The Middle East Institute is proud to host MEI scholar Andrea Rugh for a discussion about Middle Eastern culture and her most recent book, Simple Gestures: A Cultural Journey Into the Middle East. Since US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, the importance of culture has become all too clear. Yet, although most scholars agree on its importance, few address culture in ways that provide better understanding to audiences who might benefit, such as policy makers, the media and the American public.
For more than a decade Dr. Rugh has been trying to insert the cultural element back into discussions about the larger Middle East. Rugh will discuss her two most recent books, Simple Gestures: A Cultural Journey Into the Middle East (2009) and The Political Culture of Leadership in the United Arab Emirates (2007). In The Political Culture book Rugh examines the 200 year history of the seven Emirates of the UAE and illustrates how political behaviors were shaped by cultural expectations about the way rulers should rule. While many scholars on the Gulf focus on Western political and strategic interests, and the impact of oil, Rugh instead looks at the patterns of interpersonal behavior among rulers and their constituents to show how the political system transformed from an egalitarian to an authoritarian one in a very short time.
In her most recent book, Simple Gestures: A Cultural Journey Into the Middle East, Rugh goes further to present culture to a broader general audience. She does this through a personal account of her experiences of living and working in the Middle East over 40 years, including Pakistan and Afghanistan. The book depicts the difficulties of understanding culture and the incremental way insights build up over time. The book serves as a response to the question: "How do you communicate the essence of culture in a meaningful way?" Rugh's answer suggests that culture is best understood by observing the people and extrapolating the mental frameworks that shape their behaviors.