11 October 2010

In which some people care too much

*warning*  This post contains a surfeit of parenthetical phrases and statements, for which I apologize.

I often find myself having to remember that in addition to living in Cairo, jetting off to Lebanon (!!posts coming soon!!), and speaking Arabic to people in the street, I happen to be attending school.  Today was not one of those days.

You may remember that among the courses I'm taking is a graduate-level Introduction to Middle Eastern Studies (if not, you can read about it here).  Today we arrived at Orientalism, a school of thought concerning the relationship between the West and the Orient (as it was called at the time).  Among the articles we read today was Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations? which is widely considered to be one of the most referenced works within the doctrine.  (If you're interested in the actual text, let me know, and I can send it to you.)  Huntington's basic arguments is that civilizations (he puts forth seven/eight) rather than nation-states will be responsible for conflicts in the future.  The most problematic part of his argument has to do with the way he divides people, and assertion that all Orthodox people, for example, are essentially the same, will fight for the same things, and will band together against the same peoples.

Over the course of our discussion, the question of identity came up.  Can you define yourself without creating problematic categories?  Do we define ourselves based solely on what we have been raised to know?  What is the importance of identity anyway?  Our professor mentioned research that shows that fifty years ago, if you had asked how people living in Cairo defined themselves in a few nouns/adjectives (there is no lexical distinction between the two in Arabic, the difference is only gleaned from context), the first word likely to come up was Egyptian or Arab.  Ask the same question today, and the answer is more likely to start with Muslim or Christian.  And so, I began to think.  How would I define myself?  What three words or phrases would I choose?  So I put the question to you, friends, relatives, lurkers, how do you define yourself?  Don't think about it too hard, and don't sign your name if you don't want to, but thinking about what you feel defines you can give an interesting perspective on how you see the world, and how you interact with it.  At least, that's my view.

When there are at least three responses up, I'll post my answer.  To be honest, I still don't know what it will be.  Coming in the next week will be a series of posts about my (almost) week in Lebanon.  I'm thinking to do a general narrative of places, plus supplements about the people and the food.  What do you think?  After all, I write for you...