The first decade of the twenty-first century has witnessed an astronomical rise in public demand for information about the Islamic regions of the Middle East, North Africa, and western Asia, especially in the United States. The 9/11 attacks, and the subsequent American invasions of Afghanistan in October 2001 and Iraq in March 2003, were largely responsible for this increased desire for information about a part of the world that many in the United States view with great curiosity, yet also with great fear and distrust. Not surprisingly, many of the books, television programs, films, and websites that have emerged in recent years reflect these feelings, and often even cater to them. Many have focused exclusively on Islam, or political topics related to it, in their purported effort to explain the region to the public. Books with derogatory titles like The Politically Incorrect View of Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad: Founder of the World’s Most Intolerant Religion even have made it to The New York Times bestseller list (it is doubtful that similar books about Judaism or Christianity ever would be published, let alone make the bestseller list).
Yet books such as these, that focus exclusively on Middle Eastern politics, religion, and violence, do little to shed light on how the hundreds of millions of ordinary people of the Middle East and North Africa live their lives on a daily basis. The various peoples inhabiting this region in fact possess rich, varied, and, by Western standards, often quite normal lives, hopes, and experiences that are far removed from the disturbing images presented by books lining the shelves of major bookstores on this side of the Atlantic. If only the public could read more about this reality in the Middle East and North Africa, to balance the portrayal of warriors, politicians, clerics, and extremists so typically presented to it.