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Abdel Razzaq Takriti reasons with revolution

Faith Zhang / Thresher

By Amy Li     4/9/24 11:32pm

At 16, Abdel Razzaq Takriti already knew two things: he wanted to be a humanities scholar, and he wanted to teach. He was inspired by his mother, a high school teacher; his grandfather, a university professor, dean and prominent academic; and many of his teachers.

“That’s how you develop an interest in teaching,” Takriti said. “If you actually have good teachers around you, you start appreciating the impact they had on you, and you try to replicate that in your own life.”

At the time, Takriti already had a variety of interests, but was particularly fascinated by history and political science, a specialist program in which he majored at the University of Toronto. After graduating, Takriti went on to study political theory through the master’s program at York University before returning to history as a Ph.D. student at the University of Oxford.

Inspired by books including “Orientalism” by Edward Said and “Wretched of the Earth” by Frantz Fanon, Takriti developed a focus on writing histories of anti-colonial movements. He first wrote histories of the Dhufar Revolution in Oman, which was both the subject of his doctoral dissertation and his book “Monsoon Revolution: Republicans, Sultans and Empires in Oman, 1965-76.”

“People were not talking about episodes like the revolution in Oman because they were portraying the Middle East as not a dynamic site of change and visions for political and social change, but as a site of reactionary politics, backward-looking, not forward-looking,” Takriti said. “This created a whole tradition … which we refer to as Orientalism. I very much contributed towards reversing that Orientalist tradition.”

After writing his book, Takriti began writing histories on the Palestinian revolutionary tradition. He is currently working on a book which covers events from the 1948 Nakba, which saw the mass displacement of some 700,000 Palestinians, to the present.

“It’s not an easy topic to talk about. But it’s something that I’m honored to do, and I think it’s missing in the literature,” Takriti said. “We need it, desperately need it. We need to understand what’s going on in Palestine and understand the experiences of its people — now more than ever — as the current events have proven.”

Outside of his writing, Takriti has also held a variety of teaching positions at the University of Oxford, the University of Houston and Brown University. He began teaching Modern Palestinian History and Modern Arab History at Rice this spring and is also the university’s second Arab-American Educational Foundation Chair in Arab Studies.

“Rice was particularly attractive to me because I know that it has a very intimate setting for teaching,” Takriti said. “The student-faculty ratio here is very low, which allows for wonderful conversations, wonderful interactions.”

As a professor, Takriti has always emphasized the importance of not simply talking to his students, but encouraging his students to react and respond.

“If you actually democratize the teaching experience, get students to think of themselves as learning citizens and encourage them to trust in their own ability to develop their own thought processes, then that produces wonderful effects in my experience,” Takriti said.

Classroom engagement, though, is a two-way street. Many of the students in Takriti’s classes deliberately choose them for their topics, rather than simply to fulfill a humanities requirement. Poema Sumrow, a freshman at Jones College, said she had struggled with feeling informed about Israel and Palestine because it was difficult finding unbiased news sources.

“I felt like I didn’t know enough to be able to talk about it with anyone,” Sumrow said. “And it was just really important to me that I learned what was going on, the history, implications today. I just saw that the class was being offered, and so I was like, ‘Wait, this is a perfect opportunity to learn about what’s going on and understand the conflict today.’”

Cyrus Najmi-Vannini, a Baker College senior, agreed that taking Modern Palestinian History has helped him understand the current conflict in a way that media outlets didn’t.

“I think I’m better able to place what’s happening in Palestine now in a broader historical context with the nuance and depth that you do not get from reading an article, that you do not get from watching some number of YouTube videos or TikToks or whatever, and that you only get by reading hundreds of pages a week and by having meaningful discussions,” Najmi-Vannini said.

Though Takriti’s classes are filled with students curious about these subjects, they also include students who aren’t necessarily familiar with intensive historical study.

“One of the big challenges Dr. Takriti has is that this isn’t a history class of history majors, or even of liberal arts majors,” Najmi-Vannini said. “It’s a class of people who care about the topic or want to learn more about the topic, but don’t necessarily have the practice in difficult history courses that maybe you typically expect. I think he’s done an incredible job of meeting people where they’re at, but also bringing them forward.”

Takriti is also involved with student organizations and activism on campus. Last fall, he spoke at the “Anti-War Teach In” led by multiple Rice and Houston organizations.

“I was very impressed by the level of research that was done by the students in that teach-in,” Takriti said. “I feel that there is a responsibility for those that know something about that part of the world and have dedicated their lives to researching it and reflecting on it to speak out and share their knowledge and experiences with multiple audiences. I was honored to be invited by the students to contribute to that teach-in.”

In addition to supporting student activism, Takriti also spoke about the importance of academic freedom, especially in relation to pro-Palestinian organizing.

“In Gaza, every university has been destroyed. Not a single U.S. university president or major provost or major administration anywhere in this country has come out and condemned the fact that these universities were deliberately demolished, not just bombed, they were actually demolished, so that students can never return to them,” Takriti said. “We have not heard a single condemnation of the killing of hundreds of professors, of students, many of them colleagues that I knew and worked with.

“In my classes, I try to have deep conversations that are rooted in textual analysis and a deep examination of text produced by people from different historical periods around this,” Takriti continued. “I talk about the formation of the realities, and that’s the only way we can understand the present. Part of why I became a historian is that I wanted to understand the present, and I wanted to learn from history to chart a pathway for the future.”

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