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Contesting Narratives, Locating Power (Lund Conference)

Teaching Arab Identity and Islam in Light of the Arab Uprisings

[image from Getty Images] [image from Getty Images]

The Arab uprisings have opened new avenues for the reassessment of the teaching of Middle East studies.  The assumptions of stagnation of the Middle East have resulted in stagnation of Middle East teaching in the US.  For too long, established standards about teaching the Middle East set in since the Islamic revolution and have not been revised since.  Sep. 11 merely intensified the already existing trends of subsuming Middle East under the rubric of Islam.  An over-emphasis of Islam has compromised the incorporation of socio-economic factors in Middle East analysis.  Some Middle East courses were even listed under courses on terrorism (and vice versa).  Arab uprisings have shaken--or should shake--the arrogant self-confidence of Western standards of Middle East studies.  This represent an opportunity to revise and even overhaul the teaching of the Middle East.  Several questions should be reconsidered, including the boundaries of the region.  The political deference to Israel has even prevented the study of Arab politics: the Middle East as a unit of analysis was intended to incorporate Israel into the region (on permanent basis) and to dismiss the political salience of Arab identities.  The obituaries of Arab nationalism (and of the Arab masses) have been regularly read since the late 1970s.  Just as the Arab youths have shattered myths about Arab politics, academics of the Middle East should at least try to shatter their own myths.

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