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What do we need to know about the MENA region today?

Najwan Darwish
1 June 2011

This question is like a trap: 'what do we need to know about the MENA region today?' It feels like a trap, or a puzzle, rather than like a question because it was asked with no explanations. The only indication I had was that the answer should not exceed 200 words and that this question ('trap') occurred in the context of a project aiming at developing thoughts, writings and publications on the visual culture of an area known as MENA – which is an acronym in Latin letters. Although I am supposed to be one of its inhabitants, this region does not exist for me. It only exists for those who use this term for it. I cannot translate this acronym from its Latin form into any language from this region. As soon as I write it down in Arabic, the area ceases to be. It does not even exist in the consciousness of the peoples from this region. It is a term known only to a very limited category of specialists.


Is there any need to remind you of the neo-colonial nature of this term, that it is a 'Western' expression about the 'East', that the duality of 'West/East' has indeed become a dull industry, and that even criticising it has grown tiresome? In this moment overwhelmed with revolutions, the liberation of individuals and societies cannot be fulfilled without liberating the region from the political terms and conceptions that have hijacked its image and stymied its existence. The liberation should also extend to cultural perceptions, including the liberation of visual culture – such as writings and practices – from fabricated geographical notions. I have written 200 words while still trying to 'exit' from 'MENA'. Have I escaped the trap?

Najwan Darwish

is a poet and critic from Jerusalem/Palestine.

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A platform is a space for speaking in public. It is an opportunity to express ideas and thoughts. It also suggests the formal declaration of a stance or position on any given subject.

Unique to Ibraaz is a 'platform', a question put to writers, thinkers and artists about an issue relevant to the MENA region. This platform is sent to respondents both within and beyond the MENA region and contributions will be archived every 12 months.