Multicolored hummingbird towers over a man
By Invitation
So, What's the Deal with Hope?

So, uh, hope. Look, I gotta be honest with you folks, when Roland asked me to talk about hope, I thought to myself, "Hope? Really? You want the exiled Arab journalist turned historian on slavery in sugar plantations to talk about hope?” Well, here goes nothing.

Admittedly, I’ve had a fraught relationship with hope. I’ve learned to embrace hope like I embrace my old friend Dana who owes me money—with a cordial skepticism. She’s currently running for office by the way, maybe I should reach out to her…

Anyways, yeah hope, right. So for those of you who don’t know me, I’m Moroccan. And for those who aren’t familiar with Moroccan history, we’ve had our fair share of invasions and occupations since ancient times—that Moroccan hospitality, am I right? Naturally, you know, this poses a challenge when trying to learn about your family history, something my first grade teacher didn’t fully appreciate when she gave me a "D" for my family tree homework assignment because I couldn’t fill up the slots beyond my paternal grandfather.

It stuck with me and was probably the reason I was drawn to the field of history. It was either that or learning about how the most famous historical event to take place during my birthday was the execution of Anne Boleyn. In any case, no one in my family was really helpful. My dad was very matter of fact: “Your grandfather never told us anything about his family. All we have are his military records from when he joined the French army.”

So when I started my master's at Georgetown, I chose to work on a topic that would allow me to also access the archives that held the records of Moroccan soldiers in the French army. Lo and behold, I found the initial record of his enlistment! The birthdate was the same, the city of birth was the same, but two things stood out: his last name was Ben Chriqui (not Errazzouki), and he identified his religion as Judaism, not Islam.

Now when I found his renewed enlistment records from a few years later, things in Morocco were a bit different. Let’s just say there were lots of swastikas and Roman salutes—the standard accouterments of a Nazi occupation. When it came down to the moment of his Sophie’s choice, my grandfather said shalom and salam walakumed his way out of that mishigas.

My poor grandfather, may he rest in peace, really leaned into the Muslim vibes. I mean, when he took on Errazzouki as a last name, he threw in an extra R and Z, just for good measure. Talk about giving them the ole razzle dazzle. But of course, he couldn’t possibly predict that decades later, his granddaughter (me), so proud of her Muslim faith, wearing her color coordinated hijab, minding her business in her 6th grade classroom, would witness 9/11 unfold just a few miles away from the Pentagon. Yeah, it turns out hitting puberty during the height of Islamophobia while living in the DC area makes for an angsty adolescence. But who knows, what if my grandfather became a Methodist? No actually, then I probably wouldn’t have a sense of humor.

In all seriousness, it is in the face of utter hopelessness that I’ve found glimmers of hope. And nowhere have I found more hope than in studying the history of those who endured and survived against all odds, when the simple act of breathing becomes persistence, insistence, and perseverance. A hearty laugh amid sorrow; a warm embrace amid strife; a loving song amid spite; a blooming rose amid thorns. And it is precisely in spaces like the Stanford Humanities Center where I have found solace and comfort in being part of a community that keeps those glimmers of hope alight, even when it feels impossible.

I want to end with a quote from a very scholarly source: episode 16, season 3 of Seinfeld.

George Costanza: I don't want hope. Hope is killing me. My dream is to become hopeless.

Jerry Seinfeld: Oh, so hopelessness is the key.

George Costanza: It's my only hope

[throws glitter]

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Hope: The Future of an Idea

In a troubled age, hope may seem an elusive feeling. Alongside its history as a virtue, a political concept, and a psychological state, it enjoys a vivid presence as a necessary but poorly understood experience in everyday life. To reframe it in the context of this Colloquy, we might ask: how has hope been defined and critiqued? Where does it lie latent or unacknowledged? And how does the work of the humanities depend on hope, and perhaps arouse it? 


This year at the Stanford Humanities Center, we asked our fellows to reflect on questions of this kind. Their work ranges from the esoteric to the immediate, from the deep past to the present moment, and across the disciplines from music and art history to philosophy and education. Our aim here is to create a repository of informal thinking about the presence of hope in what we do, not only as scholars, artists, and practitioners but as people living in the twenty-first century. 

It is natural to say we live in a hopeless time, as climate change, war, authoritarianism, and other dangers loom over us. Without dismissing the force of despair, this Colloquy proposes to recover the grain of hope, not as a two-dimensional response to three-dimensional problems but as a complex problem on its own. The title of the Colloquy, in which we call hope an idea, is meant to signal this approach. 

The contributions collected here, while conceived from many distinctive intellectual and personal positions, are best discovered in twos and threes. Read or watch one, then another and another, at random. Imagine these items as belonging to a virtual conversation, which stands in for the exchange of ideas that takes place every day at the Center. Some of the contributors are professionally connected to the problem of hope—for instance, the historian of philosophy Pavlos Kontos is now writing authoritatively about hope in Aristotle’s thought—while others accept our invitation to fold the topic into their projects or their lives as scholars. Some simply register the place of hope in their lives. 

Finally, we bear in mind that, even when it is concerned with historically remote cultures or recondite questions, research in the humanities is always about the present and the future. It is through the lens of the present that we address every question, which means that, except for the most circumscribed topics, we seldom produce definitive answers; instead we tend to offer arguments and interpretations that work for our moment, to be improved by the knowledge and perspectives of our successors. Anticipating that conversation with the scholars of the future, we send off the fruits of our research hopefully to posterity. This Colloquy aims to render hope where the present meets the future.

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