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Journal of Mediterranean Studies: History, Culture and Society in the mediterranean world
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Journal of Mediterranean Studies
History, Culture and Society in the mediterranean world

Volume 11, Number 1, 2001
Issue Editor: Anthony Spiteri

ISSN 1016-3476

Published twice yearly by the:
Mediterranean Institute
University of Malta



Table of Contents

Anthony D. Spiteri

Jan Berting & Christiane Villain-Gandossi
The Significance of Collective Identities in Intergroup Relations

Silvo Devetak
The Mediterranean Basin - Between the Glorious Past and the Uncertain Future

Mohanna Haddad
Alterity in Arab Jordanian Rural Communities: A Case Study from Shatana, a Village in North Jordan

Aziz Haidar
The Impact of National Conflict and Peace On the Formation of the Image of the Other: How Palestinians in Israel Perceive , and are Perceived by Others

Saad Eddin Ibrahim
Islamic Activism and the Western Search for a New Enemy

Nancybeth Jackson
Mediterranean Migrations and Arab-American Stereotypes

Nabil Khattab
Reducing Stereotypes between Two Conflicting Groups: The Case of a Palestinian-Israeli Youth Group

Mamosi S. Lelo
L’Enfant Méditerranéen et la Perception de l’Autre: Perspective d’Intégration

Yves Libert & Françoise Bartiaux
Le Stéréotype et la Vie en Ghetto Facilitent-ils l’Adaptation du Migrant? L’Exemple du Bassin Méditerranéen

Daniel Monterescu
A City of ‘Strangers’: The Socio-Cultural Construction of Manhood in Jaffa

Dahlia Moore
Future Expectations of Young Jews and Arabs in Israel: The Impact of Discrimination

Mustapha Nasraoui
L’Image de la Culture Arabo-Musulmane et l’Intégration de l’Immigre Maghrébin en Europe

Lionel Panafit
Un Danger Islamiste a Bruxelles: Construction d’une Image et Crise Politique de L’Islam en Belgique

Miriam Pillar Grossi & Carmen Silvia Rial
D’une Mer a un Océan: La Culture Méditerranéenne au Brésil

Zeyneb Samandi
La Question Féminine Entre le Volontarisme Politique et le Conservatisme Social

Sanja M. Spoljar-Vrzina
Stigma and Exile

Books Received
Notes for Contributors
Information for Advertisers
Contents of Previous Issue
Forthcoming Issue



How people perceive others is greatly determined by cultural backgrounds, socio-political, ideological, religious and linguistic frameworks. Such perceptions often become so culturally embedded and laden with misleading content that the very health of a society, in terms of its identity, recognition, community and freedom, can suffer real damage in its vitality and well being. Indeed, a stroll through any newspaper today has never confirmed it so well.

In the context of the Mediterranean, just as in the case of the World globally, these issues relating to social identity and recognition, deeply concern the relationships between Islam and the West as commonly encountered within the North-South debate. These world energies have remained unfamiliar to each other for too long, with far reaching consequences which have resulted in dangerous misunderstandings. Indeed, much must be done to show the friendship between them, the life-blood they share, and the socio-political and economic camaraderie on which they depend.

To be sure, in many respects Western and Islamic societies do indeed express different cultures and different religions, but this does not mean they cannot get along. And getting along certainly pre-empts any foreclosure about any predefined enemies. Rather the differences beckon us to work together, to improve our understanding of each other, to break down stereotypes and erase the mistrust. Far from thinking of Islam as alien then, the West cannot help but share the understanding of Islam as anything but time-honored and a way of life of peace. Indeed, as the Holy Qur’an says:

O people! We created you from a single pair of a male and female and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other, not that you may despise each other. [49:12]

It is in this spirit that this issue of the Journal of Mediterranean Studies comes to print. Comprised of the proceedings of a UNESCO sponsored International Conference in Malta titled Stereotypes and Alterity: Perceptions of Otherness in the Mediterranean, this volume addresses problems of stereotypes and their effects in the context of the Mediterranean as a means to comprehend the wider problematic of ‘getting along’ and coexistence in this region. As a global microcosm, the Mediterranean manifests paradigmatically the interaction of Christendom, Islam and Judaism with all the trappings of the social dilemmas and stereotype delimitations we are witnessing worldwide.

Like in the World globally, the Mediterranean manifests all the misgivings of abroad. People from opposite shores of the Mediterranean perceive each other too much through the dangerous prism of stereotypes. Southern Mediterranean countries often picture the Northern regions as materialistic, lacking respect for the spiritual, anti-Islamic and determined to use liberal values as a way of undermining their societies. Too often, the North equates Islam with the actions of its most extreme adherents - too much of the media presents Islam not as a rich and varied culture underpinned by one of the world’s great religions, but as the sum of terrorist bombings and atrocities conducted by a few in its name. Both views are profoundly misplaced. The truth is that terrorism is no more representative of Islam than the Omagh bombers are of the values of the West. And far from having incompatible cultures, we have a great deal to learn from each other.

