The Dangers of One Story: Chimamanda Adichie

Barbara Petzen, Education Director Middle East Policy Council

Stereotypes and Realities of the Middle East, Arabs, and Muslims

Images of the Middle East (covered women, camels, the roots of Muslim Rage)
Stereotypes in Alladin (music, font, desert, barren, architecture, turban, large-nose, beard, cheating, cheap products, mysticism, dark, violence (slitting throats); fast forward to the segment with Alladin (American accent, lighter skin); ladies in veils but bare midriffs; exotic (parrot and monkey)--> city emerging from the desert (how is this geographically possible); STEREOTYPES ONLY WORK as comedy if you share a the stereotypes
GEOGRAPHY: desert, hot
PEOPLE: Costume clothing (belly dancers, turbans); big noses, bad teeth, dark skin and hair; funny accent, smell funny, cheating merchant, violent/cruelty; magic/
SEXUALITY: "Arabian nights--hotter than hot in a lot of good ways"; harem women--

PREJUDICE vs. RACIST (pixelated of the world --analogy old Pac Man to High Def)
Empire Strikes Back: Jabba the Hut (Middle Easter stereotypes)


"Islam is..." be careful of the homogeneity of treating religion (Question: name things that are true about all...Christians, Muslims---> we need to think about the diversity of Islam

Who do America's hear about Islam from (politicians, Osama bin Laden, Conservative Imams)


What is "The Middle East?"
WHAT MAKES A REGION? language, history, culture, climate, geography
Look at Maps;
The maps that now include Central Asia (Stans) not included-- the place where the scary Muslims are? Region is based on the conception of map makers

What's the difference between ARAB, MIDDLE EASTERN, MUSLIM

ethno-lingusitic category

"THE MUSLIM WORLD"--> where is it? implies "not us"/ not on our planet? what does it mean?
Cultural diversity of Islam (show different minarets and mosques--> same with churches or other holy buildings)

Video by Lena Khan
What Muslims want people to know.

What was the response from most Muslims to 9/11...why wasn't it reported? Why do we allow the narrowest group of Muslims to define what Islam is?
(TASK...ask students to research Muslim responses to 9/11)

NOTE: May is mentioned more in the Quran than in the New Testament (she is a paragon of what a good Muslim woman should be)


Differences today: how the 2 groups have
experienced their history

Shia have added onto the story of martyrdom of
Hussein (grandson of Ali)--> Shia didn't come and
fight with Hussein and let his family be massacred;
Historical memory of oppression;
1st Sufi was a woman--

Rabia al-Adawiyya

Sufi Saints
Use of meditative exercises to reach the divine
communal groups become brotherhoods (also interact
outside of the religious community) social/economic relations
3rd Group: Kharajite: anyone could lead the women (including a woman or a slave) they just needed to be the most pious--> this group didn't have a lot of following (ends up inspiring some extremist groups)

Flare ups with Sunni and Shia are rare (Sunni dominate Iraq attacked Shia Iran) Saddam Hussein worried that the Shia in Iraq would side with Shia in Iran; so he oppressed the Shia in Iraq; same with the Kurds (CONTEMPORARY HISTORY)
Shia most population in Iraq---not able to govern their country; and now power and resources are up for grabs

WHAT MAKES A SUNNI-SHIA different is complicated----very nuanced (this was just an Iraqi perspective)--> this is

Sufi Musicians

SIDE NOTE: Why calligraphy in Muslim and stained-glass in Christianity (link to


Why do women in Afghanistan wear the burqa? Imposed by the Taliban; cultural tradition of the Pashtun; rape was a weapon of war

Covering and veiling means many different things to many women in different countries

external image knin82l.jpg

Lesson on women and the veil (; show images of a group of nuns and a group of veiled Muslim women? How do we respond to them? Why?

  • Why do religious women cover? Disguising the curves of the body (hair, hips, and breasts)
  • Religious tradition--> men and women
  • MARRIAGE CEREMONY: describe it; what is it about? why---> PATRIARCHY-- passing down worldly possessions to correct progeny
  • Why do women in ALL societies wear modest clothing?
  • HAREM: protected space (home, around the Kaba);
  • Covering is a portable protected space

Little Mosque on the Prairie
YouTube: Little Mosque on the Prairie

TASTING THE MIDDLE EAST: Food, Geography, and Culture

Food is contextual: who you're with, where you are, etc makes the food
FOOD, work, caring for animals, shopping, choosing, passing on tradition, family, medicine

GRAPE LEAVES: rice, pine nus, onions (maybe garlic), herbs (parsley, mint, dill); currants/raisins; spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cumin, salt, pepper); olive oil--> Google Earth Tour of making Grape Leaves

Grape leaves can be found in every Middle Eastern culture---> all different; making good grape leaves is like making good Christmas cookies; very social/culturally important; If this was a staple food item....these items would have to have been easily/readily traded into the region and fairly inexpensive--> Google Earth tour for Grape Leaves?

Spice Game

8 Spices:

WHAT IS A SPICE? flavoring food, medicine, preservative (food, dye, incense, money/specie)--> as a trade good, they had a 16,000% markup--> light, did not lose it's value) (difference between an herb and a spice); spice in natural state-> last
(side note: Darwin Awards: taken out of gene pool)

1. Black Pepper: India (dried berry of the plant)
2. Cinnamon: Sri Lanka (bark of tree)/ Cacia--China
3. Cloves: Indonesia-- Malacca Islands (bud of flowers)--> natives planted a clove tree when a child was born; European imperialism--> took over trade; walled off clove fields; destroyed all other clove trees; people forced to work on clove plantations
4. Cumin- European/Mediterranean (seed)
5. Ginger- East Asia/South Asia (root/risome)
6. Coriander- Mediterranean native (seed-- herb is cilantro)--> used as breath mints for the pharoahs
7. Tumeric- India (poor man's saffron/ root)
8. Nutmeg- Indonesia (Malacca Islands)

NEW WORLD SPICE: All spice in the Caribbean, chili peppers, chocolate, coffee, vanilla,

Make a huge outline map on the wall: Locate Origins of the spices

(SIDE NOTE: Cod and Salt)

5 Sources/inputs:
1. Nomad/Turkish
2. Agricultural/natural bounty/history of region (fish, vegetables)
3. Exploration/innovation/trade
4. Multiculturalism: different religious traditions, celebrations
5. Cosmopolitan/imperial

What does the food (bread and meat) look like in the Middle East? Flat, small, fast----> why? No large trees to burn and cook with. (same is in China)
SIDE NOTE: Olive Oil was not a food oil until the late 19th century--> before it was used for lamps because people used animal fats/butter (Jewish or Armenians used sesame seed oil---> known by their smell); humus, yogurt, grape leaves, apricot, dates, turkish delight (precursor to gummy bears--> cosmopolitanism and imperialism); textiles---> European paintings with marks of Middle East/China)--->

Rulers used food to show their legitimacy to rule; distributing food to masses; serving exotic foods to courts

Eating pork:
Dried fruit

Garbage Dreams: Documentary


Indian Ocean History
Maps: lots of trade features; climate; weather etc


The Middle East: Ithaca College: Project Look Sharp



Using Google Earth to reveal geographical areas and how it relates to the social/political/economic aspects of life

Look for accessible ways to teach the issues in this region (ex. McDonald's in Israel and the cultural issues that come from it)


Countries created post WWI by Colonial powers--> how would you map this region differently if you were in charge looking at different factors (food & agriculture, water, oil, language/ethnic groups, religion) maps from National Geographic Atlas of the Middle East (2nd Edition) and Hammond Atlas of the MIddle East and North Africa