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Editor’s Book Choices: Emerging from our Frames and Narratives: Understanding the World through Altered Eyes

Published on December 23, 2014        Author: 

We are all captured and framed by our background, our nationality, history classes in school, religion, experiences, language and common narratives. Psychology has shown that those frames might be an obstacle to communication, mutual understanding and might even lead to conflict. It is no different for the international community. Different frames lead to different understandings of situations, different attributions of motives by others, different fairness perceptions. Kant defined enlightenment as a “man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity”. One aspect of this immaturity, one could argue, is the lack of self-consciousness about one´s own frames. Learning about other peoples´ frames relativizes one´s own (in my view something to strive for in itself) – and may lead to tolerance. My own frame is clearly western European and I have no doubt that this influences how I see the world and how I perceive international law. Challenging our own frame can be a personal as well as a professional enrichment.

My latest experiences of this kind of relativisation came through two books which I would like to share. Both books are closely connected to the developments in international relations we are currently facing. First, the events in the Arab world, including the events of 9/11: both events call for a thorough understanding of the Arab World and Islam and its frames, narratives and history. Second, the rise of China in economic terms but also the increasing assertiveness of the “Middle Kingdom”: in order to better understand the reactions of China to western moves in trade and especially security.

The first book I would like to introduce is Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes by Tamim Ansary (2010). It is an encompassing history of Islam and the Islamic world, starting with the birth of Mohammed. The book describes not only the religious development of Islam, helping to understand the different Islamic denominations and their conflicts between Shia and Sunni (including other branches such as Sufis) but also vividly describes the political and economic development of the Islamic world. History helps us to understand the disastrous developments in the Middle East nowadays including the attraction of Islamic State (IS) by its leaders´ self-proclaimed re-erection of a Caliphate (associated with the golden age in Islam). Read the rest of this entry…

Filed under: EJIL Book Discussion