A new library in Dubai will redefine how global politics is understood

Fiker Institute's new 'living library' for politics and culture in Dubai redefines the way literature is showcased

Some libraries are changing the way they organise their collections by getting away from traditional categories. PA
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Two years ago, I set out to build an interdisciplinary think tank in Dubai called Fiker Institute, with the mission of giving Arabs and the Middle East a platform to reclaim their narratives globally as a region.

It is neither an easy nor quick endeavour to reverse decades of one-way thinking and analysis about our region, but I believe that, in light of the devastating humanitarian crisis in Gaza, our mission is as crucial and critical as ever. At Fiker Institute, we want to move the Middle East from being a talking point, to doing the talking itself – on its own terms, as an equal player within the international community.

Since our early launch, we have published and highlighted the work of Arab researchers, writers and contributors on topics ranging from pan-Arabism to western interventions. We have created space for underrepresented regional perspectives on issues such as amplifying climate justice efforts, advocating for the urgent need to reform global institutions including the UN Security Council, and decolonising international scholarship on Arab affairs.

Now, we are ready to move our collective work to the next level by opening our new politics and culture library in Dubai, located at Alserkal Avenue. Our library, which will open its doors to the public on Saturday, invites writers, readers, artists, researchers, diplomats and policymakers to question their assumptions about world history, global politics and culture in the modern era.

Through our interdisciplinary book curation, visitors are encouraged to critically examine and confront western-dominated narratives that have too often been conflated as universal truths. Browsing the library’s collections is intended to be a self-reflective act, an intellectual exercise in pushing against existing political and cultural hegemonies that have guided, and continue to guide, knowledge production in international affairs around the world, to this day.

Browsing the library’s collections is intended to be a self-reflective act

Our curation of more than 15,000 bilingual books is based on themes, instead of chronology, and it endeavours to recalibrate the balance of power in multilateral discourse to place underrepresented contexts, regions and geographies at the forefront of global debates. We want our library to emerge as an intellectual crossroads, a place where the boundaries of conventional political categorisations dissolve.

Instead of categorising books into titles such as “History” or “Geography”, we are instead introducing them in themes like instability, violence, hegemony, choices, racism and change. What happens to our understanding of international affairs if we no longer see time and chronology as the only way to make sense of events, and instead try to trace back history through such themes as fear and courage, or hypocrisy and betrayal?

In many ways, we are attempting to contest conventional classifications and geographic associations of scholarly disciplines. Our division of categories attempts to present a more balanced interpretation of politics and culture, both past and present. By giving voice to marginalised issues, peoples and geographies, our library proposes a new and bold proposition – one that intentionally and wilfully casts aside exclusionary lenses about Arabs and the Middle East as a whole.

Our readers will find that, on our shelves, fiction is in direct conversation with non-fiction, as we merge numbers with art, foreign policy with poetry, and social sciences with humanities – for in our framework of understanding complex themes such as power, imperialism and decolonisation, traditional distinctions have proved to be but arbitrary partitions.

This harmonious juxtaposition enables an intricate examination of multifaceted narratives that shape our shared realities today. Through an intentional interplay of diverse mediums, our library not only highlights the complexities and nuances inherent in these themes, but it also underscores the interconnectedness of human experiences, thereby inviting contemplation and revelation in equal measure.

As we open our doors, we invite readers to come and question our categorisations, as they change and develop over the coming months and years. While our library currently has over 40 book categories, readers may find themselves proposing a new category to us all together. For all intents and purposes, Fiker Institute wants to remain a living library – continuously built, revised and recategorised by its readers and visitors.

Published: November 16, 2023, 5:00 AM