Friday, December 13, 2013

Middle Eastern Cultures--Plural

I've been Outreach Director for the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies for some years now.  But I've never met a Middle Easterner.


You heard me.

Oh, I've met and worked with Egyptians and Israelis and Jordanians and Palestinians and Persians and Turks, alright. But never a Middle Easterner.

You see what I mean?

It sounds academic to state that the term "Middle East" is largely a geopolitical construct. But it is. And when we fall into the habit of thinking that "Middle East" refers to one homogenous group of people (or even two groups of people), we miss the very reality--realities--we're looking to explore.

It may seem like a small thing to stop and insist upon adding an "s" to terms like Middle Eastern Culture, or Arabic Culture, or Islamic Culture.  But it's important to acknowledge that there is more than one of each.  If you've traveled to any two places in the Middle East, or met any two people from different parts of the Middle East, you know what I mean.  You know that understanding the complexities of a single region or country is essential to developing cultural competency.

So here's a resolution for next year. Whenever someone uses the term "Middle East," ask them to specify. Where in the Middle East? In what language? In what culture?

Language, dress, social customs, perspectives on history, food--it's all complicated, even in the Middle East. So let's get complicated, shall we?

Linked to the "My Global Life" Link Up at 

No comments:

Post a Comment