“Eating Rotten Meat Does not Disgust them:” Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq (1804-1886) on British Food and Civilization

Of all the questions that preoccupied Arab intellectuals from the nineteenth century onward, civilization was the most important. Arab thinkers engaged European theories of development examining the role of religion and social and political institutions in preventing or bringing about civilization. Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq (1804-1886), an exiled intellectual from Mount Lebanon, modernizer of Arabic language, fiction writer and satirist, and editor of a series of cultural and political journals, deconstructs in his work the discourse on civilization in the nineteenth century. Published after a nine-year stay in England and France, Revealing the Hidden in European Arts systematically undermines European understanding of what it means to be civilized. Pondering its true meaning and engaging it from different angles, al-Shidyaq exposes civilization’s inconsistencies, inherent contradictions, and its violent production through the binaries of race, class, dress, and eating habits.

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