The North/West owes much to Islam. Islam laid the intellectual foundations for large portions of Western civilization. From our numbers to our understanding of the stars, much of the basis of our civilization is rooted in Islamic learning. One of the biggest errors the West could make would be to think that Islamic culture is something alien. It is not. Our cultures have intertwined throughout history. They intertwine today. And they must continue to do so as our futures increasingly bind us together. So, one of the most fundamental challenges today is how to fashion a positive relationship between the West and the Islamic world based on mutual respect and recognition. To be sure, mutual respect requires a widespread willingness and ability to articulate our disagreements, to defend them before people with whom we disagree, to discern the difference between respectable and dis-respectable disagreement, and to be open to changing our own minds when faced with well reasoned criticism.

Clearly, the issue here is not that we should be sympathetic to Arabs. On the contrary, they should be treated as neither victim nor villain but recognized as self respecting agents of integrity like anyone else. And the opening predisposition for discussion should be the awareness that they are not simply a homogenous group that lends itself to generalization. This realization is already a step away from common pedestrian stereotypes about them. And as a genuine step, it illustrates how all the other little things we do to improve relations between the North and South must be moral acts done in the real interest of all whose friendship we need, not just in the interest of political advantage or appearance.

Such is the challenge this issue of the JMS is meant to address. It is one small step aimed at facilitating a sense of mutual respect by airing some of the grievances which have all too often been ignored. It is such a silence that harms as much as any - for the longer they remain unspoken the deeper are the roots of misunderstanding and mis-recognition. It is within this locus of social misunderstandings that we can locate the core conception for grappling with stereotypes. The fact is that because our identities are not shaped in isolation but through recognition or its absence, the mis-recognition of others can and often does result in real damage, real distortion, especially if the people or society around them reflect a confirming or demeaning or contemptible picture of themselves. Non recognition or mis-recognition can inflict harm, can be a form of oppression, imprisoning someone in a false, distorted, and reduced mode of being.

Of course, with these theoretical pointers about stereotypes, I have done no more than sketch some of the questions which have concerned social scientists interested in the problem of recognition. They serve as general indications of the issues which constitute the context of the essays to follow. Contributors vary in the extent to which they engage directly with these concerns. Furthermore, they would not all agree with the manner in which they are presented here; nor would I like to say that they would all subscribe to the depiction of the relation between Islam and the West – let alone to these categories themselves. Nonetheless, there is considerable agreement between the authors. Certainly there is enough common ground for them to have engaged in discussion, and for their contributions to relate constructively to each other. They all largely accept what has been referred to as the core conception of the issue of stereotypes – the demand for recognition between groups unfamiliar to each other and who on account of this unfamiliarity have been standing nervously close to each other and too often, nervously apart. Hence, at the primary and most rudimentary level, they agree that the principle of recognition demands a political and cultural response based in pedagogical initiatives. Yet, as the reader will note, there still remains disagreement both on what that principle is or where to draw the line between recognition and misrecognition. They all accept that recognition is good but differences may show up between them as to why it is good. For example and as often implied in statistical studies, recognition is good on prudential grounds because it enables us to mitigate or avoid damaging social conflict. To others, however, such as Berting and Villain-Gandossi, recognition is regarded as a virtue with a positive role in our moral development.

Having made these general observations as a preliminary, I devote the remainder of this introduction to sketching the principle concerns of each paper as a guide to the reader as well as to suggest some pointers about their reading. In no way are these indications necessary for understanding the proceedings. These hints are merely meant as general remarks about their overall interconnectedness.

Perhaps, the first best step to these readings is provided by Jan Berting and Christiane Villain-Gandossi. They provide a helpful beginning because, whilst the others are focused on empirical concerns of stereotypes with particular reference to socio-political and cultural applications, Berting and Gandossi present a theoretical overview of the most fundamental issues associated with stereotypes and introduce the reader to key analytical tools for their comprehension. Following some introductory explanation about collective identities, representations and stereotypes, they proceed to explore the nature of these concepts as cultural products and attempt to fathom the dynamics in their ways of functioning in so called ‘multicultural societies’.

