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A Resurgence of Middle Eastern Cosmopolitanism

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THE COSMOPOLITAN (NOT THAT KIND)
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Kevin Depew mentioned yesterday that some experts believe our habit of reading only short snippets of news online could be "damaging the mental faculties we need to process and understand lengthy textual information." 

Let's make the necessary change immediately, I say, beginning with this relatively lengthy essay on Cosmopolitan Citizenship in the Middle East, by
Sami Zubaida, a professor of politics at Birkbeck College, London.

The piece, which clocks in at 3,500 words (that's only 165 tweets!) answers the question, "What happened to the cosmopolitan intellectuals of the Middle East?" It offers historical perspective for those feeling just as dumbfounded as their Middle Eastern friends who may ask "in sadness and wonder" (the author's words), "Where has all this sectarianism and fanaticism come from? We never knew who was Sunni or Shi`i, did not care who was Copt or Muslim!"

Zubaida describes a history of the Arab world that we rarely hear about, and reports of events that will be news even to those of us who thought we paid attention in political science class. Who knew of the Masonic lodges that existed in Ottoman cities during the late 1800s? These groups, we're told, rejected the deistic principle of early Masonry, embraced the slogan of the French Revolution and welcome members from Greek, Armenian, Jewish, and European communities.

The author also describes a time in Iraq when, "Christian and Jewish intellectuals participated prominently in the emerging ‘republic of letters’, alongside Muslims" and observes that, currently, "Nationalist and anti-imperialist ideology and advocacy commonly construe political and military confrontations, such as those in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine, as an attack on Muslims as such, by Christians (‘Crusaders’), Jews and Hindus. The complex geo-political issues involved are obscured or subordinated in favour of a spurious religious conception of the conflicts."
 
Zubaida's focus stays on history, which means he does not look for new signs of an intellectual resurgence in the war-torn countries of the Middle East. Some journalists have, though, turning up occasional clues about both the happier past described by Zubaida and the likelihood of a more worldly future, fueled by coffee, poetry and Iraq's famous dimly-lit salons, like this one, where discussion of politics is avoided because it would be "too boring."
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