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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 April 2015


This article explores the complex interplay between masculinity and nationalism among Palestinians living in a refugee camp in Jordan. Youth masculinity in the camp is widely perceived in Jordan as an expression of either immoral behavior or unthinking radicalism, and as a symbol of cultural and political difference and the failure of camp dwellers to embrace assimilation. However, camp dwellers’ masculinities are not uniform. I argue that young men's ability to navigate and master diverse and sometimes contrasting registers of manhood enables them to reproduce a Palestinian national identity in exile while achieving socioeconomic integration in Jordan. In pursuing this argument, the article has two goals: to challenge popular stereotypes about Palestinian refugees in Jordan today; and to problematize the discursive mutual dependency between nationalism and hegemonic masculinity in the study of Palestinian masculinity.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2015 

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Author's note: I thank the Institut Français du Proche-Orient, the Council for British Research in the Levant, and the School of Oriental and African Studies for generously supporting my research. I am also grateful for the perceptive and thoughtful critiques, questions, and commentary provided by the four anonymous IJMES reviewers, IJMES editors Akram Khater and Jeffrey Culang, and Mjriam Abu-Samra, Jalal al-Husseini, Raymond Aphtorpe, Beth Baron, Sharif Ghazal Tbeileh, Tobias Kelly, Laleh Khalili, Magnus Marsden, Alice Massari, Lucas Oesch, and Sara Pursley. All mistakes are my own.

1 After conducting preliminary research in the Palestinian refugee camps of Jordan from May to December 2004, field research for this paper was carried out in the al-Wihdat refugee camp from July 2009 to September 2010 and complemented by return trips in February–March 2011 and March 2012. During these periods, I lived mostly in the camp. Though participant observation remained the most important part of my research and field notes my main primary source, I have also conducted a number of semi-structured interviews and devoted some time to analyzing refugee texts, textbooks, blogs, and other published material.

2 Among my informants, “youth” is a relatively broad category that encompasses a wide spectrum of people. However, the term is often used to refer to unmarried young men between their teens and early thirties. People in this age group are generally referred to as shabāb.

3 Head of the al-Wihdat police station who wished to remain anonymous, author's interview, al-Wihdat, 28 August 2009.

4 The regime has deployed this image to criminalize the antigovernment demonstrations that have swept across Jordan during the Arab revolts. See Achilli, Luigi, “Disengagement from Politics: Nationalism, Political Identity, and the Ordinary in a Palestinian Refugee Camp in Jordan,” Critique of Anthropology 34 (2014): 234–57CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For comparative literature on the region, see Paul Amar's analysis of the Egyptian security state's manipulation of internationalist feminist campaigns in order to delegitimize political protests against Mubarak's regime. Amar, Paul, “Turning the Gendered Politics of the Security State Inside Out? Charging the Police with Sexual Harassment in Egypt,” International Feminist Journal of Politics 13 (2011): 299328CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

5 See especially al-Khazendar, Sami, Jordan and the Palestine Question: The Role of the Islamic and Left Forces in Foreign Policy-Making (Chicago: LPC Group, 1997)Google Scholar.

6 The contribution of sociology and anthropology to the study of gender and nationalism has been conspicuous to say the least. See, for example, Kandiyoti, Deniz, Women, Islam and the State (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1991)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Kimmel, Michael S., Manhood in America: A Cultural History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006)Google Scholar; McClintock, Anne, Mufti, Aamir R., and Shohat, Ella, eds., Dangerous Liaisons: Gender, Nation, and Postcolonial Perspectives (Minneapolis, Minn.: University of Minnesota Press, 1997)Google Scholar; Mosse, George L., The Image of Man: The Creation of Modern Masculinity (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996)Google Scholar; Mostov, Julie, “Sexing the Nation/Desexing the Body: Politics of National Identity in the Former Yugoslavia,” in The Gender Ironies of Nationalism: Sexing the Nation, ed. Mayer, Tamar (New York: Routledge, 1999), 89112Google Scholar; Parker, Andrew, Nationalisms and sexualities (London: Routledge, 1992)Google Scholar; Povinelli, Elizabeth A., “Native Sex: Sex Rites, Land Rights, and the Making of Aboriginal Civic Culture,” in The Gender Ironies of Nationalism, 163–86Google Scholar; Yuval-Davis, Nira, Gender and Nation (London: Sage, 1997)Google Scholar; and Yuval-Davis, Nira, Anthias, Floya, and Campling, Jo, Woman, Nation, State (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1989)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