Next, NancyBeth Jackson’s paper makes choice reading especially in light of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. In truly prescient style, her analyses of the events concerning the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Centre resoundingly address the causes and resonances of September’s fallout. She discusses American misconceptions of Arabic identity in the context of a broader discussion of the forces that have led to the cultural isolation of the Arabs in the West. After identifying various prominent Arabic literary and cultural figures, she proceeds to show how the media, in particular, has often been party to unconscious racism against a people who, simply because of their different skin color and mannerisms, came to be labeled, categorized and antagonized. She identifies how a counter action can redress the errors of this tradition, most prominently the role of public relations and the need for Arabic social scientists to communicate through various media towards this cause.

As a nice follow up to Jackson’s reflections on American perceptions of Arabic life-forms is Saad Eddin Ibrahim’s article on Islamic activism. Ibrahim makes a powerful plea to the West to recognize the vast wealth of Islam as a source for social justice, for a social and moral order. Islam, he claims has grown and spread in the last two decades as an idiom of protest against repression and social injustice. If radicalism is one of its connotations, it is only commensurate with the extent to which the social deprivation amongst the young educated lower middle class Muslims remains un-addressed. Like any white, Western liberal democrat they judge the new vision and promised solutions by their concrete results. Ibrahim’s article proves to be a valuable prism to evaluate these results and questions the applicability of these results to the urgent Muslim context. Only once these inconsistencies are seriously and credibly addressed, will so called militant Islamists and Arab Muslim people generally, shed their misgivings vis-à-vis the West.

Somewhat in a similar spirit as Ibrahim, Silvo Devetak, dealing broadly with the problems of ethnic, cultural, religious and political misperceptions in the Mediterranean, argues that our attempt to better relations between the North and South should be based on equality and mutual interests and not managed paternalistically or on an egotistical approach determined single-handedly by the countries of the developed world. Local authorities, civil society institutions, economic subjects and other entities of participating states should be – along with the agencies and bodies of the state structure – included both in the preparation and adaptation of the policies and programs as well as in their realization.

Turning from the wider generalized approach on stereotypes to a more particular level of investigation are M. Haddad, L. Panafit, M. Pillar Grossi and C. Silvia Real. They provide important and insightful contributions on stereotypes and the "world of the other" at the local level of investigation. Haddad studies the phenomena of alterity in terms of traditional Arab Jordanian Culture as expressed in Jordanian rural areas, through the paradigm of Shatana, a village in Northern Jordan; Panafit investigates the problem of otherness in terms of Belgian societal attitudes towards Islamic people with reference to Belgium’s reaction to the 1986 American bombing of Tripoli; and Pillar Grossi and Silvia Rial delve into the attitudes of Brazilians to European migrants, Blacks and American Indians. They look at how news media as well as literature in Brazil encourage racial and ethnic stereotypes and construct imaginary worlds of otherness to benefit some privileged interests.

Specifying further the particularistic investigation into stereotypes with reference to Israel, are two articles by Dahlia Moore and Nabil Khattab. Moore and Khattab provide the results of two very empirical and statistical based studies on stereotypes in the Middle East based on reports and questionnaires surveying Jewish and Palestinian students. Moore looks at the factors which influence the expectations of discriminated groups versus groups in advantageous positions. Drawing from an analysis of a survey of 5,250 Jewish and Palestinian high school students in Israel, Moore concludes that what is most important in one’s life is more the sense of control over the future than the sense of deprivation faced at any moment. Similarly, Khattab’s paper discusses the results of his research project dealing with seventy-two students, from the two groups, Israeli Jews and Palestinians. Initially, the working supposition of Khattab’s project was that bringing students together to work and address neutral issues may promote the development of friendships and recognition of the other from different ethnic groups who hold negative stereotypical views of each other. Surprisingly however the study showed that no significant influence or effects could be identified and that participation in the project did not seem to have a mitigating effect on the level of stereotypes prevalent amongst the groups. His research raises some startling concerns about the appropriateness of trying to improve relations between the North and South by encouraging contact between them based on discussion of so called ‘neutral’ issues such as the environment, technology, tourism and so forth.

Middle East issues on stereotypes are further discussed by Aziz Haidar. His paper studies the perceptions of Palestinian citizens of Israel as influenced by the three major parties involved in the Middle East conflict. Since political developments have affected not only the circumstances in this region but the very nature of the relations between the parties themselves, Haidar’s study discusses how the historical context has shaped the process of forming the image of the other through this medium. He looks at the consolidation of national and ethnic identity and the drawing of the social boundaries between groups and consequently the crystallization of the image of the other through different kinds and levels of human interaction within the Middle East

