Globalization and the Middle East


In the last two decades, globalization has become one of the most discussed and studied topics in social sciences. In the context of globalization, the Middle East rarely gives off an impression of one of the most powerful regions in the network of international relations. However, it is obvious that with whole issues of stability, instability and partial underdevelopment, the Middle East remains one of the key regions of global politics, area of competition among the leading world powers. This region is specific because of its religion, Islamic fundamentalism and great oil reserves. Oil largely determines the layout of geopolitical power in the region, as in the mid-term perspective oil will not cease to be the main component of worlds energy security . In a global economy, one of the regions problems is that the countries in the Middle East often compete with each other rather than cooperate. However, they should be interested in forming their own economic zone in order to meet the challenges of globalization.

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One can assume that the Middle East is a harbor for anti-Western sentiments, which would be, according to such a point of view, disseminated by the Western world led by the USA in order to undermine the sovereignty of the local states and the foundations of traditional Islamic societies . In reality, the internal politics of the local countries are in turmoil. With the background of global integration processes intensification, political groups, based on the ideas of radical Islam started to gather momentum in the Middle East. At the same time, the prevalence of the Western culture has affected the local societies as well and it has penetrated Arab world in different ways. Richard Poplacks book Sheikhs Batmobile shows what repercussions the American culture had on Middle East through multifarious points of view of people on the authors way.

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Globalization in the Middle East. Sheikhs Batmobile perspective

Interestingly, Poplack has given a wider definition to the Middle East. Traditionally, Middle East is a name of a district in Western Asia, located between Europe and Pakistan. Sometimes, especially in English and American literature, the Middle East has a different meaning, but it is more often understood as the aggregate of the Middle East, together with Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Therefore, it mostly used not in isolation but as part of a united term “Middle East”. Therefore, the “Middle East” is often used to refer to Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan, others speak about “the Middle East”. However, the author of Sheikhs Batmobile concerns himself with seventeen Muslim countries. Perhaps, the reason for it is that he investigated how American culture influenced Muslim people in the region.

Contemporary Arab popular culture is very surprising for a scientist as much as for a mere visitor. Those who see any country from the region are usually unprepared for its reality. The stereotyped imagery has distorted the worlds perception of the region, so most of the people do not know the true Middle East. Even local emigrants returning home see that the countries changed, as many changes and shifts happened in the culture. Even the people who live in the region may well be surprised when they turn on their TVs or see the movies about the region .

The termpopular culture has many scientific definitions. All these definitions have one thing in common: this phenomenon has widespread cultural elements in any society. Popular culture now includes music, films, animation, literature, the media (including comic books and the Internet), fashion, cooking, advertising, sports, tourism, and many other elements. Folklore (fairy tales, legends, epics and so forth.) and science (in its “lite” version) are also an integral part of mass culture and often serve as its sources. The spread of popular culture is one of the signs of globalization. One more example of globalization in Middle East is the widespread use of modern technologies. The story about Zaven is relevant here. He gave digital photo cameras to five kids, asking them to film their own lives . In How do you know? The author describes the visit to Tripoli, Libya, where he was surprised by hearing Lionels Richie Hello . This song showed as uniting thing of the other countries and of Muslims. That song also is common for Sunni and Shiite who are in hatred, fighting with each other.

John Miclewait and Adrian Wooldridge, authors of the book The Challenge and Hidden Promise of Globalisation, noted that globalization also entails expansion of American popular culture . American movies are watched around the world, “McDonald’s” is the first thing that comes to mind when discussing the theme of “fast food”, and songs of most popular American singers are listened to even in very remote regions, such as Tibet. However, British musicians, ranging from the Beatles and Andrew Lloyd Webber, had a tremendous impact on American music. American TV imports some ideas for television programs from Europe. Foreigners own half of the major US film studios and publishers. The most popular TV shows in Europe are the local ones, European teenagers prefer local artists. Therefore, globalization does not mean an automatic triumph of one nation in the field of mass culture but rather a wider choice of it. The author connects pop revolution in some countries (Kazakhstan) with advancement in technologies.

The author of Richard Poplak has visited seventeen Muslim countries. He met youth in all of the states and discovered their lifestyles and interests. The author used a very good method he showed the cultures and places in form of a road trip. Moreover, Polpack presented a result as a book, demonstrating the significant impact that American pop culture has had on the foreign Muslim cultures.


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Despite a widespread belief that Middle Eastern countries position themselves against the Western world, it was surprising that the Western pop culture penetrated into the very countries whose governments might otherwise be hostile to the messages of the Western pop culture. While travelling through the region, the author discovers that West has influenced the values and behavior of young people but has not changed the societal problems that people in Middle Asia are facing every day.

Poplak gave some examples of American culture in the region: the Arabic version of the Simpsons; Afghanistan kids who love the WWE; the Indonesian death metal scene; bowling in Kazakhstan; metal music in Cairo; punk meetings in Indonesia; people who like hip-hop in Palestine; playing video games in Syria; trying some bruising backyard wrestling in Afghanistan. The book showed how people try to express their minds through mediums that reflect their experiences even when they do not correspond with the native culture and religion. Interestingly, the Western media would rarely depict the same image of Middle East as the in the book.

Richard Poplack focuses on various aspects: the economic, religious, political, geographic issues and specialties of the Middle East countries. There are many chapters with smooth transitions between them, which create a united picture of Arab world. Poplack mentions that pop culture is mostly a culture of the youth. Personally, Richard Poplack is optimistic about the processes of American pop culture. He believes that it provides more advantages than disadvantages. Western culture does not allow Islamic radicalism and fundamentalism to prevent communications with the outside world. He has worries about the global cultural homogenization, and does not believe in that soft power is exclusively political and commercial.

