14 May 2006

Mapping ignorance

It's heinous when the foreign policy of a country such as the US is propped up by shamateurs prosing "expertly" on "Middle Eastern" culture but it's just as bad when its soi-disant literateurs reflect the same arrogance and ignorance. They ought to know better.

In a recent edition of Bookslut, reviewer Julia Ramey chose to group The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, Snow by Orhan Pamuk, Mothsmoke by Mohsin Hamid and West of the Jordan by Laila Halaby as "Middle Eastern" books. Although Halaby makes the cut geopolitically and culturally, we fail to see how Hosseini, Pamuk or Hamid can be accommodated in the "Middle East." Even ignoring the eurocentricism of "the Middle East" as a term for the moment, we should point out that Hosseini is from Afghanistan and may self-identify as central or south Asian although he lives in the US. Pamuk is in Turkey and as such qualifies for a European or west Asian label if one must be found and Hamid from Pakistan would be considered south Asian.

If Ms. Ramey was truly searching for "Middle Eastern" writing, why couldn't she have started with Fuad al-Takarli (Iraq), Emile Habiby, Amin Maalouf, Hanan al-Shaykh (Lebanon), Abdelrahman Munif (Saudi Arabia/Jordan), Ahdaf Soueif, Naguib Mahfouz, Nawal al Saadawi (Egypt), Mohammed Darwish (Palestine), Amoz Oz (Israel), Sadegh Hedayet and Ismail Fassih (Iran), to name just a few modern luminaries from countries as different from each other as Sweden is from the US? We suspect though from the focus of her generalizations that Ms. Ramey is not really talking about Middle Eastern novelists as much as she is about Muslim writers. In any case, she should know that most Muslims are not Arabs and do not live in the Middle East (the figure may be as high as 80%) but that Jews and Christians, whom she excludes, do.

Given all this, the book that we'd recommend most to her, aside from an atlas, would be Edward Said's Orientalism. Most of her clichés, analyses, charlatanry and ignorance could have been preempted there.

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