Qahwa Sada (Black Coffee) (*) is a new blog-journal by Middle East experts, edited by Marc Lynch of Abu Aardvark (though "edited" might be too strong a word - "organized" might be closer to the mark.)
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. The blog format offers unique opportunities to reach a savvy, engaged audience hungry for this kind of information and analysis. Over the last few years, I've been running my blog Abu Aardvark. There are a few great blogs by Middle East experts already, like those run by Juan Cole, Josh Landis, Asa'd AbuKhalil, the mysterious Baheyya, the Arabist Network, and others. These individual blogs have been a great way to get ideas and arguments out there directly to a wide audience, including policy makers, journalists, editors, and other academics. But it's not enough - there are so many more scholars out there with things to say. Middle East studies needs to adapt to the internet era - we don't need new organizations, a publisher, or institutional support. Off the shelf blog software is enough to get the ideas out there if we're willing to contribute our time, knowledge, and expertise.
Qahwa Sada will do a number of different kinds of things. 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.
Who can contribute? Middle East experts, defined broadly, whether in the academic or policy communities. What should they write? Whatever they want, as long as it's directly about the region and offers something substantive and interesting (so nothing directly about American politics, or posts which just link an article with a brief comment). I'm looking especially for insights from people in the field who see things happening that aren't showing up, or are being misunderstood, by the media. The sorts of politically relevant, important things which are not enough for an academic article, not timely enough for an op-ed, but definitely worth bringing to public attention. Have Kuwaiti or Bahraini political acitivists developed new protest techniques? Have you noticed new trends in mosque attendance in Jordan? Have you seen a new wave of politically-themed music videos? The ideal is empirically rich, analytically sharp pieces which are theoretically informed but don't dwell on the theory or use a lot of jargon. Accessible to the informed general reader, without sacrificing either empirical detail or analytical sophistication.
Qahwa Sada essays will be presented in blog format, with embedded hyperlinks and open comments. Authors will be encouraged to hang around and participate in discussions. I'll be the editor, for now, though if this catches on I plan to recruit an editorial committee to help share the load. I'll publish whenever I get something worth publishing - hopefully at least a few pieces a week, more if I can.
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.
Want to contribute? Drop me a line at abuaardvark at (google mail).
(*) If you can't pronounce Qahwa Sada, or want to sound like an "Insider", you can call it The Aardvark Review. There's a story there.