Guess what evil thing I did to my intro Middle East students (this time)? I gave them a blank map and told them to draw the borders of the Middle East.
First, I give them individual maps, and have them make their own solo guesses. Then I like to ratchet up the stakes a bit by telling everyone who says they’ve completed the activity “yeah, no. Wrong.” Next up in the regime of torture is pedagogical Fight Club. Randomly put them in groups and provoke fights over whose map is better. Then, they get to cluster in larger groups for even more arguments.
So I tell them they’re wrong, I am very disappointed, and they need to try harder. And repeat. Again. And again. And again. And again. All class.
I know this is evil and trolling and maybe a form of torture, but it’s also very goddamn effective. Plus, watching the frustration unfold is hilariously entertaining.
Once you’re pretty certain they’re all praying for your death, put them out of their misery by pointing out that the entire concept of the Middle East is a whole lot of imperially constructed geopolitical bullllllshit (but in academically palatable language appropriate for a professional adult and not my goddamn blog). Here’s one way to word that:
Personally, I’m fond of forcing my students to memorize this and spit it back to me like the shitty Drake verses blasting out of the frat house across the street from me every goddamn weekend (yes, King Push in this beef – no doubt).
All jokes aside, this slideshow (courtesy of Duke-UNC) is a phenomenal resource to help students understand just how arbitrary “the Middle East” as a geopolitical fiction truly is. Use it. Abuse it.
I also recommend reinforcing the message with mockery of the Flat Earth “movement” (not sure what exactly to call this fuckery). The quickest way to get American students to understand “Eurocentrism” is to publicly ask them if they’re Flat Earthers while they look at a map labeled “The Middle East.”
Another very fun part: wait until they have decided that Israel counts as the Middle East “because Judaism, like Islam, started in the Middle East.” Then ask about the Vatican. When they all roll their eyes “no,” wait a beat — and ask “WAIT WHERE WAS THAT GUY JESUS FROM AGAIN” (this is also a very fun time to ask them if a, say, mosque in Texas is Western architecture and then ask them if Notre Dame in Paris is a Middle Eastern cultural object by the same logic).
I especially like ending this class by asking if they hate me yet (actually, I enjoy ending most classes with that question).
By far, though, the most effective take-away you can use for your students iwth this activity is by reminding them that: this is precisely how “tHe mIdDlE EaSt” was invented in the first place…a bunch of people in a room…with zero connections to the region in question…drawing lines on a map…with the justification “I feel like this goes here…”
Yeah. After all…
Evil? Meh. I suppose. More importantly: effective? Oh, hell yes. Steal it, use it, pass it on.
Just you wait until my intro Middle East class gets to ye olde “Required And Perpetually Painful Talk About Hijab Day.” Just. You. Wait.