Thursday, December 1, 2011

Introduction: Anthropologies of the Middle East

There are many reasons why anthropological perspectives on the Middle East matter.  One of those reasons is simply the fact that people like the late Samuel Huntington have managed to influence quite a lot of people, who buy into the whole idea that the problems that exist between "the west" and some countries in the Middle East stem from some sort of deep, ingrained cultural difference between the respective people who inhabit these massive regions (and never mind the fact that many people from both places cross these boundaries all the time).  The whole clash of cultures idea is based upon so many assumptions and stereotypes it's almost mind-numbing.  What's even more amazing is how many politicians (and their respective followers) accept--and eagerly promote--broad stereotypes about people in the Middle East, often for political reasons.  This was all too apparent in the United States after 9/11, and the trend continues.  

Far too many people think about the Middle East as this massive block of people who all act and think alike.  This was one of the reasons why I wanted to have an issue dedicated to the Middle East.  Anthropology can challenge some of the dominant narratives about places like the Middle East, and help to contribute to a deeper understanding of current events in the region.  Anthropologists can also help to provide some perspectives that differ from the 20 second clip news depictions of the Middle East that tend to dominate many networks.  There is, after all, much more to the Middle East than the latest (limited) news about the ongoing war in Afghanistan.  

Of course, anthropologists aren't the end all be all when it comes to the Middle East.  All of this is more about encouraging more investigation and conversation--and any good conversation will have it's share of disagreements.  When it comes to the Middle East, there is certainly disagreement among anthropologists...but that's part of what makes things interesting.  In some cases, anthropologists end up combating the ideas that came from their own ranks (see this link for a good example).  In others, they are deeply divided about their role in contemporary politics (check this link for starters).  Overall, though, I think that anthropologists have a tremendous amount of knowledge and experience to bring to the table when it comes to trying to understand the contemporary Middle East.  This latest issue of anthropologies is one small selection.

This issue features articles from Diane King, Mark Allen Peterson, Lydia Roll, Emily McKee, Gabriella Djerrahian, Christine Smith, Tim Frank, and Nomi Stone.  Thanks to everyone for taking part in this project, and in helping to put this issue together.  An extra thanks goes out to Veronica Miranda and Sarah Williams, whose help has been invaluable in keeping this whole online project rolling along!  Especially this month!

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