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Queen Elizabeth II through the Arab prism

The Queen symbolized the waning colonial world order

 

This is a guest post written by Nasser Rabbat, director of the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). 

The first reminder is particularly poignant for an Arab observer like me, totally comfortable in the Western modes of thought, yet immersed in critiquing their mindless disregard of other, non-Western perspectives.

It is also even more distressing because the reign of Elizabeth II coincided with the persistent dismantling of every hopeful aspect of modernity in the vast Arab world – from political independence to economic prosperity, social emancipation, and stability.

In the meantime, Britain also extended its colonial hegemony to the Gulf sheikhdoms from Kuwait to Oman, tying them by treaties that effectively erased their independence.

So why should the people of the region remember Queen Elizabeth II for other than the uptight, terribly conservative figurehead of an empire in decline she really was? In fact, her passing may usher not the nostalgic end of an era, but the hopeful beginning of a new era for the British monarchy’s relationship with the Arab world. Her son and successor, Charles III, has always shown great interest in and appreciation of Islam, Sufism, and Arabic culture and architecture.

These intellectual pursuits, if properly redirected, may be translated into an actual rapprochement with the Arab world. But this will depend not only on the will of the new king, but also on his ability to navigate the restrictions of his constitutional monarchy and transcend the lingering prejudices of Orientalism, colonialism, and xenophobia.

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