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Teacher, Writer, Scholar: Mutallip Anwar

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By Kevin Moore

If I had to settle on a single anecdote to concisely capture my friend Mutallip Anwar, I would have to cite a talk we attended together last fall at Stanford. The Spogli Center for International Studies was hosting Susan Rice at the CEMEX Auditorium, and we had managed to secure four free tickets to attend; we were joined by Mutallip’s wife Medina and my partner Erika. We arrived early, but the auditorium was already filling up. Most of the best seats were reserved. I was ready to resign us to a distant row, but Mutallip went out scouting. He came back with amazing news for our group: for some reason, the front row had been left unreserved. Should we try to sit there, ten feet away from one of the most powerful statespersons in the world? “Why not?!” he said, leading us through the milling audience to the front row seats, where we enjoyed the talk from the vantage point of the former ambassador’s feet (here’s the proof).

I believe Mutallip’s passion for facilitating powerful intellectual experiences, combined with his diverse range of interests and abilities are precisely what make him such an invaluable member of Stanford PWR.

Dr. Anwar arrived at PWR in Fall 2019. Originally from Xinjiang, China, he first earned a BA from Xinjiang University in Chinese Studies (2004), and an MA, also from Xinjiang University, in Minority Languages and Literature. In China, Mutallip’s experience working with minority students at the private English school he co-founded helped lead him to rhetoric and composition as a field. Mutallip describes how he “witnessed so many lives changed, especially multilinguals for whom English is not their first language, as a result of improved English skills and increased understanding of the power of rhetoric and effective communication.” Mutallip left China to pursue graduate study at the University of Washington, where he earned an MA in TESOL in 2014 and a PhD in Language and Rhetoric in 2017, writing a dissertation titled “Genealogical Analysis of Discourse on Ethnic Minority Protests and Its Manifestation and Reinforcement in News Media and State-Sponsored Art.” Before arriving at Stanford, Mutallip was also English faculty at Highline College in the Seattle area from 2017-2019. Seattle remains close to his heart, but he has already found much to appreciate about life in the Bay Area. As he told me when we spoke for this profile, Mutallip does not take for granted “the stunning view we get to enjoy each morning as we get off the CalTrain and walk into campus.”

At Stanford, Mutallip teaches a PWR 1 course titled “The Power of Words: Rhetoric of Social and Technological Changes,” an inclusive course that invites students to think about topics of interest to them in the context of the “tremendous technological, sociopolitical, and economic changes” our world currently faces. This summer, he also taught for the Leland Scholars Program. In the context of several in-person and online research mixers and collaboration, I have had the pleasure of co-hosting with Mutallip in the past year, I can attest that Mutallip brings an infectious energy and radical inclusiveness to all his interactions with students. He also brings considerable expertise based in his extensive research on questions of social and technological changes, in particular as they have impacted the Uyghur people in China.

Currently, Mutallip is in the process of revising his dissertation into a book manuscript. One central chapter, titled “Analysis of the Visual Representation of the People’s War on Terror Discourse,” illustrates the historical and political importance of this project. Focusing on a series of award-winning peasant paintings sponsored by the Chinese Communist Party in 2015, Mutallip shows how a set of insidious visual representations were part of a broader effort to dehumanize Uyghurs, thus justifying the government’s mistreatment of Uyghurs and round-up efforts forcing them into internment camps. The chapter traces the contours of a coordinated CCP effort, including a speech where Chinese President Xi Jinping described Uyghurs as “terrorists,” which became part of a campaign that promoted a slippage between “terrorists” and degrading animal metaphors. Another disturbing series attempts to show the difference between “Good Uyghurs” and “Bad Uyghurs.” Mutallip paints a dark but frank portrait of the CCP’s work to use language and visual propaganda to systematically destroy Uyghur culture. Yet the power of this research emerges not only from Dr. Anwar’s detailed rendering of this disturbing recent history, but from the author’s ability to lay out an interdisciplinary theoretical frame, juggling the complexities of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) and Lakoff’s cognitive theory of metaphor.

Mutallip developed his methodology, which attends equally to the dense complexity of CDA and the nuances of cultural texts as they circulate and impact the lives of real people, during his time at UW. A major influence on his research was his dissertation adviser Sandra Silberstein, whose work on the Bush administration’s War on Terror served as an important model. Mutallip also cites Gail Stygall (legal discourse analysis), Anis Bawarshi (rhetoric and composition), and James Banks (multicultural education) as important mentors.

When I asked Mutallip if there were any other writers that stood out to him as especially formative in his intellectual journey, he cited the Autobiography of Malcolm X, which he read as a junior in college in China. When he encountered the book, he had only been reading in English for a year and a half. Mutallip tells the story better than I can:

"When I first read it, each page had a lot of new words. I clearly remember words such as hustle, pimp, and warden that I learned from reading that book. But I was so fascinated by the idea of a Muslim leader in a Christian majority country that I kept reading. The part about his prison life and how much he read in prison had a profound, long-lasting influence on me. I would even say that it changed my life trajectory. I also felt kind of trapped in China and his example was a model that I could follow. I thought that reading could get me out of that system or at least I might feel free even if I was living in prison (figuratively in my case) just like Malcolm did.”

It will come as no surprise that so many of our undergraduate students look up to Mutallip’s mentorship and model.

In addition to his scholarly work, Mutallip is an accomplished translator of Uyghur texts into English. In this work, he frequently collaborates with Darren Byler (CU Boulder). The pair published two translated works of short fiction in the journals Paper Republic and Guernica, and this year they are busy co-translating a novel titled Classmates by the Uyghur writer Memtimin Hoshur. The Hoshur novella tells the story of a Uyghur man, acquitted after serving a ten-year sentence for subversion during the Cultural Revolution, as he revisits his hometown and other cities in Xinjiang for the first time after his imprisonment. The novella is uncanny for many Uyghurs because although it takes place in the 1980s, it feels all too reminiscent of the recent and ongoing political campaign of mass arbitrary detention the government is conducting in the Uyghur homeland. Mutallip was kind enough to share with me a draft of this remarkable translation, and it’s a haunting and all-too-pertinent account of how a sensitive intellect begins to recover from the trauma of political persecution. For his translation work, Mutallip was invited to participate in a poetry translation slam at the PEN World Voices Festival in New York in May 2020, which took place as a virtual event on account of the pandemic.

Despite the disruptions of recent months, Mutallip is thrilled to be here at Stanford. What are his favorite things about teaching for PWR? “I think the students are amazing,” he told me. “They are hardworking and brilliant. It's a joy to work with them and engage with their ideas. I have been learning a lot from my colleagues in the program. They are very dedicated to excellence in teaching.” Mutallip also cited visits by distinguished speakers, and explicitly mentioned our evening barely social distancing from Susan Rice.

Mutallip lives in San Jose with his wife Medina, who also works for Stanford, his two children Jesur (7) and Arman (5), and his parents-in-law. On weekends, you can often find the family in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, where they love to arrive early and stay until the sun goes down.

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