7 According to R. W. Connell, hegemonic masculinity is an ideal type of manliness that exhibits general patterns. This ideal combines a number of attributes ranging from male assertiveness and emotional detachment to heterosexuality, physical strength, and attractiveness. Since the performance of this style of masculinity requires access to specific resources, it generates dominance not only over women but also over subordinate men who cannot comply with it. See Connell, R. W., Gender and Power: Society, the Person and Sexual Politics (Cambridge: Polity, 1987)Google Scholar; and Connell, R. W. and Messerschmidt, James W., “Hegemonic Masculinity: Rethinking the Concept,” Gender Society 19 (2005): 829–59CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

8 See, for example, Johnson, Penny and Kuttab, Eileen, “Where Have All the Women (and Men) Gone?Feminist Review 69 (2001): 2143CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Peteet, Julie, Gender in Crisis: Women and the Palestinian Resistance Movement (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991)Google Scholar; and Peteet, , “Male Gender and Rituals of Resistance in the Palestinian Intifada: A Cultural Politics of Violence,” American Ethnologist 21 (1994): 3149CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

9 See, for example, Kanafani, Samar, “Leaving Mother-Land: The Anti-Feminine in Fidaʾi Narratives,” Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power 15 (208): 297316CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Sa’ar, Amalia and Yahya-Yunis, Taghreed, “Masculinity in Crisis: The Case of Palestinians in Israel,” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 35 (2008): 305–23CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

10 For an analysis of the highly gendered character of Palestinian national discourse, see among others, Massad, Joseph, “Conceiving the Masculine: Gender and Palestinian Nationalism,” Middle East Journal 49 (1995): 467–83Google Scholar; and Sayigh, Rosemary, “Palestinian Women and Politics in Lebanon,” in Arab Women: Old Boundaries, New Frontiers, ed. Tucker, Judith (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1993), 175–95Google Scholar.

11 See, for example, Kanaaneh, Rhoda, “Boys or Men? Duped or ‘Made’? Palestinian Soldiers in the Israeli Military,” American Ethnologist 32 (2005): 260–75CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Monterescu, Daniel, “Stranger Masculinities: Gender and Politics in a Palestinian-Israeli Third Space,” in Islamic Masculinities, ed. Ouzgane, Lahoucine (London: Zed, 2006), 123–42Google Scholar.

12 Hart, Jason, “Dislocated Masculinity: Adolescence and the Palestinian Nation-in-Exile,” Journal of Refugee Studies 21 (2008): 6481, esp. 64Google Scholar.

13 A comment is in order to avoid hasty conclusions among readers about the constitution of masculinity in the camp. The specific focus of the present article has led me to overemphasize the discursive role of Palestinian nationalism in shaping camp dwellers’ masculinities. While it is significant to investigate the place of nationalist values and ideals in the making of “proper” men, it is equally important not to forget that the articulation of masculinities inside and outside the Middle East depends upon broad socioeconomic and political forces. In this sense, I agree with Farha Ghannam that scholars need to take into account the whole array of social structures—especially class, religion, age, and race—that shape masculine subjectivities in order to reach an exhaustive conceptualization of how masculinity is enacted, challenged, and reinforced. Ghannam, Farha, Live and Die Like a Man: Gender Dynamics in Urban Egypt (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2013), 12Google Scholar.

14 See Hart, “Dislocated Masculinity.”

15 Ibid. As Khaled Furani and Dan Rabinowitz correctly assert, “the ethnographic work that emerged after Palestine's admission into mainstream anthropology since the 1980s … [has] tended to produce depictions of Palestinians as locked in a bind between repression and resistance, ubiquitously struggling for national sovereignty.” Furani, Khaled and Rabinowitz, Dan, “The Ethnographic Arriving of Palestine,” Annual Review of Anthropology 40 (2011): 484CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

16 Inhorn, Marcia C., The New Arab Man: Emergent Masculinities, Technologies, and Islam in the Middle East (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2012), 45Google Scholar.

17 In this sense, the performance of masculinity among young men in al-Wihdat might be partly explained by Demetriou's notion of a “hybrid block” or Inhorn's concept of “emergent masculinities.” Both authors argue against Connell's “hegemonic masculinity” by problematizing gender hierarchies and emphasizing how male selfhood is an ongoing rather than a static act. The way young men in al-Wihdat enact different forms of masculinities in their daily lives reflects processes of economic, political, and social change, with men navigating and adapting to a changing world. However, in my analysis I do not privilege emergent forms of masculinity over old forms. New masculinities do not necessarily displace older ideals of manhood; both can be displayed simultaneously by one individual. My approach acknowledges the coexistence of these different registers and, more important, accounts for the anxieties and contradictions that such coexistence entails. Demetriou, Demetrakis Z., “Connell's Concept of Hegemonic Masculinity: A Critique,” Theory and Society 30 (2001): 337–61CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Inhorn, The New Arab Man.

18 Connell, Gender and Power.

19 Scholars have documented in considerable detail the importance of violence—endured, narrated, or performed—to the creation and reproduction of masculinity in the Arab Middle East. Violence and masculinity have been studied extensively in Palestinian studies in particular. See, among others, Peteet, “Male gender and Rituals of Resistance in the Palestinian Intifada.” On the intersection of violence and masculinity elsewhere in the Middle East, see especially Gilsenan, Michael, Lords of the Lebanese Marches: Violence and Narrative in an Arab Society (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1996)Google Scholar. On violence and patriarchy, see Joseph, Suad, “Brother/Sister Relationships: Connectivity, Love, and Power in the Reproduction of Patriarchy in Lebanon,” American Ethnologist 21 (1994): 5073CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

20 The word dawāwīn is often used in daily speech to refer to both a group of people and a single individual.

21 On nicknames, see, among others, Vom Bruck, Gabriele and Bodenhorn, Barbara, The Anthropology of Names and Naming (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006)Google Scholar. On nicknames in Jordan as a device of social control, see Antoun, Richard T., “On the Significance of Names in an Arab Village,” Ethnology 7 (1968): 158–70CrossRefGoogle Scholar. On the use of nicknames among criminals, see Gambetta, Diego, Codes of the Underworld: How Criminals Communicate (Princeton, N.J.; Princeton University Press, 2009), 230–50Google Scholar.

22 Cf. Hart, “Dislocated Masculinity.”

23 A fascinating aspect of recent work on youth across the world is its tendency to focus on the anxieties that many young men experience in times of economic and social uncertainty. See, for example, Jeffrey, Craig, Timepass: Youth, Class and The Politics of Waiting in India (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2010)Google Scholar; Masquelier, Adeline, “The Scorpion's Sting: Youth, Marriage and the Struggle for Social Maturity in Niger,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 11 (2005): 5983CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Schielke, Samuli, “Boredom and Despair in Rural Egypt,” Contemporary Islam 28 (2008): 251–70CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Verkaaik, Oskar, Migrants and Militants: Fun and Urban Violence in Pakistan (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2004)Google Scholar.

24 Jihad, author's interview, al-Wihdat, 1 May 2010. All names of interviewees are psuedonyms.

25 Khalili, Laleh, Heroes and Martyrs of Palestine: The Politics of National Commemoration (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Layoun, Mary N., Wedded to the Land? Gender, Boundaries, and Nationalism in Crisis (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2001)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

26 On political Islam in the Muslim world, see Devji, Faisal, Landscapes of the Jihad: Militancy, Morality, Modernity (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2005)Google Scholar; Keddie, Nikki, “The New Religious Politics: Where, When, and Why Do ‘Fundamentalisms’ Appear?Comparative Studies in Society and History 40 (1998): 696723CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Kepel, Gilles, Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2002)Google Scholar; and Roy, Olivier, Globalized Islam: The Search for a New Ummah (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004)Google Scholar. For an anthropological critique of the concept, see Hirschkind, Charles, “What is Political Islam?Middle East Report 27 (1997): 1214CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

27 On the imbrication of gender, modernity, and piety in the Middle East, see, for example, Deeb, Lara, An Enchanted Modern: Gender and Public Piety in Shiʿi Lebanon (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2006)Google Scholar; and Mahmood, Saba, Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2005)Google Scholar.

28 On the political influence of Hamas in the Occupied Territories, see Chehab, Zaki, Inside Hamas: The Untold Story of Militants, Martyrs and Spies (London: I. B. Tauris, 2007)Google Scholar; Lybarger, Loren D., Identity and Religion in Palestine: The Struggle between Islamism and Secularism in the Occupied Territories (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2007)Google Scholar; Milton-Edwards, Beverley and Farrell, Stephen, Hamas: The Islamic Resistance Movement (Cambridge: Polity, 2010)Google Scholar; and Mishal, Shaul and Sela, Avraham, The Palestinian Hamas: Vision, Violence and Coexistence (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000)Google Scholar. On the relationship between Hamas and the Brotherhood, see especially Hroub, Khaled, Hamas: Political Thought and Practice (Washington, D.C.: Institute for Palestine Studies, 2000)Google Scholar.

29 On the PLO's loss of influence in the region, see especially Hilal, Jamil M., “The PLO: Crisis in Legitimacy,” Race and Class 37 (1995): 118CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Tamari, Salim, “The Palestinian Movement in Transition: Historical Reversals and the Uprising,” Journal of Palestine Studies 20 (1991): 5770CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For a thorough analysis of the history of the Palestinian National Movement, see Sayigh, Yezid, Armed Struggle and the Search for State: The Palestinian National Movement, 1949–1993 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997)Google Scholar.

30 For an analysis of the growing popularity of the Brotherhood inside and outside refugee camps in Jordan, see Wiktorowicz, Quentin, “Islamists, the State, and Cooperation in Jordan,” Arab Studies Quarterly 21 (1999): 117Google Scholar. For an analysis of the waning of the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, see, among others, Khaled Hroub, “Jordan: Possibility of Transition from Electoral Rut to a ‘Constitutional Democratic Monarchy,’” Arab Reform Brief, 18 December 2007, accessed 7 January 2015,, 1–6.

31 Cf. Hart, “Dislocated Masculinities.”

32 This recalls a pattern highlighted by other anthropological work conducted in the Arab Muslim world: along the path from youth to adulthood, young men are often confronted with the choice to join either “the party of drugs” (ḥizb al-zalṭa) or the “party of the mosque” (ḥizb al-jāmi‘). See Ismail, Political Life in Cairo's New Quarters.

33 Massad, “Conceiving the Masculine.”

34 On the relationship between Islam and hegemonic masculinity in Western and local stereotypes of the “Middle Eastern man,” see Inhorn, The New Arab Man. For comparative literature on the dawānjī-shaykh resemblance, see Salwa Ismail's and Wilson C. Jacob's discussions of the futūwa-balṭagī type. Ismail, Political life in Cairo's New Quarters; Jacob, Wilson C., “Eventful Transformations: al-Futuwwa between History and the Everyday,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 49 (2007): 689712CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

35 Inhorn, The New Arab Man, 50.

36 Husayn, author's interview, al-Wihdat, 2 June 2010.

37 Scholars have documented abundantly the resemblance between nationalist and Islamist discourses. See especially Gelvin, James, “Modernity and Its Discontents: On the Durability of Nationalism in the Arab Middle East,” Nations and Nationalism 5 (1999): 7189CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Olivier Roy, Globalized Islam; and Zubaida, Sami, “Islam and Nationalism: Continuities and Contradictions,” Nations and Nationalism 10 (2004): 407–20CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For the context of the Palestinian struggle for national sovereignty, see Khalili, Heroes and Martyrs of Palestine, 33; and Oroub, Hamas. For a regional variant of the “Islamic model” of masculinity among Palestinians, see Monterescu, Daniel, “‘A city of Strangers’: The Socio-Cultural Construction of Manhood in Jaffa,” Journal of Mediterranean Studies 1 (2001): 159–89Google Scholar.

38 Abu ʿUmar, author's interview, al-Wihdat, 25 January 2010.

40 This reflects Hamas' position vis-a-vis women according to which “Muslim women have a role in the liberation struggle which is no less than the role of men; for woman is the maker of men, and her role in guiding and educating the generations is a major role.” Hamas charter as quoted in Hroub, Hamas, 278. This gendered difference, so familiar in the Islamist context, is not alien to the nationalist heroic discourse. Massad, for example, explains how the discrepancy between the role of men and that of women in the national project “is central to the concept of Palestinian nationalist agents as masculine. While men actively create glory, respect, and dignity, women are merely the soil on which these attributes, along with manhood, grow. It is as soil that they are the ‘guardians’ of Palestinian lives and survival.” Massad, “Conceiving the Masculine,” 474.

41 See Taraki, Lisa, “Islam Is the Solution: Jordanian Islamists and the Dilemma of the ‘Modern Woman,’British Journal of Sociology 46 (1995): 643–61CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

42 Husayn, author's interview, al-Wihdat, 14 October 2009. This term refers to Palestinians who were forced to move to Jordan following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.

44 For a comparative discussion of the relationship between national and sexual boundaries among Palestinians living in Israel, see, for example, Kanaaneh, “Boys or men? Duped or ‘made’?”; and Monterescu, “City of ‘Strangers.’”

45 In this sense, the notion of ta ʿhīl (socioeconomic rehabilitation) is opposed to that of tawṭīn (permanent resettlement). In camp dwellers’ narratives, the former represents their attempt to secure a decent lifestyle without jeopardizing the Palestinian “right of return” (ḥaqq al-ʿawda); the latter is best exemplified by the rich Palestinian refugees who have pursued integration in Jordan mindless of the Palestinian national predicament. See al-Husseini, Jalal, “UNRWA and the Palestinian Nation-Building Process,” Journal of Palestine Studies 29 (2000): 5164CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

46 On how the construction of masculinity among Palestinians is steeped in the responsibilities of kinship, paternity, and brotherhood, see, among many others, Jean-Klein, Iris, “Mothercraft, Statecraft and Subjectivity in the Palestinian Intifada,” American Ethnologist 27 (2000): 100–27CrossRefGoogle Scholar; for a similar account, see Joseph, Suad, “Brother/Sister: Connectivity, Love and Power in the Reproduction of Patriarchy in Lebanon,” American Ethnologist 21 (1994): 5073CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

47 Massad, “Conceiving the Masculine,” 478.

50 Massad, Joseph, Colonial Effects: The Making of National Identity in Jordan (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001), 347Google Scholar.

51 Nader, author's interview, al-Wihdat, 27 April 2010.

52 Assaf, author's interview, al-Wihdat, 29 April 2010.

54 The term “Transjordanian” has been used in the relevant literature to indicate the population that became citizens of the State of Transjordan, and successively citizens of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, by virtue of the nationality laws of 1928 of the Emirate of Jordan. The term had no exact equivalent in the camp. In daily usage, refugees would refer to Transjordanians either through the general term urdunniyyīn (which literally means “Jordanians”) or through the word badawī (Bedouins).

55 Rami, author's interview, al-Wihdat, 16 December 2009.

56 For an analysis of wāsṭa in Jordan, including its evolution and present-day practice, see Cunningham, Robert B. and Sarayrah, Yasin, Wasta: The Hidden Forces in Middle Eastern Society (London: Praeger, 1993)Google Scholar; and Sakijha, Basem and Kilani, Saʾeda, Wasta in Jordan: The Declared Secret (Amman: Press Foundation, 2002)Google Scholar.

57 See also Hart, “Dislocated Masculinity.”

58 Recent work on Palestinians has recognized the flexibility of Palestinian conceptions of masculinity and the ways in which young men strategically soften their hyper-masculinity in order to facilitate their socioeconomic integration into Jordanian society. See, for example, Monterescu, “Stranger masculinities”; and Hart, “Dislocated Masculinity.” In this article, I show how this “flexibility” does not necessarily herald a withdrawal from ideological commitment.

59 Abu Ghazi, author's interview, al-Wihdat, 8 December 2009.

60 Kelly, Tobias, “The Attractions of Accountancy: Living an Ordinary Life during the Second Palestinian Intifada,” Ethnography 9 (2008): 351–76CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

61 On how socioeconomic integration can serve as a strategy for reproducing the values and ideals of Palestinian nationalism in exile, see Achilli, “Disengagement from Politics.”

62 Kanaaneh, Rhoda, Birthing the Nation: Strategies of Palestinian Women in Israel (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2002)Google Scholar; Kanafani, “Leaving Mother-Land”; Massad, “Conceiving the Masculine.”

63 For a similar argument in regard to Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, see Peteet, Julie, “Gender and Sexuality: Belonging to the National and Moral Order,” in Hermeneutics and Honor: Negotiating Female “Public” Space in Islamic/ate Societies, ed. Afsaruddin, Asma (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999), 7088Google Scholar. This ambiguity is clearly contained in the concept of ṣumūd (resilience or steadfastness), which is a central concept in Palestinian nationalism. Because ṣumūd indicates passive resistance in the face of overarching forces, it is usually used to refer to the feminine sphere of patient endurance. Laleh Khalili points out how “the archetypal sumud narrative commemorates women's quiet work of holding the family together and providing sustenance and protection for the family.” Khalili, Heroes and Martyrs of Palestine, 101. See also Kanafani, “Leaving Mother-Land,” 313. As a swathe of scholarship has demonstrated, however, the term has become a form of infra-politics and organizational policy amongst Palestinian refugees in general. See, among other works, Lindholm-Schulz, Helena, The Reconstruction of Palestinian Nationalism: Between Revolution and Statehood (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999)Google Scholar.

64 Anas, author's interview, al-Wihdat, 3 November 2009.

65 Anas, author's interview, al-Wihdat, 8 June 2010.

66 Al-Tafila is a town located 183 kilometers southwest of Amman and known to be inhabited predominantly by Transjordanian families.

67 Abu Shadi, author's interview, Amman, 2 May 2010.

68 Ewing, Karen P., Stolen Honor: Stigmatizing Muslim Men in Berlin (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2008), 611Google Scholar.

69 Cf. Connell, Gender and Power.