Want to know why posting has been relatively light lately, aside from the obvious teaching, writing, professional obligations, and child care? It's because I've been working hard pulling together a top-secret project, which I am now thrilled to be able to announce: Qahwa Sada, a new blog-journal by Middle East experts edited by me.
Qahwa Sada means Black Coffee (technically, coffee without sugar), which has no particular significance other than that it is my primary form of sustenance. Here is an excerpt from the mission statement:
Why a new blog-journal by Middle East experts? Because Middle East studies specialists have a phenomenal amount of quality knowledge about the Arab and Islamic world: deep knowledge about the history of the region, detailed empirical knowledge of political and social trends, sophisticated theoretical insights into their meaning. Many are out there in the region, seeing things happen and talking to people over a sustained period of time. But they often have trouble getting that knowledge out into the public realm. Part of the problem is that there just aren't nearly enough of the right kind of outlets. Academic journals are not well suited to getting information and analysis out to a wide public, and many have yet to adapt to the internet era. Blogs are wonderful, but not everyone wants one or has the time to run one. The op-ed pages are a crapshoot. MERIP and the Arab Reform Bulletin can't do it all on their own. That means that debate is too often dominated by people with, shall we say, a less empirically rich or theoretically sophisticated understanding of the region.
Qahwa Sada aims to fix this market failure by providing a public forum for Middle East studies specialists to talk about what they know..... First, it will post original medium-length essays on interesting things happening in the Arab or Islamic world. Second, it will organize on-line symposiums about new books in the field, with the authors taking part (for models, see The Valve and the TPM Cafe's Book Club). Third, it will host roundtable discussions centered upon either an article published elsewhere or else a question posed by the editor. Finally, I'll reprint appropriate contributions published elsewhere.
I hope that Qahwa Sada becomes an important source for a public deeply interested in the Arab and Islamic worlds. I hope that it improves the quality of public debate. And I hope that it becomes the core of an emerging community of Middle East scholarship.
All essays, book clubs, and symposia will be presented in blog format, with hyperlinks and open comments. I expect a wide range of contributors from a broadly defined Middle East studies community, both academic and policy, and a wide range of topics - but with a principle focus on the Arab and Islamic worlds themselves, not more general political issues. I'll be editing (with a light hand), and participating in some of the book clubs and symposia, but only occasionally contributing: this is less about me than about creating a forum by which Middle East experts can get their ideas out and engage with the public - and with each other - in new ways.
I've just posted the first essay: Bahrain: It must be election season, by Toby Jones (a Stanford PhD, formerly of the International Crisis Group and currently a Mellon Fellow at Swarthmore). We've got a number of exciting essays, book clubs, and symposia lined for the next couple of months, which I'll announce when they come online, and I'll be actively encouraging Middle East experts to contribute and participate. So consider this an open call for proposals: Want to contribute? Drop me a line at abuaardvark at (google mail).