Campus Celebrity: Atef Alshaer

Atef Alshaer was born in Gaza in 1982. He completed his English Language and Literature degree at Birzeit University in Palestine, and he obtained his Masters and Ph.D. in Linguistics from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. 

Atef has published several academic papers and reviews. His writings focus on Arabic language and literature as well as the cultural and political dynamics and discourses in the Arabic-speaking world. Currently, he is a Leverhulme Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in Political Communication and teaching fellow at SOAS. He also writes and translates poetry. 

Tell us about your involvement with academia?

I come from an educated Palestinian family, who always laid emphasis on education as a source of spiritual fulfilment and vocational success. My interest in Academia started very early on and became most clear when I went to study at Birzeit University in Palestine. There, the debates among the students, the books I read and the lectures, discussions and gatherings I attended confirmed my interest. I sought to study in Britain and was happy to receive help to do so. I did my Masters and PhD at SOAS, University of London.  SOAS has been my educational home for ten years; and it has been a fascinating environment, with its vibrant student body and holistic outlook. My main academic interests revolve around language and literature and their intersection with politics. I have published several papers and reviews in this field and my forthcoming book Poetry and Politics in the Modern Arab World is a translation of profound passion for literature and interest in politics as a field of necessity and struggle against corruption and oppression. In particular, as a Palestinian, I often think of ways, especially educational ones, to serve the cause of liberation of my country from the illegal Israeli occupation. I derive a great satisfaction from teaching and writing and feel fortunate to have the chance to do so at the University of Westminster and SOAS, where I lecture on different as well as interrelated fields, culture, politics and literature. I think that there are compelling strands of connection to be made between these fields; and an informed understanding of languages help a great deal in facilitating this. 

You have a new book coming out -- would you tell us a little about it (date of release, what it entails etc)?

The representation in poetic form of political events and ideas in the Arab world since the nineteenth century is this book's principal theme. In this book, I attempt to demonstrate the integral connection between poetry and politics, reflecting the holistic character of Arab culture as well as the longstanding embodiment of poetry in the socio-political life of the Arabs. The shared Arabic language and common cultural heritage that Arabs have encompass and mirror widespread Arab concerns about their societies and their cultural and political development. Poetry as the essence of language served as an illuminating, and often mobilising, medium of expression which brought the tensions and aspirations of each age to the fore. Beginning with the colonial empires and their colonisation of the Arab world, the book explains the perennial concerns of major Arab poets with their societies. It discusses the poetic representation of the end of the Ottoman Empire, the onset of Arab nationalism, French and British colonialism, Palestine and the struggle against Zionism, as well as Arab inter-relationships, the emergence of Islamism and Islamist movements, and finally the Arab Spring. Each chapter highlights the mainstream historical, political and intellectual currents of the time and interprets them alongside poems and poets that evoked and consecrated them.

The book is expected to be published by the end of June/2014. My hope is that the book will draw attention to the centrality of poetry to Arab life as well as to the rich literary, cultural and political heritage of the Arab world and its diversity.

What do you feel about your time at Westminster and the students of Westminster? What classes are you teaching currently? Any advice for our fellow readers?

I feel honoured to be a visiting lecturer at the University of Westminster for the last two years. The students have been engaging and passionate about their subjects. Their debates and questions enriched my understanding of politics, culture and literature of the Arab world. Given the fact that the students at Westminster come from diverse backgrounds, this creates an excellent learning and teaching environment where various experiences are valued and shared. My teaching of three courses, namely Islam and Modernity, Contemporary Politics of the Arab World and Modern Arabic Literature in Transition, has been immensely rewarding. The variety of topics explored gives one the chance to broaden the intellectual horizons and affords an inclusive and holistic perspective.

The University is a place where differences are respected and engaged with. I hope that the students at the University of Westminster will find in the academic and social differences among them an invaluable source of personal and collective enrichment and one of enduring commitment to coexistence, learning and understanding.