Language, Memory, and Identity in the Middle East: The Case for Lebanon

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9780739137390: Language, Memory, and Identity in the Middle East: The Case for Lebanon

Since the West's very early flirtations with the modern Near East, and especially in the past 100 years of East-West relations, there has been considerable difficulty in understanding and defining the Middle East, the Arab world, pan-Arabism, Arab nationalism, and Middle Eastern identities in general. The Western impulse of conflating national identity with language, state, and ethnicity—often subsuming Arabic language into Arab ethnicity—has contributed to this misunderstanding and misreading of the region. For, while the Middle East can be accurately referred to by way of the generic "Arab world" label, the appellation itself is a misleading oversimplification that conceals an inherent diversity and multiplicity of Middle Eastern cultures, ethnicities, languages, and nationalities. And while there is certainly a dominant Arab ethnos, there are also significant numbers of Middle Eastern peoples and nationalities with historical memories and ethno-cultural bonds that challenge the dominant Arabist paradigm. Language, Memory, and Identity in the Middle East proposes a new reading of modern Middle Eastern history and suggests alternate solutions to the region's problems. The book is an attempt to rehabilitate and bring back to the fore of Middle East Studies the issue of language as a key factor in shaping (and misshaping) the region, with the hope of rediscovering a broader, more honest, and less ideologically tainted discussion on the Middle East. Language, Memory, and Identity in the Middle East has a special focus on Lebanon, a "Christian homeland," because Lebanon has traditionally acted as the region's template for change and a barometer gauging its problems and charting its progress.

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About the Author:

Franck Salameh is assistant professor of Near Eastern Studies at Boston College.

Review:

In a stunning polemic, a well-known professor of Arabic indicts the classical and modern standard forms of the language as 'a key factor in the Middle East's turbulence, authoritarianism, intellectual torpor, cultural rigidity, and lack of freedoms.' In their stead, Franck Salameh argues for a 'linguistic humanism' that recognizes and celebrates the Middle East's diversity of language and culture. His deeply researched and utterly original study fascinated me. (Daniel Pipes, director, Middle East Forum; author of Militant Islam Comes to America)

Arab nationalists, and their foreign supporters, have constructed a dominant image of a monolithic Arab world held together by modern standard Arabic. In this passionate and illuminating book of intellectual revisionism, Professor Franck Salameh goes a long way toward demolishing that myth. Underneath the official Arabic edifice, he finds another map, a world of vernacular languages more true to the cultures and identities of the region. Lebanon is his case study, but his is a broader assault. A book of great originality and considerable courage. The canon of Arab nationalism has been dealt a powerful blow. Franck Salameh's book is one of the most searching yet of the nexus between language and identity in modern Middle Eastern life. This book deserves a wide audience, in the academy and beyond. (Fouad Ajami, The Johns Hopkins University, author of The Dream Palace of the Arabs)

Salameh argues that classical Arabic is the source of most of the conflicts in the Middle East today. (Middle East Journal)

In an intellectual and cultural climate dominated by Arabism and an ascendant Islamism and obscurely expressed by Modern Standard Arabic, Language, Memory and Identity in the Middle East: The Case for Lebanon offers a fresh perspective for better understanding the Middle East. This study not only sheds light on the complexity, plurality, diversity of the Middle East, and specifically Lebanon as a case in point, but also breaks the barrier of "Arabist" tautological scholarship which heretofore obfuscated a pellucid and honest reading of the history, peoples, and civilizations of the Middle East. (Robert Rabil, Florida Atlantic University)

Salameh's meticulous research makes for a most worthy book that makes a significant contribution to the literature. (Middle East Quarterly)

..A valuable, well-documented and rich contribution to the topic of nationalism in the Middle East," and "a seminal impulse for serious debate on ideological diversity in the contemporary Middle East, on rivals of Arab nationalism in the Arab world, and on less known linguistic nationalisms in the region. (The Journal of the Middle East and Africa)

Franck Salameh's Language, Memory, and Identity in the Middle East: The Case for Lebanon is a fascinating and important study of the diversity underlying the so-called Arab world. (H-Memory)

Important and alert us once again to the uniqueness of Lebanese history and to the fact that the struggle for Lebanon, the struggle for power in the country, as well as the struggle over who will determine the country’s identity and path, is far from concluded. (Middle Eastern Studies)

Language, Memory, and Identity in the Middle East is certainly a brilliant and erudite tour de force that offers a welcome corrective to widely held academic orthodoxies. (Norman A. Stillman, University of Oklahoma)

Language, Memory, and Identity in the Middle East: The Case for Lebanon invites the reader to voraciously continue to turn the pages in expedition of a world rarely presented to the western audience. (New Books Network)

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