One is at pains to find grounded analysis of the legacies of the 1967 War. Research on the war has featured insightful analysis in the last ten years. However, scholars have paid too little attention to the war’s legacies. They have opted instead to assert them. We should separate research and knowledge production on the war from that on the war’s legacies; the former is far more robust than the latter.
Historical and everyday narratives on the Arab left reveal the tendency to assert rather than question 1967’s legacies. Those of us engaged in the politics of the Middle East and North Africa are intimately familiar with the war’s ostensibly radicalizing effects on the Arab left. This radicalization, as the conventional narrative has it, was a function of the immense shock the war’s conclusion produced and the various intellectual and political crises that ensued. We are told that the 1967 War represented the irreversible rift between Arab leftists group and those “revolutionary regimes” with which they allied or identified. We are also told that 1967 forced leftist groups to reconceptualize theoretical frameworks and tactical strategies. These two narrative anchors are one place to begin questioning what scholars and observers have taken for granted. One important example here relates to the details of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine’s (PFLP) emergence from the milieu of the Movement of Arab Nationalists (MAN). Over the fifty years since 1967, conventional wisdom has depicted this emergence as a smooth, almost automatic, and self-explanatory transition.
However, several questions remain unasked. The convenience of 1967 as a self-evident explanatory moment has produced a teleological narrative about the Middle East in general and the Arab left in particular. How do we make sense of the self-proclaimed Marxist-Leninist identity of the PFLP when compared to the ANM’s staunchly anti-Communist and anti-Soviet positions? What explains the ANM’s alleged break with Gamal Abdel Nasser’s regime at the same time that the PFLP aligned, though in different ways, with the Iraqi Ba‘th regime and at times with Mu‘ammar al-Qaddafi’s Libya? In what ways should we be looking for continuities rather than ruptures in these cases? These questions do not necessarily challenge the authenticity or veracity of how we have understood the ANM or the PFLP. However, perhaps if we resist the temptation to use the 1967 War as an overarching explanatory force, we may learn more about the ideological, political, and social landscape of both the past and the present. In resisting the war’s explanatory power, we may better complicate our understanding of both the ANM and the PFLP, if not the Arab left more generally.
Over the next decades, scholars must transgress how the 1967 War, and its attendant epistemologies, have served as a stand-in for rather than a source of analysis. To confront the legacies of 1967, we must set aside the war as an analytic crutch.