Research on foreign history approaches and interpretation of it is considered a profound scientific proposition and a process that carves into cultures, mentalities and imaginations of people and creates the terms of their relationship. It is one of the most complex fields of knowledge, because it is an area full of problematic issues caused by the historical conflict of civilization, the interrelationships between the self and the other throughout the history and the role of political, social and cultural influences. These issues especially exist when studying the historic relationship between Arab and Western societies, the Arab and Iranian in light of what was produced by the pioneers of colonial research.
One of the obstacles facing historians is the difficulty of defining the concept, i.e., the concept of the other, and we see that there is a clear indication of a type of heterogeneity, but is it ethnic, creed, or regional heterogeneity? Returning to the Encyclopedia of Philosophical Concepts, we find that the concept of the other is one of the basic concepts of thought that are difficult to define and summed up by saying that it is “the opposite of self.”
Therefore, the first problem facing historians is the problem of analyzing terminology and defining concepts, especially in such cases in which the other is the subject for research. In the past, Aristotle used language to express identity, so he called barbarian everyone who did not speak Greek and this was a kind of contempt and degrading the other.
The culture of hate addresses the instinctive aspect and the primary affiliations of man, such as tribal, mental, ethnic and regional aspects, which expresses the excess belonging to the group or to an idea to the extent of excluding others or transcendence over them. The dualities that exist in nature “cold and hot” for example, resemble the duality of the relationship between the self and the other. Therefore, it has become difficult to infer the self without a comprehensive knowledge of the other, and we notice that duality in Arab historians’ writings during the Middle Ages. Al-Masudi divided the land into regions and considered the fourth region in which the Arab and Islamic lands are located the best of the regions, the most civil and the most moderate. He described the regions of the Franks and Saqlabah as the most cold, in which the understanding becomes dull. His view shows a classification of people, in which the status of the Arab-Islamic spirit is strengthened, the homes of other peoples are degraded.
Having the tendencies of modernity and globalization dissolved some of the frontiers separating nationalities and creeds, broken down the traditional confinement inherited between the Arab self and the other, a new conflict has emerged, represented by the concepts of civilizational sophistication and centralism advocated by the West. This has created a new polemic that forced us to delve into the problems of identity, privacy and the renaissance current. Therefore, we find the ideologization of cultural differentiation creating an abhorrent dialectic that has become a general feature in Arab historical research, not for anything, but because it ushered in a new thought that shakes the rules of the prevailing thought and the matter turned into a historical problem that deepened in the structure of Arab and Western societies.
Arab culture consisted of knowledge mixed of reality and expectation. We even see Ibn Khaldun preserving the geographical division that Al-Masudi had brought as he sees moderation as a dominant trait in the Levant, while we find him describing other peoples stereotypically according to their habits, what they produced of science and knowledge and what they possess of animals and trees and more. A constant negative image of Western societies has been formed since the Crusades, and its intensity has increased during the colonial incursion into the Arab region.
The relationship with the other remained based on the principle of “either victorious or defeated”, which determined a relationship surrounded by an ideological/cultural envelope. Therefore, the stereotypes and judgments that were stored in the collective memory left their clear effects on the Arab historical production and the writer remained an echo of the life and spirit of the nation. The writer was in line with the feeling that the West is naturally an invader and an infidel in his belief. Many historians fell into the trap here, and the Arab curricula were characterized by hostility and myth that depicted the other as the one who colonizes the nation, enslaves its peoples and plunders its resources, achieves its interests through it.
With the emergence of some Arab thinkers and reformers who mitigated the burden of dualism and stereotypes since the beginning of the Arab Renaissance in the nineteenth century AD, the pioneers of this renaissance realized the necessity of engaging in European science in order to reproduce the West in the East to some extent. They emphasized that the problem of the relationship between the Arab self and the other is cognitive and organizational, and not a typical natural and religious problem. The Arab self lacks its independence because it derives its effectiveness and reactions from two competing references. One of them belongs to the Islamic past, the second to the present European presence, therefore Arab scholars have lost their historical independence.
In order to overcome the obstacles of inquiry into other’s history, the Arab researchers must work according to the following:
- The Arab researcher faces the problem of defining concepts and monitoring classifications, which is a complex cognitive issue itself, so it is necessary to adjust the definition and determine who is the other.
- Getting out of the cognitive limitations is something the Arab researchers should do, they should not remain a prisoner of the past view. They must do their best to anticipate the prospects of life, and it is not easy to break away from the intellectual isolation that they confined themselves within its walls
- There is a need for a civilized dialogue between Arab researchers and other societies.
- Getting out of the closed local prison to the cosmic and global environment of freedom and creativity.
- The factors of political and intellectual ideologization have contributed to widening the gap and increasing the dialectic of the conflicting relationship and the field of the other remained a thorny field full of obstacles
It is necessary for Arab historians to pay attention to this field, as it is a specialization imposed by historical and civilizational conditions, given the communication between the Arab and the non-Arab, and then with the internally different ethnic, sectarian or political other. It is necessary to prepare extensive Arab studies on ways of dealing with the other in order to get to know them more. Thus, constant work will eventually lead to a positive atmosphere of dialogue and openness of knowledge between historians, which would contribute to overcoming the obstacles to Arab research in others’ history.