Journeys to the Other Shore : Muslim and Western Travelers in Search of Knowledge
The contemporary world is increasingly defined by dizzying flows of people and ideas. But while Western travel is associated with a pioneering spirit of discovery, the dominant image of Muslim mobility is the jihadi who travels not to learn but to destroy. Journeys to the Other Shore challenges these stereotypes by charting the common ways in which Muslim and Western travelers negotiate the dislocation of travel to unfamiliar and strange worlds. In Roxanne Euben's groundbreaking excursion across cultures, geography, history, genre, and genders, travel signifies not only a physical movement across lands and cultures, but also an imaginative journey in which wonder about those who live differently makes it possible to see the world differently.
In the book we meet not only Herodotus but also Ibn Battuta, the fourteenth-century Moroccan traveler. Tocqueville's journeys are set against a five-year sojourn in nineteenth-century Paris by the Egyptian writer and translator Rifa'a Rafi' al-Tahtawi, and Montesquieu's novel Persian Letters meets with the memoir of an East African princess, Sayyida Salme.
This extraordinary book shows that curiosity about the unknown, the quest to understand foreign cultures, critical distance from one's own world, and the desire to remake the foreign into the familiar are not the monopoly of any single civilization or epoch. Euben demonstrates that the fluidity of identities, cultures, and borders associated with our postcolonial, globalized world has a long history--one shaped not only by Western power but also by an Islamic ethos of travel in search of knowledge.
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Princeton University Press
July 20, 2008
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Excerpt from Journeys to the Other Shore by Roxanne L. Euben
FRONTIERS: WALLS AND WINDOWS
Some Reflections on Travel Narratives
Because many people of diverse nations and countries delight and take pleasure, as I have done in times past, in seeing the world and the various things therein, and also because many want to know without traveling there, and others want to see, go, and travel, I have begun this little book.
--Gilles Le Bouvier, Le Livre de la Description des Pays (1908)
IN A GLOBALIZED world grown smaller by progressively dizzying flows of people, knowledge, and information, "travel" seems to have become the image of the age. Porous borders, portable allegiances, virtual networks, and elastic identities now more than ever evoke the language of mobility, contingency, fluidity, provisionality, and process rather than that of stability, permanence, and fixity.1 Scholars who trafficin the lingo of deterritorialization and nomadism increasingly traverse disciplines and regions, mining disparate experiences of displacement such as tourism, diaspora, exile, cyberculture, and migration as "contact zones," sites that articulate the preconditions and implications of cross-cultural encounters.2
In a geopolitical landscape scarred by colonialism and the workings of global capital, however, such encounters often proceed under conditions of radical inequality between and within regions, cultures, nations, and transnational and subnational communities. The corrosive consequences of such real and perceived disparities of power are evident in daily newspaper headlines around the world, demanding and receiving attention if not redress. The events of September 11, 2001, the U.S.-led war on terrorism, and growing opposition to it have galvanized interest in the haunting of contemporary politics by grievances rooted in poorly understood historical narratives of marginalization and persecution. Long a feature of political discourse within postcolonial societies, such grievances and narratives now press on European and American political consciousness in unprecedented ways. What Foucault aptly called research into "the history of the present" is no longer of interest only to scholarly specialists, for the imperatives of geopolitics have lent a new sense of urgency to attempts to bring these pasts into an often "presentist" social science.3
The recent emphasis on mobility and displacement as both features of and metaphors for an increasingly globalized world has thus been accompanied by detailed investigations of the historical relationship between travel and imperialism, mobility and domination. Within the last twenty years, there has been a virtual explosion of scholarship on "Western" travels to the "non-West" (I will turn to these terms in a moment): travel writing by Europeans in particular has come to be regarded as a window onto the production of knowledge and, more specifically, onto the mutually constitutive images of colonizer and colonized. These efforts are vital interventions into the operations of power, particularly in a postcolonial world in which such operations establish distinctions between center and periphery and constitute their relationship hierarchically. Yet paradoxically, attempts to deconstruct these mechanisms of domination have tended to reproduce this structure and organization. From hermeneutically informed ethnography that aims at the "comprehension of the self by the detour of the comprehension of the other" to investigations into the way colonial European travel writing "produced 'the rest of the world' for European readerships at particular points in Europe's expansionist trajectory," the West is continually reconstituted as epicenter.4 Seeking to displace a hubristic self-image of the West as the beacon that "shows to the less developed the image of its own future," these analyses inadvertently reestablish Western primacy, now refigured from model to hegemon whose global reach has called forth new powers of the nether world it can no longer control let alone understand.5
What would it mean to invert the questions that reproduce the West as the epicenter of the world? Instead of only investigating how Western travel writing produces the "colonized other," what features of travel, politics, and knowledge past and present might be brought into view by shifting the theoretical perspective? How, for example, have travel and exploration by Muslims produced and transformed their own sense of self and other, of membership and to which communities? How do journeys by Muslims within and beyond the Dar al-Islam (Abode of Islam) as well as travels by Westerners serve to articulate and transfigure the parameters of home and a scale of the strange and estranging?