Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Book Review: The Multiple Identities of the Middle East

Bernard Lewis' The Multiple Identities of the Middle East is a real gem. It is not a long read, yet it contained a few insights that helped clarify a few things about the region. I found it insightful. His main goal is to elucidate the various ways that the peoples of the middle east identify themselves. For example, we discover that while for your average Westerner, say an American, the world is divided in to countries. There are the Americans and the French, lets say. Those are the us and the them. In the US there might be Christians and Muslims, and in France there might be Christians and Muslims. For the Average Middle Easterner there are Muslims and Others. There are muslims who live in Iraq, and Muslims who live in Iran, and there are Christians who live in the US. George Bush leads a Christian Nation. The only people here who see the world that way are the wacos in the midwest. The average Arab's relation to his nation state is explained, as are the issues involved in nationalism.

Why some Arabs have adopted their historical roots, is addressed. How the peopels saw themselves historically is addressed, as is the centrality of religion, and the roots and problems of the modern nation state in the middle east.

The book has lots of nice things to say for it. It is worth a read if you want a good start at making sense of the Middle east. It is worth a look even if you already think you know something about the region.