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Beeld: 74 Reconstitution of a Struggle van Rania en Raed Rafei (2012, 95 min.)

Judith Naeff researches Arab ideals and disappointments with Veni grant

University Lecturer on Middle Eastern cultures Judith Naeff, associated with the Faculty of Humanities, will receive a Veni grant of 250,000 euros. This will allow her to carry out research into Arab documentary and fiction.

'Books are where ideas are created'

'When protests broke out in the Arab world over the past decade, it came as a surprise to many observers. After all, the call for social and political justice had been absolutely marginal in the political and public debate since the end of the turbulent 70s,' says Naeff. 'If we look at the cultural field, however, we see a much greater continuity of mostly left-wing ideas. If we had paid more attention to this, it might have felt less like the revolutions appeared out of nowhere. Books and films that at first glance may seem marginal in relation to political history are where ideas are formed, tested, cherished and rejected, even - and perhaps especially - when there is little room for those ideas in politics. Even very personal ego documents about desperation and depression are read by a new generation and seen as important period documents that have something to tell the present.'

Still from the film 74 Reconstitution of a Struggle by Rania and Raed Rafei (2012, 95 minutes), one of the films that Judith Naeff will analyse. Image published with permission of the filmmaker.

Memories of the '70s

With the project Remembering Dissent and Disillusion in the Arab World, Judith Naeff will look into how a young generation in the Arab world relates to student movements, workers' strikes and communist parties from before their birth. 'In film, documentary and literature, young adults dig up this revolutionary history of the region', explains the University Lecturer on Middle Eastern cultures. 'The aim is not to retell history as accurately as possible, but rather to start a dialogue with both the hopes and ideals, as well as the disappointments and defeats of the past.'

What is permanently a thing of the past and what can be preserved? Can you cherish a history of revolution if you already know how badly it ended? But also: did you really think you could overthrow capitalism with your Kalashnikov? Naeff: 'In my research I analyse the dialogue between the relatively hopeless present on the one hand and moments of insurrection in the past on the other, in experimental documentaries, film and literature. I also talk to their creators, sometimes together with their parents, when these form an important point of reference in the work in question.' 

Events to bring the Middle East and the Netherlands together

Although the project focuses on the Arab world and in particular Lebanon, Egypt and more transnational movements, the reconsideration of left-wing ideology in the region does not stand on its own. Young activists all over the world take to the streets to fight for social justice, but most of them refuse to affiliate with left-wing party politics and ideologies. The Netherlands is no exception. 'As part of the project, I will be organising a series of events in the Netherlands. These are aimed at bringing together the conversations between two generations of artists, activists and intellectuals from the Middle East and the Netherlands,' says Naeff.

NWO Veni

In total, 25 young Leiden researchers received a Veni grant. Every year, the NWO (Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research), awards Veni grants to young researchers who recently obtained their doctoral degree. They receive a maximum of 250.000 euros for innovational research projects. The Veni grants are, together with the Vidi and Vici grants, part of the NWO's Innovational Research Incentives Scheme.

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