The Return of Abu Aardvark
Guess who's back.
I started blogging as Abu Aardvark almost twenty years ago, way back in in the fall of 2002. Before the invasion of Iraq. Before my first kid was born. Before Twitter was a thing. I blogged anonymously at first, and then attached my name to it after I got tenure. That, plus Gideon Rose at Foreign Affairs wouldn’t publish an article based on a blog post under the name “Abu Aardvark” (which, career wise, was clearly for the best). Blogging was something else back in those days. There were only a few other MENA focused bloggers around back then, and the blogging community as a whole was small enough to have a kind of esprit d’corps. The whole social media environment was totally different, much more collegial and substantive than it would later become. Blogging really did fill a niche, allowing experts in any field to communicate directly with an interested public without gatekeepers or limits. No, it wasn’t all good. But we can at least remember the good times.
Around 2009, I slowed down my solo blogging and joined Foreign Policy on its pioneering relaunched website as one of their featured bloggers. About a year in, I helped to launch The Middle East Channel, featuring contributions by academics and policy experts and MENA-based journalists and activists… just in time for the Arab uprisings to break out. Over the next few years, I edited hundreds of MEC pieces, while my blog evolved into a weekly column, mostly about Middle East politics and policy but with time for the occasional piece on Kendrick Lamar or Jay-Z. I eventually left FP to join the Monkey Cage over at the Washington Post (where I still hang my hat today). And that, alas, was when Abu Aardvark finally laid down to rest.
Daily blogging had just gotten to be too much. I was directing the Middle East Studies Program at the Elliott School, running the Project on Middle East Political Science, editing over at The Monkey Cage, trying to write a book. And blogging didn’t really feel all that vital anymore, anyway. By then, so many publications had launched platforms resembling the style of The Middle East Channel that what had once been a desert of academically informed public engagement was now an embarrassment of riches. But the blogosphere really didn’t exist anymore, not really. And I didn’t need a blog to get my ideas out there. Abu Aardvark lived on over on Twitter, where a lot of the “link and comment” style blogging had migrated (for better of for worse).
But lately, like a lot of other people, I’ve been feeling the itch to get back to something like the old school of blogging, and this seemed like a good platform to try it out. Twitter had become notoriously toxic, and impossible as a place for any serious conversation or debate. I’m hoping subscribers can have those useful conversations here, as I try curate the best of the deluge of writing and publications about the region while highlighting the unique work being done by academics. And I’m hoping I can write the kind of more casual, thinking out loud style of pieces that used to thrive on the blogs.
Here’s what I’m planning to do. Once a week, I’ll be posting a roundup and commentary on the most interesting new publications about the Middle East from the past week: academic journal articles, think tank reports, long-form journalism, whatever catches my eye. That will be free and available to all subscribers. Once a week, I’ll be posting a review essay about a recent book about the Middle East and North Africa - mostly political science, but also history, anthropology, whatever I find interesting. Those review essays will often be supplemented by episodes of my Middle East Political Science Podcast. Those review essays, along with my own commentary and analysis pieces that I’ll drop irregularly, will (probably) (mostly) be for paid subscribers only. If you’re a graduate student or a junior scholar from the MENA region, drop me an email and I’ll make sure you get access.
I’m excited to try out this new platform to get back to my blogging roots and to do something to further publicize the fantastic research and writing of my colleagues in the MENA scholarly community. I hope you’ll be a part of it!