Is There a Middle East? The Evolution of a Geopolitical Concept

By Michael E. Bonine; Abbas Amanat et al. | Go to book overview

10 THE MIDDLE EAST THROUGH THE LENS
OF CRITICAL GEOPOLITICS
Globalization, Terrorism, and the Iraq War

Waleed Hazbun

UNLIKE TERMS FOR AMERICA, Asia, Europe, or Africa, the “Middle East” denotes a region of the globe defined from the point of view of the north Atlantic states and is devoid of geographic or cultural referents. As a result, plenty of confusion and imprecision surrounds the question of the precise location and boundaries of the Middle East.1 Nevertheless, as with the term “the West,” the American public and news media often associate the Middle East with particular political, economic, and cultural characteristics. Among these associations is that the Middle East represents a territorial exception to globalization. Regardless of how globalization is defined or understood, the Middle East is often referred to as disconnected from its processes and resisting its effects. More specifically, the region is commonly viewed as having been excluded from the post-Cold War trends toward economic liberalization, global market integration, and democratization that have more closely integrated the West with other regions of the globe.

To explain this exception, some suggest that access to oil resources created “rentier states” able to forgo globally competitive production and political accountability.2 Others emphasize what they consider to be a distinct ArabIslamic political culture as the causal factor.3 Most notably, historian Bernard Lewis places blame on what he sees as the Islamic world’s historic failure to adapt to the economic and political practices of Western modernity.4 In making their claims these views all evoke the notion of Middle East exceptionalism (also referred to as Arab exceptionalism). Although one can easily compile tables of data and charts that show the Middle East, or more specifically the Arab-Muslim world, as a region, to be “less globalized” and “less democratic”

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