Middle East myopia

“The Middle East is at the heart of world politics, a strategically sensitive region plagued by much unrest, war, and a never-ending chain of foreign interventions. That it should be the subject of ongoing comment, analysis and argument is understandable. Yet a cursory look at what gets said and written about it reveals a worrying pattern of simplification, generalisation and reductionism.

“Nowhere is this trio more manifest than in analyses of the region’s intellectual and political map. This is largely read through an arsenal of readymade terms and concepts – ‘terrorism’, ‘fundamentalism’, ‘extremism’, ‘Islamism’, and all the other ‘isms’ – legitimised by a daily staple of images of shouting mobs, angry bearded men, burning books and pairs of terrified eyes peering from behind black veils.

“The trouble is that the terms through which we approach this complex landscape perpetuate a state of ignorance; misleading instead of guiding, and distorting instead of explaining. What they paint is a desert of intellectual aridity and a swamp of political stagnation. The Middle East thus appears as a sea of ‘fundamentalist’ darkness, with a few glimmers of ‘secular’ enlightenment, a shrinking ‘liberal’ minority besieged by an ever-expanding ‘Islamist’ majority.”

Soumaya Ghannoushi at Comment is Free, 23 July 2007