Sunday, November 28, 2010

Reinventing America's Engagement With The Muslim World

I recently attended a lecture sponsored by the Middle East Outreach Center at the University of Utah. Speakers included Bahman Baktiari, Director of the Mid East Center, U of U; Frank Amderson, President Mid East Policy Council; and Emile Nakhleh, Author of Necessary Engagement: Reinventing America's Relations With the Muslim World.

Nakhleh helped President Obama write his Cairo speech. The first point Nakhleh stressed was that the Muslim World is made up of many cultures and beliefs. He talked about the lack of knowledge among Americans about Middle Eastern cultures, which sadly has lent itself to prejudice. In a recent poll, 85 percent of those in the Republican Party held "unfavorable views" towards Muslims and when asked if they would like to learn more about Muslim cultures, they responded, no. Democrats responded more favorably. Nakhleh spoke to the importance of exchanges between citizens that go beyond those of governments.

While traveling to Muslim cultures or visiting your local mosque might be the best way to connect, literature is also a good way to begin to understand others. Stories can help build cross-cultural bridges. Familiarity lessens fear. But unfortunately, many of the books published about the Middle East in the commercial or trade market, tend to be those that focus on current or past conflict. Many reinforce stereotypes and the often sensational or black and white reporting generated by much of the mainstream media.

The Middle East Outreach Council, which is affiliated with the Middle Eastern Studies Association, creates a list of noteworthy books each year and a half. Consider their website the next time you are wondering what book you might read.

Check back soon for a review of Emile Nakhleh's book.

Related reading, Obama's Cairo speech: