Cover image for Between memory and desire : the Middle East in a troubled age
Between memory and desire : the Middle East in a troubled age
Humphreys, R. Stephen.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Berkeley, Calif. : University of California Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
xxii, 297 pages : map ; 24 cm
Reading Level:
1420 Lexile.
Format :


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DS63.1 .H856 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Middle Easterners today are caught between memories of the past and frustrated hopes for the future. They struggle to find solutions to crises of economic stagnation, political gridlock, and cultural identity. In recent decades Islam has become central to this struggle, and almost every issue involves fierce, sometimes violent debates over the role of religion in public life. R. Stephen Humphreys's new book presents a much-needed and thoughtful analysis of Islam's place in today's Middle East. In clear, accessible language, he integrates the medieval and modern history of the region to show how the sacred and secular are tightly interwoven in its political and intellectual life.

Humphreys discusses the conflicts over power and resources that engage Middle Eastern politicians and looks at the major ideologies that have shaped these conflicts. He focuses on the impact of Islam on public life and examines Muslim ways of thinking about the "secular" versus the "religious." What values does Islam put into play? What challenges does it pose to "ordinary" politics? What resources does it bring to the struggle for social justice?

Humphreys recognizes the Western tendency to dismiss Middle Eastern politics as an incoherent tale of violence and fanaticism, and his book is especially valuable for its analysis of the deeper issues behind the headlines. These issues include the region's apparent inability to evolve democratic institutions, conflicts rooted in the peace settlements after World War I, and the unresolved debates over which cultural and moral values should drive Middle Eastern policy.

Between Memory and Desire reminds us that Middle Easterners remember the past in specific ways: the shame of the colonial era; the disappointments since independence; and the glory of the Middle Ages, when Muslim achievements were respected throughout the world. Even if these memories are only partially true, in defining the past, they also define what the future ought to be.

Author Notes

R. Stephen Humphreys is Professor of History and Islamic Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and author of Islamic History: A Framework for Inquiry (second edition, 1991) among other works.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

Islam has long been a major force in shaping the contours of sociopolitical and cultural debate in much of the Middle East. With the apparent failure of Pan-Arabism, Westernism, and other secular ideologies to provide meaningful and workable solutions to the region's numerous problems, Islam has once again become a central ingredient in the ongoing philosophical and practical struggle among the forces contending these. This struggle (as well as Islam itself) is complex, multifaceted, and influenced by a variety of other factors, both within and outside the Islamic world. In this sober and highly informative book, Humphreys (history and Islamic studies, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara) introduces educated readers to the nuances of Middle Eastern political and social discourse. He goes behind the headlines and offers a sophisticated and yet accessible analysis of Islamic polity for Western readers. Highly recommended for specialists and nonspecialists alike.√ĄNader Entessar, Spring Hill Coll., Mobile, AL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

This fine extended essay examines the contemporary Middle East against the backdrop of history and culture. Humphreys (history and Islamic Studies, Univ. of California at Santa Barbara) is former editor of the International Journal of Middle East Studies, the leading scholarly journal in its field. He seeks to elucidate the effort to "infuse meaning, value, and moral purpose" into Middle East politics. He examines the socioeconomic problems of the region, as well as the heritage of conflictual relations with the rest of the world, especially Christian Europe. Three chapters are devoted to "secular" politics: pan-Arab nationalism, the "myth of the Middle East madman," and the role of the military in politics. The last four chapters focus on aspects of Islam: Islamic politics; "jihad and the politics of salvation"; the role of women in public life; and the status of human rights in Islam. Humphreys debunks many of the popular Western stereotypes of Islam and the Middle East in a clearheaded and forthright manner. Yet his basic sympathy does not prevent him from administering healthy doses of criticism. Written for the nonexpert, the book is ideally suited for undergraduate students, as it is comprehensive, informative, and less pejorative than other works on the subject. Highly recommended for all libraries. F. Tachau; University of Illinois at Chicago

Table of Contents

Preface to the 2005 Edition
Preface to the First Edition
1 Hard Realities: Population Growth and Economic Stagnation
2 From Imperialism to the New World Order: The Middle East in Search of a Future
3 The Strange Career of Pan-Arabism
4 The Shaping of Foreign Policy: The Myth of the Middle East Madman
5 Military Dictatorship and Political Tradition in the Middle East
6 Profane and Sacred Politics: The Ends of Power in the Middle East
7 Islam as a Political System
8 Jihad and the Politics of Salvation
9 Women in Public Life: Islamic Perspectives, Middle Eastern Realities
10 Islam and Human Rights Toward a Conclusion--Between Memory and Desire
A Bibliographic Note