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A website for K-12 educators featuring innovative resource on the culture, geography, history and religions of the Middle East, including essays, classroom activities, downloadable multimedia content and interactive Google Earth tours.


Part Two-Amal Rassam

© 2002, NITLE

This clip is 2.77 megabytes in size

Running time is 11 minutes and 49 seconds

In the second part of the interview, Professor Rassam turns her attention to the diversity in the Arab World. History is very important to how people relate to each other. She suggests that in the Maghreb there is more unity than in the Mashreq, because in Northwest Africa, to be an Arab is to be a Muslim, which is not the case in the Eastern part of the Arab world. In the Mashreq, Islam encountered long established Jewish, Christian and Zoroastrian communities, which were left alone as a result of the Islamic tolerance for “people of the book." There is a great deal of religious diversity in the Arab world, including the groups listed above and a number of Islamic offshoots. Next, Professor Rassam turns her attention to the issue of linguistic diversity, citing the example of the Kurds, who are Muslims, but who have their own language and are the largest non-Arab group in the Arab world.

Rassam argues that race is not an important base of diversity in the Middle East, as it has never been a very important factor in identity formation for the people of the region, and maintains that when looking at the Arab world, it is important not to treat it "as an entity sui generis," but to consider it in a comparative perspective. She argues that historically the various communities in the region have co-existed peacefully, being economically interdependent and socially cohesive within themselves. These differences began to have political implications in the second half of the 19th century with the rise of nationalism and European involvement in the area, particularly because the European powers often exploited these difference for their own ends. The effects where compounded by the establishment of the state of Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict. With the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, there has emerged a discourse regarding implementation of the sharia that has unsettled Christian communities in the region, causing an increase in emigration from the region. Rassam does not see ethnic and religious conflict in the Middle East is endemic and prone to erupt at any time. Rather she contends that ethnic and religious strife is the result of particular social and economic circumstances that cause such conflicts to erupt. Religious radicalism in the Middle East is, she contends, fed by corruption of governments, economic stagnation and the continuation of conflicts such as the Arab Israeli conflict. Indeed, she argues that the regimes of the Arab world suffer from a lack of legitimacy and that the religious radicals "feed on this malaise." In this context, minority communities are often concerned about becoming scapegoats.

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