When MERIP came together in 1971, it was with a purpose to integrate the Middle East into the progressive political agenda in the United States. Toward this end we began this magazine to provide information and analysis about the material conditions of Middle Eastern societies and to examine US policy in the region. Our efforts were animated by our engagement in the campaign against the US war in Vietnam, and by our solidarity with ongoing struggles for national liberation elsewhere in the Third World.
In 1991, we were again engaged in a campaign against a war, this one in the Middle East, a war imposed by the political leadership in Washington and in Baghdad. For the United States this war had several purposes, not the least of which was to erase the debilitating political consequences of Vietnam. We, like many others who worked to prevent this catastrophe, have been dismayed by the devastation unleashed by Iraq and the US, and by the tonic this “successful” war has provided to the proponents of extended US hegemony. It is important to remember, though, how close we came to preventing the US-led escalation. George Bush was able to overcome broad-based opposition to war in this country and abroad only with the unstinting help of Saddam Hussein.
As we move into our third decade, readers can count on MERIP to give high priority to assessing the consequences of the Persian Gulf war. One aspect of this will be attention to the dynamics of nationalism, particularly the critical views of people from the region. The US fought this war to legitimize particular regimes and a configuration of power favorable to US interests in the region. But the prelude to war and its aftermath — Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and the mass uprisings against the Baath regime — have undermined much of this legitimacy. This has consequences not just for US efforts to consolidate its position, but also for the left’s own “Vietnam syndrome,” a perspective that, in its own way, too reflexively legitimates states and identifies nationalism with liberation. We need to transform not just how our adversaries think, but how we think as well. We will continue to address those areas where our coverage has been most distinctive and appreciated, such as the Palestine-Israel conflict and the Persian Gulf. Our upcoming issues will scrutinize the US-orchestrated Israeli-Arab negotiations, and the prospects for an arms race or arms control in the area. At the same time, we plan to take up themes such as gender and democracy, themes which examine the ways people in the Middle East construct social and political identities and differences, how those are represented in Western societies, the functional structures of power underlying social and political hierarchies at different levels, and the collective ways that people devise to survive and overcome these structures.
We are confident that we can count on your continued support as we pursue these new themes, and bring new voices to these discussions. We are particularly excited to announce in this issue the Philip Shehadi New Writers award, as one way of generating the rethinking that needs to be done in the United States and in the Middle East.