In 1987, the Palestinian Intifada rose up against Israeli occupation, with images of angry youths casting stones at menacing tanks shocking television viewers around the world. In 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, deploying a battle-hardened Iraqi army that had only recently been fighting Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and gassing Kurdish communities. In 1991, an American-led coalition forced the invasion army to withdraw, in the process bombing Iraq “back to the Stone Age.” Later that same year, representatives from various nations assembled in Madrid to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli conflicts, negotiations that ultimately failed to resolve decades of hostilities that continue to fester today.
Though these events in the Middle East seemed to take place far away from a childhood in Taipei and Los Angeles, they captured my attention when growing up. They led me to study and teach Middle Eastern and Mediterranean histories. From Taiwan and the United States, this interest took me to Syria to study Arabic as a Fulbright scholar, Spain to research and write my dissertation as a graduate student at Princeton University, and many other countries in the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe. Even now, and perhaps more than ever, events in the Middle East and Mediterranean play a critical role in our world, and it is crucial to learn and share knowledge about these regions and their peoples.
Students study Middle Eastern history wondering why conflicts seem to dominate the region, puzzled by the role religion plays in these affairs, eager to learn about people’s everyday lives, or just curious about another part of the world. My courses provide foundational knowledge about the Middle East from the late Roman and Sasanian empires in the 500s C.E. to the uprisings of the “Arab Spring” in 2010. The early years of this history are as compelling as any in human experience and they are some of my favorite to teach. The nomads of pre-Islamic Arabia; the life of the Prophet Muhammad; the conquest of a new world empire; the development of Islamic personnel, institutions, and beliefs in diverse urban settings; Arab Muslims and their relations with Persians, Berbers, and Turks and Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians; the stunning art and architecture – these and other topics constitute the emergence of a new “civilization.” The rapid and early expansion of the Islamic polity put Arab Muslims in the midst of millions of non-Arabs and non-Muslims, and the creativity spurred by these contacts and relationships reveal fascinating stories of both conflict and accommodation. Highlighting premodern history helps broaden knowledge of Middle Eastern history beyond the “disintegration” that dominate news about, and awareness of, the region in the modern and contemporary.....（詳見全文）（本文原刊於《臺大歷史系學術通訊》第22期）