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An essay on the refurbished “Islamic art” galleries of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art (published inthe National)
During the past decade of fulminating and fretting, those of us who live in Europe and North America have become quite familiar with the term “the Islamic world”. Rarely do a few words try to say so much. The phrase scrapes by as a kind of shorthand, an easy way of fusing geography and sociology.
It allows us to speak in the singular about a great profusion of peoples and places. The “Islamic world” is not simply a space where 1.5 billion Muslims happen to live, but a space that can be understood in generalisations. We hear of the Islamic world almost always in reference to its political and social problems: the plight of democracy in the Islamic world, the crisis of women’s rights in the Islamic world, the rise…
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