Book Review “The Middle East City: Moving beyond the Narrative of Loss”

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The ideas and arguments presented by the author in the chapter titled ‘The Middle East City: Moving beyond the Narrative of Loss’ examines some of the major cities in the Middle Eastern region which could be termed as ‘Arab’ or ‘Muslim’ cities. The author argues that simply labeling and categorizing an entire city as Arab or Muslim, despite the presence of a diverse population residing within the city, brings specific associations and perceptions with it. He claims that such associations can result in a counterproductive action which might be responsible for the present situation of the Middle Eastern cities.

I agree with the argument made by the author when he states that the cities in the Middle East are too diverse and hybrid to be labeled with a specific community or to be classified under a single category. The chapter presents a new way of seeing, understanding and identifying the Middle Eastern cities that represents a move away from the traditional approach of viewing and understanding these cities. The author argues that the existing literature and readings on the Middle Eastern cities are strictly bound to a specific theme, the socio-religious reading of the urban spatial patterns.

I tend to agree with the argument and believe that the typical and regular narrative and themes of the literature on Middle Eastern cities are generally a narrative of loss. It usually stems from the idea that the Middle Eastern cities were once part of a flourishing and thriving region that became the epicenter of human activity, business, and trade after the rise of Islam. However, ever since the decline of the mighty Islamic empire, the Middle Eastern cities lost their glory and respect in the world. The colonization by the British Empire of the region resulted in the exploitation and plundering of the valuable resources of these cities. Hence, the Middle Eastern cities have been in a perpetual state of underdevelopment ever since and, thus, the narrative of loss in the literature concerning these cities.

The author makes the argument that the traditional readings of the Middle Eastern cities paint a desolated and an isolated picture that leaves the cities lagging behind the rising trends of globalization, modernization, and internationalism. It is perceived by many that the Muslim or the Arab cities of the Middle East do not possess the potential to develop, grow and modernize due to the factors of a stringent legal and religious frame and the impact of colonization practices by the British. I believe that these factors and reasons alone are not enough to explain the underdevelopment and the lack of progress of the Middle Eastern cities. I agree with the insightful argument made by the author in this regard that the colonization practices of the British were not limited and restrained to the Middle East only, as they also colonized various cities of the United States and Europe as well. The fact that the cities like Washington and New York have become the epicenter of globalization and modernization supports the argument that colonization of the Middle Eastern cities is not solely responsible for the current underdevelopment and regression of these cities.

The dynamic rise in the trends of globalization and modernization all over the world has given headway to the free flow of goods, products, services, human capital and information and has enabled the cities and states to explore new and unprecedented opportunities and avenues in order to utilize the many benefits and advantages of globalization fully. However, the author makes an insightful argument that the increased practices and influences of globalization and internationalism have also led to the increased element of domination, whether it be political, economic, financial or social. The chapter examines the effects and influences of globalization and modernity on the selected cities of the Middle Eastern region and analyzes the various problems, issues, and challenges of identity, culture, traditions, diversity, and social inclusion posed by it. It also looks at the several strategies and policies offered by the selected Middle Eastern cities and examines their effects and implications for the citizens of those cities.

The cities of the Middle Eastern region selected for this purpose can be categorized into three primary classifications. Cities like Cairo, Baghdad, and Tunis, were chosen on the basis of their rich cultural, traditional and historical background within the region and are most probably the cities that resonate with the term Middle Eastern the most. Then there are the fringe cities like Sana’a and Algiers that have not been explored significantly and have been forgotten over the years. The last classification consists of cities that have become the epicenter of the emerging trends of globalization and modernization and are the hub of business, trade, and human development like Dubai.

The examinations and analysis of these selected set of cities has enabled the author to answer questions that revolve around the areas concerned with the extent to which the Middle Eastern cities were influenced and impacted by colonial rule of the British, the mechanisms and strategies that were developed and drafted to protect and safeguard the local cultures and heritage from the implications of globalization and internationalism, the integration and incorporation of the local cultures and traditions with the foreign influences and practices and the spatial aspects of the dominant political climate of globalization, modernization and urbanization.

The chapter first examines and analyses the influences and implications on the cities of Baghdad, Algiers, and Sana’a and argues that all three of those cities have made efforts and attempts to become globally relevant and significant. One of the common denominators amongst these cities is that all of them have made efforts to attract international investment by engaging in large scale urban development projects. In conclusion, I believe that the author has presented his arguments in an effective and efficient manner and has appropriately and adequately provided valuable insights that present a unique and an unprecedented point of view to the examination and study of the cities in the Middle Eastern region.

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