Pundits, policymakers, and even academics often treat the Middle East as “exceptional”—a region of primordial violence and war, stuck in premodern social dynamics. But such conflict is not unique to the region—the United States and Europe have, of course, fought in multiple wars, though often not on their own soil. It is because of these assumptions that news coverage of the war in Ukraine is viewed with justifiable shock, but the media often treats violence in Iraq or Syria  as relatively unremarkable—the Middle East is supposed to be used to war. 

In this episode of Order from Ashes, the scholars Karma R. Chávez and Maya Mikdashi talk about moving beyond the common exceptionalizing frameworks that surround region, gender, and sexuality. They argue that, if straight and queer sexualities are analyzed together—rather than treated as if the condition of LGBTQ minorities is solely its own separate issue—observers can better understand how state and social power operate. Queer or marginalized genders and sexualities are policed or controlled, but so too are straight sexualities and all genders, in ways that are fundamental to how state power operates. The broader implication of their analysis: when we stop seeing the Middle East as exceptionally authoritarian, backward, and violent—and stop seeing the United States and Europe as particularly democratic and civilized—the transnational contours of war and power become clearer.

This podcast is part of “Transnational Trends in Citizenship: Authoritarianism and the Emerging Global Culture of Resistance,” a TCF project supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Open Society Foundations. 


  • Karma R. Chávez, chair and associate professor in the Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies, University of Texas, Austin
  • Maya Mikdashi, assistant professor in the Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies and a lecturer in the program in Middle East Studies, Rutgers University
  • Naira Antoun, fellow, Century International