The Middle East and the West: Misunderstandings and Stereotypes
Katerina Dalacoura

Seminar Introduction

imageThe attacks of 11 September 2001 had a powerful impact on the already complex and difficult relationship between the West and the Middle East, characterised as it is by suspicion and stereotypes. The Middle East is all too often depicted as a violent, threatening society from which emanate terrorism, hijackings, bombings and reactionary revolutions. Equally, the West is seen as the perpetrator of all kinds of imperialism, an instigator of plots, and an oil-hungry and self-interested actor. What these images fail to recognise is that there are many Easts and many Wests. In this seminar Dr Katerina Dalacoura explores the history and complexities of the relationship between the West and the Middle East. It was produced one year after the 11 September attacks, in the context of debate about a possible US attack on Iraq.

In Session 1, Dalacoura focuses on the particular image of the Middle East that has developed over time and evaluates the impact of 11 September on this. She argues that international policy has to some extent been conducted on the basis of a number of dangerous simplifications: first, the identification of a single Islam and single Middle East and, second, the indiscriminate and sloppy definition of 'terrorism'. In Session 2, Dalacoura defines the fault-lines dividing and complicating the relationship between Middle Eastern states and Western powers. She points to the substantial difference between the policy adopted by the US and Europe towards Israel and that adopted for Iran, for example. Dalacoura follows this with an examination of assumptions about Islam and violence in Session 3. How can we most fruitfully think about the phenomenon of political Islam and thereby adequately respond to the present challenge in international relations? This question is answered in Session 4, which features an interview with Dalacoura on the nature of reform in the Middle East.

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Learning Objectives:
  • Describe the impact of 11 September on the image of the Middle East in the West and vice versa.
  • Compare the policies of European countries and the United States towards Arab states and Israel.
  • Comprehend the problems of defining reform in Islam.
  • Explain the nature of reform within the Middle East.
  • Explain the complex relationship between Islam and violence.

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