CCAS Announces Winners of its Oxtoby Essay Prize - Center for Contemporary Arab Studies | Georgetown University
Photo of Dr. Willard Oxtoby

CCAS is pleased to announce the co-winners of the Willard J. Oxtoby essay prize for outstanding essays by a Georgetown graduate student on the question of Palestine and Middle East peace. Congratulations goes to Ashley Bowen of the program in Communication, Culture, & Technology, and Chrystie Flournoy Swiney of the Department of Government.

Dr. Willard Oxtoby was Professor of Comparative Religion at the University of Toronto’s Trinity College and served as founding director of its Centre for the Study of Religion from 1976 to 1981. Throughout his life, he was deeply concerned with the situation of the Palestinians and was a strong advocate of a peaceful and just solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. This award is given in his memory by his family and friends.

Ms. Bowen’s paper is entitled “Bomb the Wall: Graffiti as Resistance in Palestine.” For an abstract of the paper, please see below. Ms. Bowen is in her second year in the Communication, Culture, & Technology program at Georgetown. She obtained her undergraduate degree in art history from Reed College, where she focused on overtly political art. Her current research interests emphasize understanding how individuals use non-traditional media to create and register their identity. Additionally, she serves on the editorial staff for the CCT journal gnovis and volunteers at the Newseum.

Ms. Swiney’s paper is entitled “The Socialization and De-Socialization of Hamas: Insights for IR Theory and American Policy.” To read an abstract of the paper, please see below. Ms. Swiney is a Ph.D. candidate in international relations in the Department of Government at Georgetown. She holds a B.A. in religion from the College of William and Mary, a J.D. from Harvard Law School, and an M.Phil. in modern Middle Eastern studies from Oxford University. She is currently serving as Special Counsel to Constitutional and Legislative Affairs for the U.S. State Department at the American Embassy in Baghdad.

When Israel began building its 600 km security “fence” in the early 2000s, it could not have anticipated that it was building “the world’s largest canvas.” Together, the work of Palestinian graffiti writers and Western artists transforms the Israel-Palestine Separation Barrier into a site of contention. The text-heavy graffiti produced in Arabic, English, and Hebrew by Palestinians allows the writer to reclaim space and reassert the community’s continued existence in the face of an occupying power. The visual evidence of Palestinian power over space should not be underestimated; graffiti indexes the continued presence of an opposition movement and the failure of the Israeli occupation to monitor all behavior. Unfortunately, this graffiti does not currently attract as much foreign attention as the wall art produced by Western artists. The growing presence of foreign artists working on the barrier risks turning it into a place for Western consumption through tourism, art auctions, and reproductions. The art produced by foreign artists does successfully draw media attention to the situation in Palestine, but it also inserts an outside voice into one of the few arenas left for Palestinian expression and risks presenting the wall as the embodiment of the Palestinian condition.

Should the U.S. government talk to its enemies? This question is not only tantalizingly fascinating from an academic perspective, but as the 2008 presidential campaign heats up, increasingly relevant from a practical and foreign policy perspective. Indeed, whether and to what extent the U.S. should negotiate, liaison, and simply talk with its enemies—more specifically, radicalized Islamic movements with unforgivably militant pasts—is a question in need of urgent analysis and scholarly review. The Palestinian Hamas is one such enemy; a U.S.-designated terrorist movement and internationally despised pariah, it is widely assumed to be inherently malevolent, incapable of change, and thus wholly uninterested in the material incentives and/or reputational concerns often exchanged in the normal course of diplomatic relations. Yet, recent research on socialization—a process of inducting actors into the norms and rules of a given community—suggests the potentially powerful and transformative role of engagement, more specifically, of conversing, interacting, and, in general, associating with such so-called “enemies.”

This paper applies recent research on socialization to Hamas. More specifically, it examines how the process of being accepted into the international community of “legitimate” actors can, and has, altered the behaviors and rhetoric of even the most radicalized and seemingly impenetrable of political actors, such as Hamas. By examining the ways in which Hamas changed—behaviorally and rhetorically—during its brief time in political power (from approximately January 2006 to June 2007), a period when Hamas was exposed to an unprecedented level of international socialization, this paper offers a tentative answer to the question posited above. In short, Hamas’s period of intense socialization strongly argues in favor of engaging our enemies, or at the very least, further investigating the potentially transformative role of such change-inducing engagement.