Joseph Massad, “Colonial Effects”, 2001

Massad, Joseph, Colonial Effects: The Making of National Identity in Jordan, New York: Columbia University Press, 2001

[Colonial Effects] is not a study of nationalist movements or necessarily of nationalist thought in the colonial world. It is a study of how the state, colonial and postcolonial, participates in the identification of the nation and the role it plays in the production of national identity and culture, which nationalist thought adopts as objective essences.” (17)

The proposition of Massad is that contemporary Jordanian national identity is intrinsically related with, if not a straight continuation of, the colonial process of nation-state building whose major tools were the law, to define the modernizing project, and the military, to implement it. In this line, he goes on interpreting culture rendering Jordanianness readable through an analysis of the symbolic production of the state, thus, implicitly arguing that the nation was a result of the top-down process of joining identity to the government in the quest of colonial modernity.

colonial effects

The military and the Bedouins

A large portion of the book is dedicated to John Bagot Gubb, also known as Glubb Pasha, the second in command from 1930 to 1939 and the chief of the army from 1939 to 1956,whom Massad takes as a metonym of the Imperial policies in Transjordan. His Orientalist understanding of the geography and society to be ruled was complemented with an aim of preservation of the other that led him to a redefinition of collective identities in a syncretic manner. Glubb’s programme was two folded. He recruited Bedouins principally for the southern desert to nationalize them and to decrease the threat of raids:

 “By incorporating the Bedouins into the repressive state apparatus par excellence, Glubb ensured that not only would their internecine and international raiding be stopped, but also their group loyalty would be transferred to the nation-state, guaranteeing that the Bedouins would protect that state against all threats, especially so due to their contempt for city folk from which anti-state threats might arise. Also, due to kinship ties across the new national borders and their tribal affiliation, the Bedouins were seen as a threat to the nation-state. Nationalizing them, therefore, through territorialization, was part of nation-building.” (111)

Joseph Massad

Joseph Massad

Then, he redefined the core elements of being Bedouin with an Orientalist approach that enclosed them in a parallel and unchangeable temporal location constituting an unbroken line of tradition that would become the cultural core of the Jordanian national identity.

“The Bedouin is produced as a desert tent-dweller living far away from urban modernity, and as living in a past time, a traditional, time, an other time, and allochronic time… The modern Jordanian views her- or himself and present that self to Europeans as constituted through a repudiation of tradition, a repudiation of Bedouin self that is said to constitute her or his origin, while simultaneously reclaiming that tradition and that self as a living past!” (…) “tradition is incorporated within and not replaced by modernity” (…) “the temporal distance between the two can be the measure of how much civilization modern Jordanians have achieved over their living ancestors.” (78)

Through this analytical process, Massad studies the role of material culture such as dress or food and immaterial culture, such as dialectic pronunciations or music, to trace the process of constituting the national symbols. For instance, Mansaf, today hold dear as the national dish per excellence, was not a common dish in early twenty century Transjordan and it was substantially different. Jameed, a dried yogurt-cheese that is now its major ingredient, was not used in certain regions, and white rice was almost never used until the incorporation of Transjordan in the imperial trade networks that rendered this ingredient cheap enough for its popular consumption.

But more importantly, he proposes that the origin of the red-and-white kufiyya, probably the most visible national symbol of Jordan today, is actually a result of the re-Bedouinization of the tribes according to Glubbs selective definition and the Bedouinization of the army. Glubb brought this

cloth from Iraq and implemented as an official headwear of the Desert Patrol uniform as it was more useful for the climatic conditions of the desert while “respecting” the local culture.

Portraits of King Hussein I and King Abdallah II, Petra, Jordan

Portraits of King Hussein I and King Abdallah II, Petra, Jordan

“[T]he Bedouin produced by Glubb is but a faint simulacrum of an original that does not exist… Glubb’s white colonial masculinity masquerading as “Bedouinism” becomes the occasion of a double mimesis, wherein the Bedouin of the Desert Patron is supposed to imitates Glubb’s white colonial masculinity’s imitation of a phantasmic “Bedouin”.” (160)

Hence, the first part of Colonial Effects analyzes the successful constitution of a new nation bounded to the territorial limits of the geographically defined state. This process of modernization is principally understood as a legal definition of the new self and a productive ability of the army’s discipline. The best asset of this book is the role that Massad reserved for material culture as being at the core of the production of the new nation. Bringing together Louis Althusser, Michael Foucault, and Timothy Mitchell Joseph Massad defines the necessary framework to read into the relation between the corporeal and the symbolic at the time of modernizing identity politics. In the same fashion:

“Glubb clearly understands the implication for the production of new bodies through cultural cross-dressing. Cultural cross-dressing results in a “change of life,” a new corporeal culture wherein the very movement of the body is transformed, as are one’s domestic surroundings, how one sits, how one eats, and so forth. This is not simply a matter of aesthetic sensibility.” (119)

Shifting others

The second part of the book, dedicated to the analysis of the postcolonial period after the expulsion of Glubb Pasha in 1956, focuses on the nationalist turn of the regime that, while not being officially hold under colonial rule, effectively maintained strong connection with Western powers by shifting attention from the UK to the US. In the process, Massad implicitly points out that the process of identity construction requires an other to define the self. He analyzed the “two different yet related kinds of nationalism” that would compete through the 60s until the solidification of Jordanian exclusivist nationalism in the aftermath of the Civil War in 1971:

“One type… a non-Hashemite Arab nationalism sought to achieve technological modernization in the European sense, while adopting a certain selection of “traditions and religion for use in private sphere…. For these nationalist, Jordanian Arab national identity was constituted in opposition to colonialism, which constituted the other… Another kind of anticolonial nationalism was also deployed in the country, and it was spearheaded by the Amir ‘Abdullah. The amir’s Arab nationalism was mainly anti-Ottoman and unionist. A unifies Arab world would be ruled under the banner of the Hashemites… This type of nationalism saw Western powers as its natural allies against a myriad enemies… Absent the Ottoman threat, however, it was to reformulate itself in opposition to an internal other, represented by ‘subversives’ and followers of ‘foreign’ ideologies.” (164)

abdallah ii

Today the association between the military and the royal house keeps on being a nationalist strategy wide spread throughout Jordan.

The rejection of pan-Arabism and the anti-Western nationalism brought the palace to redefine Jordanianess through a process of re-tribalization of society. In 1974 the “Palace Convention” was nationalizing a selection of tribal traditions throughout Jordan. By projecting internationally its tribal character Jordan would defy the idea put forward by Israel according to which Jordan is Palestine and it should continue accepting more Palestinian refugees. It would as well connect with an imagined past conceptualizing the Nabatean civilization as a proud origin for the Jordanian nation. And third, it would construct an image of exoticism appealing to international tourism soon to be turned an economic force and a strategy of international diplomacy.

The particular Hashemite vision of Arab unity around the occupation of the West Bank and the nationalization of Palestinians into Jordanians was internationally reproved after the constitution of the PLO in 1964. Soon, the guerrillas were considered a threat of security as the problems across the Israeli border increased and their presence and popularity in Jordanian towns was in the rise undermining the legitimacy of the palace. It is then when Jordanian exclusivist nationalism started to expel them from the self by ridiculing their habits labeling them as womanizers, drinkers, and even feminine.

“Note that not only the guerrilla is feminized according to Western perceptions of what it means to wear ‘tight’ pants, and to strut around ‘shaking his posterior,’ but also according to a purely Western criterion that until recently contradicted Arab Bedouin notions of masculinity.” (209)

After the Civil War Palestinians were conceptualized as foreigners and the refugee camps rendered as geographical abnormalities as they were pieces of the West Bank inside the Transjordan geography. However, many Palestinians were content and the ideas of

“state-sponsored Jordanian national identity are not repudiated but rather are adopted and internalized, and that they are not taken as a substitute for or competitive with Palestinian national identity but rather as complementary.” (263)

This process of redefinition of the Jordanian self excluding an internal Palestinian other led to the consideration of concentric circles of citizenship and nationality where the holding of legal rights does not constitute a certainty of being an insider. In 2001, when the book was written, and to a lesser extent today, the loyalty of Jordanian citizens of Palestinian ascendancy is put into question daily with, for instance, the official and extra-official discriminatory practices, such as a quota system in public university rendering them almost Palestinian-free spaces, or the reserve of administrative, military, and political jobs for individuals with Transjordanian origins.

“The fact that it is Palestinian Jordanians who are the main group subjected to this inquisition shows how much their recent production as an “other” has become the organizing principle of constituting the new Jordanian “self.”” (264)



The book touches upon a whole lot of questions successfully deploying issues of national material culture, nationalist discourses, state building, gender and masculinity, modernity and time, and colonial discipline among others. The sharpness of Massad’s readings on each of these topics is encouraging and the variety of frameworks serves as a list of issues to be discussed in future researches.

While the impact of the colonial period in the assertion of the self is perpetuated through the postcolonial, Massad proposes that the anti-Palestinian tendencies were at the core of the redefinition and the enshrining of the colonially defined “traditional” Bedouin Jordanianness. Consequently, Jordan’s national identity is not only located in the British rule of Transjordan, but also on the Israeli colonial effects and the lack of Palestinian rule of Palestine. However, Massad comments only briefly on the impact of imperial sphere in the production of national culture in Jordan or the export of an image to an international public.

Since the aim of the book was to explore the relation between the state and the internal construction of the Jordanian self, the representation of the self or the colonial other in an increasingly interdependent imperial world was only superficially covered by tourism and the construction of an exotic Bedouin other. The ritualization of foreign diplomacy and the symbolic performances of military parades could have been an interesting topic to view whether the Jordanian regime was in fact able to produce a different image that the pan-Arab competitors of Syria and Egypt or how the palace was conceptualizing and broadcasting its distinction from the Palestinian internal other.

Unfortunately, the approach of the second part of the book is different and Massad replaces material culture by a discursive approach to the construction of the Jordanian national identity in the postcolonial. Although he does offer a couple of examples on accents, football and clothes, there is still a large space to fill with a careful examination of postcolonial Jordanian material culture both delivered by the state, such as postage, currency, buildings and urban reorganizations, and evolved from popular culture, such as jokes, fashions, tv and media broadcasting, or social rituals.

In sum Colonial Effects is a center piece in the study of Jordan’s history. But not only this, Massad brings together an interesting theoretical framework for understanding the conjunction of state and nation in the colonial process of modernization which tackles the often disregarded importance of the material expression of the new order. Looking at the military not only as a repressive state apparatus or a productive instrument for new individuals, but as the instrument where a collective set of references was being turned into the cornerstone of the colonial project: the nation-state.

“From music to clothes to food to the very ‘tribalist’ culture that Jordanian national culture came to represent, the Jordanian army was a central instrument in its formation.” (217)


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