Still within the realm of the Eastern Mediterranean but on the topic of gender and stereotypes, two papers, one by Daniel Monterescu and the other by Zeyneb Samandi, respectively discuss themes on masculinity and femininity. Monterescu investigates the question of stereotypes by studying the problematic of self-perception in the context of various conceptions of manhood which form an integral part of the lives of Arab men in Jaffa. His argument is that the notion of what it is to be a ‘man’ and to develop a sense of one’s manhood in Jaffa is paradigmatic of the general process of constructing a social category within a cultural-political matrix of transgressed boundaries. The role of ‘local others’ he argues cannot be disconnected from the general make up of one’s own self-development which, under the stressed conditions of Jaffa life often fuel the energies which need to be redressed. Continuing discussion of gender but in the context of feminine identity, Samandi studies the issue of women’s rights within the Muslim world. By distinguishing the tradition/modernization relation from the authoritarianism/democratic power relation, Samandi concludes that it is futile to grapple with the feminine problem in the Islamic world in terms of the same vernacular of Western modernity. Thus, she proceeds to investigate the modernization process specific to the Muslim world building into her argument a third distinction, that between modernity and modernization. This distinction, she argues, enables one to free Islamic notions of feminism from what she terms the state forms of feminism of Western societies.

Moving now from studies on stereotypes in the East of the Mediterranean to the South/West and North of the region is M. Nasroui. Nasroui discusses Arabic alterity in relation to the Maghrebian immigrant in Europe. He explores the nature of prejudice against North Africans in the West through the lenses of social experimental psychological experts in Europe particularly in France. He notes that when members of local populations are placed in competition with North Africans, the failure of the former is generally attributed to external factors independent of the will, while the failure of the latter generally attributed to personal flaws associated with cultural elements. This study further investigates three main stereotypes prejudicing North African immigrants in Europe, namely bestial sexuality, disease, and the capacity to contaminate and tendency towards criminality.

With this figurative tour through diverse Mediterranean ‘frontiers’ and ‘spaces’, a return to the broader issues now becomes appropriate enriched, however, by the various synthesis gained along the way. Yet no synthesis would be complete without a veritable antithesis. Yves Libert and Francoise Bartiaux seek to cast a new light on the generally perceived negative mechanism of stereotypes and ghetto life. They point out that the relations that develop between new immigrants and the already present populations in the county can actually be facilitated through recourse to stereotypes and ghetto life which, they maintain, can serve as a source of identity for the new migrants.

Next, and what might be viewed as an intervention to rise beyond this preceding ‘stage of contrasts’ is Lelo Mamosi’s article in which he seeks to give birth to the concept of the Mediterranean Child. Attempting to break from traditional forms of pedagogical methods of overcoming stereotypes, Mamosi seeks out an image of a Mediterranean offspring freed from prejudice and caricaturing. This new locus of the Mediterranean Child is, he argues, the hope of future generations and the rise of newer attitudes and forms of life liberated from old socio-cultural delimitations that only feed and repeat past ways of exclusivist mentalities.

As a concluding paper and quite appropriate in theme as such because it sets the metaphorical dialectic in motion again seeking new levels of trans-culturality, Spoljar-Vrzina’s paper invites social scientists to reflect upon themselves as producers of stereotypes in their very investigations of them. In an attempt to understand stereotyping, she focuses on the importance of the role of self-critique as expressed in the idea that we must first become aware of the ways in which social science practitioners may inadvertently stereotype their subjects in the actual process of the study. As an illustration of this phenomenon, Spoljar-Vrzina applies her reflective-analytical method to processes of projection and stereotyping linked to the study of refugees, and people in situations of exile and displacement.

The very richness and diversity of these papers demonstrate how a rational explanation of stereotypes, particularly in the context of the Mediterranean, can illuminate a variety of practical issues and concerns stretching beyond the Mediterranean paradigm. Even if social scientists and philosophers cannot finally resolve the inner complications of stereotypes in this region, they can certainly increase our understanding of them. In view of such complications it is evident how serious, urgent and opportune the issues addressed below really are. Although these proceedings only come to print at this time they are in no way belated as their relevance and timeliness are confirmed with almost every news report today. Indeed, the September 11 events which have occurred recently in America poignantly (and most sorrowfully) confirm this. These readings have not only withstood the test of time as contemporary content, but they also articulate the living feelings of many seeking to redress the imbalances of recognition, and in several cases where solutions are recommended, true options for the future are proffered. They help us to see what is at stake in such problems and how issues of stereotypes concerning relations between Islam and the West connect to a wide range of other values and principles. It is hoped that the reflections on stereotypes to follow may help to address real issues in political life more consistently, more clear-headedly and with a more sensitive awareness of the variety of interests and principles at stake. This is a worthwhile task and one to which the essays in this volume all contribute.

Anthony D. Spiteri, Ph.D.
University of Malta
E-Mail: aspiteri@arts.um.edu.mt

For more information, please contact:

Paul de Guchteneire, UNESCO/MOST
E-Mail: p.deguchteneire@unesco.org

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