Teaching about the Middle East in a non-chauvanist fashion entails teaching to counter Islamophobia. But how does one effectively counter Islamophobia when doing this? What are the dilemmas? One for me has been whether or not to teach about the veil.

By Walter Callens [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Why is this a dilemma? Because I don’t want to be just another Westerner fixated on the veil. I don’t want to reinforce this fixation. But is teaching about it reinforcing it? I think it can, but it can also dispel the “otherness" surrounding the veil. I would like to discuss this and other pedagogical issues with my colleagues in Middle East Studies, as well as middle and high school teachers with a lot of experience teaching about the Middle East.

I am intending to curate information about Pedagogy for Dispelling Islamophobia that would stimulate conversation about these issues. I want to bring up the dilemma because I believe it is these dilemmas that cause us not to be able to teach about the Middle East in a way which is transformative. I believe this teaching needs to be truly creative, that there are no pedagogical formulas for this purpose.

Some dilemmas for teaching about the Middle East in a transformative fashion I have encountered:

  • East/West Divide
  • Defining modernity in a non-chauvanist/non-apologist fashion
  • Cultural differences with regard to gender, feminism in diverse cultural contexts

These are the underlying problems, in my experience - they undergird myriad other specific challenges that come up for teachers attempting to teach about the Middle East. Education scholars, such as Merryfield, Sensoy, Subedi and numerous scholars of postcolonial theory and cultural studies have identified key issues for teaching about the world:

  • not essentializing
  • teaching about 'the other' without appropriating/misrepresenting culture
  • foregrounding perspectives from the dominant culture (ignoring issues of power)
  • excluding local scholars and authors from one’s study/teaching of the country or cultural community
  • defining ‘the other’ according to their perceived deficits, deficits defined by a Western or dominant worldview
  • defining issues in the world in terms of local worldview and agendas for global resources (justifying war)
  • taking cultural practices out of context as a means to criticize or demonize
  • taking historical narratives out of the local political context (often with the pretext of facing up to tough issues) without attempting to understand the reasons and circumstances for different views of conflict.
  • and many more. . .