Sunday, February 04, 2007

Browsing the Middle East

Cat Max is about to go into bedtime exile. But more about that later. I mention it only because that is why I was enjoying the Great SR 69 Shopping Scene. PetSmart (for a comfy cat bed) and then the mall, finishing with a good hour at Barnes & Noble. I was curious to see what one could learn about the Middle East, past and present, as a Middle American. So I looked first amongst the books labelled "history" and then "current events."

Historically speaking, not much. English royals are always good for the American market, China remains exotic (and photogenic) and Africa is dark and mysterious. These were on the display racks.

More books getting the display treatment. Ancient Rome. Egypt (dynastic only.) Miscellaneous stuff such as druids and ocean exploration. I saw lots of WWII and Civil War. Oh yes, pirates are hot.

Now the under current events label there are some polemics of various persuasions having to do with the current war in Iraq. However, I wouldn't expect to learn much about the history that we aren't supposed to repeat from such tomes.

Digging a little more carefully, I did find the above titles somewhat of interest, especially the Oren (above) . And Friedman (below) might be a cut above current events pot boilers. There was also a Karen Armstrong over in the part of the history collection that requires you stand on your head to read titles on spines.

But what approach to learning more about the Middle East could be right up there with apple pie than a Complete Idiot's Guide -- and if you look carefully, also a Dummies book. I suspect that either or both probably contain more good data/references than most of the current affairs polemics I saw on other tables.

I am immensely curious about the Middle East and Islam and I do have some web sites that I visit regularly to recommend. For starters, presents commentary on a variety of issues by various writers who call themselves centrist Muslims. To get Egypt/Lebanon/Jordan/Palestinian news from a flaming Egyptian libertarian go to his blog, Rantings of a Sandmonkey. An American woman married to an Iranian gives a better picture of that country in her blog than do any newspapers I read; she also contributes to Mideast Youth. To give you a taste, she wrote this about the recent religious holiday in Iran:

"The sun should never set on Ashura," a woman told us as we discussed the best Ashura events in Iran. She had traveled the entire country observing them. Her favorite was in some out of the way corner of Iran and was, by her accounts, different from all others.

I imagined her standing by the procession in a black scarf and a black manteau crying as the battle of Karbala was recounted in chants. Now, here she was, vodka in hand, listening to music and watching the young people dance. This is what people mean when they tell you that you never know what to expect in Iran.

Another Muslim woman writes about poetry and feminist topics here; she gets an impressive collection of comments. Umar Lee's perspective is that of a white American male convert to Islam. And then there is Michael Totten, the free-lance journalist who has paid for much of his Lebanon/Israel/Kurdish Iraq travel from donations by his readers. Totten's reportage is Very Good Reading indeed.


Linda G. said...

Have you visited Iraqui Blogger Central? It offers some inside Iraq views as well as American Iraqui blogs. My fave is still brave, little Sunshine at Days of my Life.

ET said...

Thanks for the nice comment about my blog.

ET (View from Iran)

BTW, I'm also a sci-fi fan... If you have not read Darwin's Radio and Darwin's Children by Greg Bear, I urge you to go buy them and read them.

Suroor said...

Thanks for the shout out, Walking Prescott.

Abu Sinan is another blogger who writes about Middle Eastren politics -

Thanks again!

Granny J said...

Linda, thanks for more links...

ET -- you do a fascinating blog. Haven't read those twobyBear...have you looked into Scalzi (Old Man's War)

Sunoor -- thank you for the insights; glad to give you a shout-out!

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