What changes and what doesn't

Last spring, I spent some days sitting in the lower level of the Birzeit library reading through older issues of Samed al-Iqtisadi from the early 1980s. This was a PLO magazine about, mostly, economic issues. (Raja Khalidi has a nice piece about Samed, and the ways in which economic projects were conceived as part of the liberation movement, in Jacobin.) I was reading through a lot of older writing on agriculture, which even at that time was formulated in the language of “development”. And in terms of the occupation, there was a ton of writing on military control, import/export policy, commodity dumping, and other such things that were warping and destroying the productive growth of the agricultural sector. 

What struck me though is how similar all of this writing – the same concepts, the same framing, the same form of argumentation, and the same conclusion – is to the reports and academic writing you’d read today. If one was so inclined, it would probably be possible to pull quotes from Arabic in Samed in the 1980s and find almost identical ones in UN and NGO reports from the 1990s onwards. 

The big difference is that, 40 years ago, the art was better. The Darwish/Khalifeh collaboration is still waiting to be surpassed. I’m usually pretty critical of nostalgia and golden age thinking, but sometimes the past was just cooler. Here are some gems from Samed: