Darraj, Faisal (1942–)

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Darraj, Faisal

One of the foremost Palestinian literary and cultural critics writing in Arabic today, Faisal Darraj publishes widely in Arabic newspapers, journals, and magazines. In addition to writing about literature and culture, Darraj also comments on issues affecting Palestinian and Arab politics, in particular globalization, culture loss, and the crises facing intellectuals in the Arab world. His primary perspective is that of a Marxist who is highly critical of the U.S., European, and Israeli governments for what he sees as their colonialist foreign policies.


Name: Faisal Darraj

Birth: 1942, al-Ja'una, Palestine

Family: Married with children

Nationality: Palestinian

Education: B.A. in philosophy, Syria; Ph.D. in philosophy from Toulouse University (France).


  • 1948: Moves to Damascus when village is destroyed in 1948 War
  • Early 1970s: Moves to France to study philosophy at Toulouse University
  • 1975–1979: Works at Palestinian Research Center in Beirut
  • 1982: Moves to Damascus following Israeli invasion of Lebanon
  • 1998–1999: Serves on Prize Committee for Sultan bin Ali Al Owais Cultural Awards
  • 2002: Wins Best Arab Book at the Advent of the Third Millennium at the Cairo International Book Fair and the Palestine Literary Prize for Nathariyat al-Riwaya w'al-Riwaya al-Arabiyya


Darraj was born in 1942 in al-Ja'una, a village in the Galilee area of Palestine. The village was emptied of inhabitants and destroyed in the 1948 War. His family took refuge in Damascus, Syria, where Darraj studied for a B.A. in philosophy. He later received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Toulouse University in France in 1974 and published a dissertation titled "Alienation and Religious Alienation in Karl Marx's Philosophy." Darraj returned from France to Beirut, where he worked from 1975 to 1979 at the Palestinian Research Center, affiliated with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). He lived in Beirut until the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. He then moved to Damascus where he continues to live and work, although he commutes regularly to Amman, Jordan, where his family is located.


Marxism and French sociological theory play a major role in Darraj's thinking. Among Darraj's works (in Arabic) are: Marxism and Religion (1977); Reality and Utopia: A Contribution in Literary Politics (1989); The Misery of Culture in the Palestinian Institution (1996); The Future of Arabic Criticism (1998); The Theory of the Novel and the Arabic Novel (1999); Memory of the Defeated: Defeat and Zionism in the Palestinian Literary Discourse (2002); The Novel and the Hermeneutics of History (2004); and Retreating Modernity: Taha Hussein and Adonis (2005). He publishes regularly in Arabic in newspapers such as al-Hayat (London), al-Dustur (Jordan), al-Safir and al-Nida (Lebanon). His literary criticism is regularly featured in literary magazines and journals throughout the Levant, and appears occasionally in English in such journals as al-Jadid Magazine: A Review and Record of Arab Culture and Arts and Banipal: Magazine of Modern Arabic Literature. In the past he wrote for al-Hadaf, the publication of the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine that was founded by the Palestinian writer and intellectual Ghassan Kanafani.

He has also been active in distributing and promoting the scholarly work of other writers in journals and edited volumes. Between 1979 and 1982 he supervised the publication, in cooperation with the Arabic literature scholar Ihsan Abbas (a Palestinian scholar, poet, and translator), a six-volume publication of Hasad al-Fikr al-Arabi (The harvest of arab thought). In the years 1989 to 1994, he and Sa'dallah Wannus (a Syrian playwright) and Abd al-Rahman Munif (an intellectual, oil economist, and novelist) published a cultural journal called Qadaya wa Shahadat (Issues and testimonies). In conjunction with Jamal Barut, Darraj edited a six-volume series called Masa'ir al-Hizb al-Siyasi fi'l-Alam al-Arabi (The future of political parties in the Arab world). The series was published by the Arab Center for Strategic Studies, and included such titles as Arab Nationalist Parties and Movements (2 vols. 1997) and Islamic Parties and Groups (2 vols. 2000).


What makes a Palestinian youth, no more than 17, rush eagerly to his death? The more religious might answer it is the promise of paradise. But what turns a 27-year-old professional woman, who has no connection to any religious discourse, into a suicide bomber? The answer, like so much in this catastrophe, has nothing to do with a "terrorist essence," and has everything to do with dignity, or in this case the need to avenge the abuse of dignity, degraded each and every day for half a century.

Some Arab and Islamic governments, of course, have developed an addiction to condemning "extremism," by which they mean religious forces. One must remember, however, that these same governments are well practiced in the exercise of economic, political and ideological extremism. Whatever these governments do, though, [Israeli Prime Minister ariel] sharon does better—i.e. more systematically, more bloodily—and is encouraged to do so by a lamentable Arab feebleness, fostered by U.S. political pressures and weapons, and by the Americanisation of the global decision-making process.

For years Israel has imposed the very conditions guaranteed to push Palestinians into rebellion, or more dangerous still, into rebellious despair. And when Palestinians respond as their tormentor intends, Israel brands that response terrorist, and then uses its own definition of the response as an excuse to employ the massive force of Tel Aviv's artillery and warplanes. Israel's racist settlement policy, indeed, can only exist if this vicious cycle of oppression, rebellion and punitive response to expected rebellion is maintained. As if peace, or even the prospect of peace, constitutes a devastating threat to Israel's identity and to its overwhelming superiority in the Middle East, or as if peace can only be founded on Palestinian annihilation, or at least the annihilation of the sense of dignity of the Palestinian, Israel's version of the Native American.


Darraj has also been interested in intellectual history of leftists, European theorists, and Palestinians. He supervised the translation of works by French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu and French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss into Arabic. He contributed to the special folio dedicated to Edward Said of al-Karmil, the Palestinian quarterly out of Ramallah edited by poet MAHMUD DARWISH (issue no. 78, Winter 2004). He also wrote about Edward Said in an edition of Alif: A Journal of Comparative Poetics (no. 25, 2005), discussing Said's intellectual debt to the Italian communist Antonio Gramsci, who also combined political activism and theoretical writing. In December 2005, Birzeit University in the West Bank hosted Darraj via a videoconference session titled "Questions on the Intellectual and Meaning Production." His talk on "The Dilemma of the Arab Intellectual from Birth to Extinction" focused on the transformation of the role of the Arab intellectual in modern times. He has also regularly held a teaching position at the University of Damascus's Higher Institute of Theatre Arts.


Darraj has been recognized as writing some of the most sophisticated criticisms of modern Arabic literature. His book Nathariyat al-Riwaya wa'l-Riwaya al-Arabiyya (Theory of the Novel and the Arabic Novel) won the Palestine Literary Prize in 2002 and the prize for Best Arab Book at the Advent of the Third Millennium at the Cairo International Book Fair. He has served on the Prize Committee for 1998–1999 of the Sultan bin Ali Al Owais Cultural Awards, as a jury member of the Cairo Prize for the Arabic novel, and on various award committees in Tunis, Palestine, Syria, and Jordan. Darraj is a member of a number of organizations, including the Association of Literary Critics.

Faisal Darraj has a rather pessimistic view on the current world situation. He writes extensively on what he calls al-bu's al-thaqafi (cultural misery), a concept he adapted from Karl Marx's work titled "The Misery of Philosophy." Darraj believes that globalization is equivalent to Americanization and that such globalization is "cultural standardization aimed at creating a single cultural norm on a global scale, standardization being the generalization of American cultural values and rejection of all other values" (Zabbal).

Darraj's criticism of repressive regimes, Arab and Western, extends into public criticism in the form of protest petitions. He signed the Affirmation of the Palestinian Right of Return, a document signed by one hundred Palestinians and which was presented to the United Nations secretary-general, the heads of Arab and European governments, and the PLO, among others. Another petition Darraj signed was part of was called The Statement by 99 Syrian Intellectuals and was concerned with democracy and human rights in Syria. It called on the state to end martial law and the state of emergency, to pardon publicly all political detainees and exiles, and to establish a rule of law that respects freedoms of press, expression, and assembly, among other issues.


Few of his works have been translated into English, and thus Darraj is little known in the United States or the United Kingdom. Although he does publish in French, Darraj writes largely for an Arabic audience. Darraj is well known for taking strong stands on political issues and for his criticism of the powers that be. He has more recently been addressing the issue of Palestinian political plans, the role of the Palestinian intellectual, and the influences of the fighting and destruction in Iraq. He remains a secularist, and in public forums maintains that religious reform can only come as part of more comprehensive political and cultural reform.


Darraj, Faisal. "Fragmentation of Meaning and a Response to Ruin." Banipal: Magazine of Modern Arabic Literature 1 (1998): 67-68.

――――――."Transformations in Palestinian Literature." Words without Borders. Available from http://www.wordswithoutborders.org.

――――――."The Arabic Novel: Flow in Writing and Decline in Reading." Banipal: Magazine of Modern Arabic Literature 4 (Spring 1999): 76-78.

――――――."Ethics of Resistance: An Ongoing Letter between Faisal Darraj and Étienne Balibar." Al-Ahram Weekly.Available from http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2002/584/op2.htm.

Zabbal, Francois. "Arab Intellectuals Avoid Critical Issues." Qantara.de—Dialogue with the Islamic World. Available from http://www.qantara.de.

                                  Rochelle Anne Davis