliance allowed the Ottoman Empire to claw back authority from Britain and France for some time.11 The Empire came even closer to effective independence with the Young Turk Revolution of 1908, which transformed the Ottoman Empire into a constitutional monarchy and sped its transformation into a modern-day nation-state.12 The Ottoman Empire's efforts to wrest control of the Levant back from Britain and France ended with total failure during the First World War. The British military officer and Orientalist T.E. Lawrence and the family of the Sharif of Mecca coordinated an Arab Revolt in the Levant and Mesopotamia, which, along with British expeditions to Iraq and Palestine, destroyed the Ottoman Empire south of Anatolia. The secret Sykes-Picot agreement of 1917 accorded Palestine, Transjordan, and Iraq to Britain and Syria and Lebanon to France. The Treaty of Versailles formalized this arrangement by 8 Quataert, p. 60.
9 Ibid, pp. 63-64 10 Ibid, pp. 67-70 11
Sean McMeekin. The Berlin-Baghdad Express: The Ottoman Empire and Germany's Bid for World Power. Cambridge:
Harvard University Press, 2010. pp. 1-16 12 Quataert, p. 65.
European powers, like the Ottomans before them, extended a piecemeal authority over the region with the cooperation of local elites. Both Jessup and Fosdick visited a Levant under the rule of a patchwork of semi-sovereign polities where European empires projected power.
Both men also encountered a European imperial intellectual geography superimposed upon the Ottoman Empire's complex political landscape. American travelers in the Levant made sense of their visits using both personal experience and an enormous corpus of texts created by European imperialists, journalists, and scholars. Britain and France each brought a panoply of archaeologists, philologists, ethnographers, and missionaries to the Ottoman Empire alongside its bands of soldiers, spies, and diplomats.14 As Edward Said powerfully argued in Orientalism, the body of knowledge that these British and French interpreters created about the Middle East served and and was served by their countries' imperial projects.15 Hence, American visitors like Jessup and Fosdick interacted with imperial bodies of knowledge as well as empires themselves when they visited the Levant.
Henry Harris Jessup spent most of the 19th century's second half working under the auspices of the American Board for the Commission of Foreign Missions (ABCFM) as missionary to the Ottoman Villayat, or province, of Syria, where he chose to go after having a personal revelation in 1852.16 He lived in the coastal cities of Tarablus (Tripoli) and Beirut, which now lie in Lebanon. In his homeland, Jessup was socially powerful and well-connected. He was a graduate of Yale and member of a white, wealthy Northeastern family. His father chaired the Republican national committee that nominated Lincoln for the presidency in 1860.17 On a fund-raising trip in the United States, he visited the New 13 David Fromkin. A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East. New York: Owl, 1989., pp. 266-268 14 Edward Said. Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books, 1978. pp. 76-85 15 Ibid, pp. 14-15 16 Henry Harris Jessup. Fifty-Three Years in Syria [vol 1]. New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1910. p. 16 17 Ibid, p. 16
visited Jessup in Beirut.19 Jessup and had close connections to America's Northeastern elites.
Although family ties attached him to American high society, Jessup most tightly identified with the Americans who came before him or worked with him at the ABCFM's Syria Mission. He dedicated most of his memoir's third chapter to hagiographic microbiographies of the “saints” who came before him.20 The ABCFM dispatched first American missionaries to Ottoman Syria, Levi Parsons and Pliny Fisk, in 1820. In Jerusalem and Beirut, they distributed Bibles, engaged in heated theological disputes with Lebanon's Maronite Catholic clergy, and converted a single man, 'Asad Shidyaq, who perished in a local bishop's prison.21 Despite this inauspicious start, the Syrian mission grew, and its missionaries took on more elaborate tasks. Dr. Eli King supervised a Protestant Arabic Bible translation project conducted by Butrus al-Bistani, a literary scholar and Protestant convert.22 In the fifty-four years after Jessup's arrival, the mission's activities continued to expand. By 1908, it operated a seminary, a Syrian Protestant College, an Arabic press for printing Bibles and propaganda, several Protestant churches, and many highly popular boys' and girls' schools, which taught classes in English, French, and religion.23 In addition to ministering to Syrians, the ABCFM's missionaries produced representations of Islam, Arabs, and the Middle East for English-speaking audiences. Jessup himself penned multiple anti-Islamic pamphlets for American and British public consumption.24 He also traveled to Britain and the United States to talk about his experiences in Syria, raise funds, and recruit more missionaries.
These activities gave Jessup and his fellow missionaries a measure of power over Middle Eastern subjects. In Discipline and Punish, Michel Foucault asserted that surveillance and routine, or 18 Ibid, p. 341 19 Henry Harris Jessup. Fifty-Three Years in Syria [vol 2]. New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1910 pp. 407-408.