American influence on the Arab people has quite a long history. In the Chapter So you can watch what they watch, Richard Poplack told that the start of American cultures spread in the region has started in the late 19th century by publishing American books, visits of American luminaries and organized tours . Since then, Americans brought innovations like Hula Hoop, Garbage Pail Kids, and shows like South Park or anime. Sometimes, the author mentions the issue of terrorism. He calls it a fringe business and tells that others view on Islam has changed greatly, and that now it is considered to be a faith of imposters . The ideologies of Islam and USA are very different. There is a term Islamic fundamentalism created to designate any religious-political movement in favor of strict adherence to the Quran and Islamic law (Sharia) .

The author also concerns himself with Israel and how hip-hop has penetrated the local culture as well. Poplack describes a person called Nigel Admor who was proto reggae/dancehall/hip hop religious fundamentalism . However, Israeli government is trying to project a Jewish image, and the Jewish Identity can evaporate over time.

Various characters in the book have different views on the AmericanWestern culture. There are both negative and positive effects that the Western world has on Arab society. Conflicts between older peoples respect for traditions and youths desire for revolutions are some of the problems that this encroachment has created. Richard Poplack often mentions the most famous figures of American pop culture: Jean-Claude van Damme, Vin Diesel, Michael Jordan and others. The United States is often accused not only of attempting to achieve a global cultural hegemony, but also of spreading a culture that is essentially superficial garbage, a culture of hamburgers and vulgarity .

Western culture is very popular among the youth in Middle Asia. However, many people do not think of the North American pop culture favorably. Moreover, female singers have a prominent role in the Western pop scene, while Arab world traditionally has a different outlook on the issue. In the chapter Book for a nose job, the author tells the story of Um Kalthoum, a woman who managed to become one of the greatest Arab singers . No one from the American pop music could overcome Um Kalthoum in her popularity and prominence.

At the same time, the popularity of Um Kalthoum demonstrates the revival of Muslim culture. It is one of the signs of Islamic modernism that we have mentioned before. Islamic modernists take the ideas of a modern world, common in the Western world and try to apply these ideas for the Muslim worldview. Islamic modernists understood that without changing the traditional Muslim point of view, which was in a state of rigidity and stagnation, it would impossible to grow and overcome the deep crisis . Along with attempts to introduce the world’s ideological categories to the Islamic world, the majority of Muslim thinkers contrasted the Islamic world with all of these ideas based on the provisions of Islamic exceptionalism as a divine religion . This trend is still in motion and that is why the views of Muslim thinkers are contradictory. Unable to overcome these contradictions, some of them professed views that are more radical. At the same time, another part of the Muslim modernists took a more liberal stance and advocated a more in-depth reform of the Muslim world, its adaptation to the Western standards of thinking .

Arab world has specific views on many aspects of life. There is a special role for women in a society. In Chapter 9 Book for a nose job, the author gives a story about Zaven, a person who breaks the stereotype about all Arab people being traditional. One more issue that Zaven is talking is unpreparedness of Arab society to have a free public discussion about some topics, such as sexuality or homosexuality . However, there are some rare programs as Sire Wenfatahit giving a kind of sexual education to Arab women .

Arab people try to find substitutes or compromises to products of American media by creating their own analogs . Poplack devoted a chapter So you can watch what they watch to Mohammed Harib, who tells that Arab people think that Hollywood cinema has hidden racism towards the Arabs . In addition, there is an example showing that Arabs try to create alternatives to American products as it happened with Freej . The plot of Freej tells a story about four elderly Arab women that have a traditional upbringing. They live in an old suburb of Dubai, have formidable retirement benefits, but their peaceful life is threatened by a thriving city that continues to expand its borders. Women spend whole days home with a cup of coffee, periodically address social issues and deal with lack of understanding on the part of the modern generation. Moreover, there was a plan to build a Freej theme park along with the American Universal Studios Dubailand, DreamWorks Animation Theme park, Marvel Theme Park . In the Chapter The sheikh’s batmobile there was an example of Dubai media development. The former worker of one of the largest public relations firms in the region, Majid Wasi told that they are implementing own media almost by force and have to be patient as the media is only 10 years old . He is aware of foreign invasions and careful not to do what contradicts Arab culture. The chapter The genie leaves the bottle told about a person, Amro Hosny, who had to transform American programs into Arab-style ones. Additionally, globalization in form of modern technologies, described by Poplack, exacerbates competition between the Middle East countries. An example is Lebanon and Iran, discussed in the lectures.


Having visited seventeen countries in the Middle East, Richard Poplack discovered what does globalization in Arab world look like in terms of the spread of the American culture. The stories in Sheikhs Batmobile depict different perceptions of the Western world: from traditions and unacceptance to being deeply involved in what America offers. People voice their points of view in different countries, united by one religion but being very different. There this a pursuit of American/Western culture by various characters in the book because it is a kind of a protest and desire to be involved in the modern processes, follow the trends, stop considering things through a rigid prism of religion and expand ones outlook. The repercussions of the pursuit are different: some are positive and some are negative. Positive include personal development of people, increased understanding of the rest of the world and improving themselves while creating own products, similar to the Western world. Negative repercussions are the fear of suppressing own unique traditions and culture, unacceptance of Arab countries by Western World.