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Epic Encounters

Epic Encounters: Culture, Media, and U.S. Interests in the Middle East since1945, Updated Edition, with a Post-9/11 Chapter

Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: 2
Pages: 426
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  • Book Info
    Epic Encounters
    Book Description:

    Epic Encountersexamines how popular culture has shaped the ways Americans define their "interests" in the Middle East. In this innovative book-now brought up-to-date to include 9/11 and the Iraq war-Melani McAlister argues that U.S. foreign policy, while grounded in material and military realities, is also developed in a cultural context. American understandings of the region are framed by narratives that draw on religious belief, news media accounts, and popular culture. This remarkable and pathbreaking book skillfully weaves lively and accessible readings of film, media, and music with a rigorous analysis of U.S. foreign policy, race politics, and religious history. The new chapter, titled "9/11 and After: Snapshots on the Road to Empire," considers and brilliantly analyzes five images that have become iconic: (1) New York City firemen raising the American flag out of the rubble of the World Trade Center, (2) the televised image of Osama bin-Laden, (3) Afghani women in burqas, (4) the statue of Saddam Hussein being toppled in Baghdad, and (5) the hooded and wired prisoner in Abu Ghraib. McAlister's singular achievement is to illuminate the contexts of these five images both at the time they were taken and as they relate to current events, an accomplishment all the more remarkable since-to paraphrase her new preface-we are today struggling to look backward at something that is still rushing ahead.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93201-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface to the 2005 Edition
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Preface to the First Edition
    (pp. xv-xx)
  6. Introduction: Middle East Interests
    (pp. 1-42)

    This is a book about the cultural and political encounters that have made the Middle East matter to Americans. It chronicles how, in the years between World War II and the turn of the twenty-first century, Americans engaged the Middle East, both literally and metaphorically, through its history as a sacred space and its continuing reality as a place of secular political conflict. Thus people in the United States encountered the Middle East through war, but also on television shows; as part of the struggle over oil, but also in debates over ancient history; in discussions of religion, and also...

  7. 1 ʺBenevolent Supremacyʺ: The Biblical Epic at the Dawn of the American Century, 1947–1960
    (pp. 43-83)

    When Cecil B. DeMilleʹsThe Ten Commandmentsopened in New York in November 1956, the critical consensus was that the director had created a middle-brow, melodramatic, and highly suspect account of the biblical story of Moses.Newsweekdescribed the film as forced and ʺheavy-handed,ʺ while the reviewer forTimecalledThe Ten Commandmentsʺperhaps the most vulgar movie ever made,ʺ lambasting the acting, the casting, the sets, and even the effects.¹ Bosley Crowther of theNew York Timeswas less caustic but still decidedly lukewarm about the film, commenting dryly that ʺthis is unquestionably a picture to which one must...

  8. 2 The Middle East in African American Cultural Politics, 1955–1972
    (pp. 84-124)

    Just after the Suez crisis had ended, in December 1956, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke in Montgomery, Alabama, on ʺFacing the Challenge of a New Age.ʺ Looking at events in the decolonizing world, King argued that the ʺold order was passing away,ʺ and that the ʺcolored peopleʺ of the world were moving toward freedom by establishing their own governments and their own educational systems. Drawing on the exodus trope that was his hallmark, King pointed out that these new nations had ʺbroken loose from the Egypt of colonialism and imperialism.ʺ African Americans would benefit, he argued, from ʺthe new order...

  9. 3 King Tut, Commodity Nationalism, and the Politics of Oil, 1973–1979
    (pp. 125-154)

    In April 1978, the comedian Steve Martin appeared onSaturday Night Liveto perform for the first time his song ʺKing Tut,ʺ which subsequently became a hit single, selling more than a million records. Martinʹs song was a parodic commentary on ʺTutmania,ʺ the fascination with the ancient Egyptian king Tutankhamun that swept the United States from 1977 to 1979, when a collection of objects from Tutankhamunʹs tomb toured six American museums.The Treasures of Tutankhamunbecame the most popular museum show in U.S. history, and King Tut became a popular culture sensation, featured in television specials, coffee-table books, and memorabilia...

  10. 4 The Good Fight: Israel after Vietnam, 1972–1980
    (pp. 155-197)

    In the spring of 1967, as the war between Israel and the neighboring Arab states was brewing, newspapers and television in the United States reported on the progress of a very different conflict. In Vietnam, the U.S. military was enmeshed in the second year of Operation Rolling Thunder, the bombing campaign that dropped eight hundred tons of bombs a day on North Vietnam. Troop call-ups had increased, and the antiwar movement was conducting a ceaseless round of protest and confrontation with authorities. As the war escalated, television news in particular brought it home, making Vietnam ʺthe living room war.ʺ A...

  11. 5 Iran, Islam, and the Terrorist Threat, 1979–1989
    (pp. 198-234)

    In the United States, the 1980s began with the nightly spectacle of Americans held hostage by Iranian militants in Tehran. During the 444 days of their captivity, which began on November 4, 1979, and ended on January 21, 1981, the day Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as president, the hostages in Iran became a national symbol. Many Americans marked their solidarity with the captives with yellow ribbons or white armbands. People in coffee shops and on radio talk shows debated what should be done to free them. And for more than a year, Walter Cronkite, who in 1979 was rated in...

  12. 6 Military Multiculturalism in the Gulf War and After, 1990–1999
    (pp. 235-265)

    In the early fall of 1990, the United States–led coalition against Iraq began what would become one of the largest military operations of the post–World War II period.¹ The multinational coalition of troops was initially mobilized in response to Iraqʹs invasion of Kuwait; the official goal was to defend the border of Saudi Arabia and also to protect U.S. and Western ʺinterestsʺ in the Gulf. Operation Desert Storm involved almost seven hundred thousand troops, including more than five hundred thousand Americans, in the task of avenging what President George Bush described as the ʺrapeʺ of Kuwait.² Ensuring the...

  13. Conclusion: 9/11 and After: Snapshots on the Road to Empire
    (pp. 266-308)

    In January 2003, theNew York Times Magazinepublished a cover story by Michael Ignatieff, one of the nationʹs leading advocates for human rights, titled ʺThe Burden.ʺ In it, the liberal Ignatieff argued that Americans needed to recognize and accept that they were now at the helm of an empire. Considering the confluence of U.S. military, economic, and cultural preeminence, he said, ʺWhat word but ʹempireʹ describes the awesome thing that America is becoming?ʺ¹

    It was one sign of the remarkable transformation in American politics after September 11 that a leading human rights activist and liberal political commentator would now...

  14. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 309-314)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 315-362)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 363-392)
  17. Filmography
    (pp. 393-394)
  18. Index
    (pp. 395-407)