• Books: Bury the Chains by Adam Hochschild, Endless War: Hidden Functions of the "war on terror" by David Keen, Capital Vol. 1, Tin Drum by Günter Grass, What is Islam? by Shahab Ahmed, Desiring Arabs by Joseph Massad, Spies, Soldiers and Statesmen by Hazem Kandil, La Condition Humaine by André Malraux, Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, Imagined Community by Benedict Anderson, Culture and Imperialism by Edward Said, The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon, The Richness of Life by Stephen Jay Gould, Children of the Alley by Naguib Mahfouz, The Mass Psychology of Fascism by Wilhelm Reich, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, 1984 by George Orwell, Noli me Tangere by José Rizal, Age of Extremes by Eric Hobsbawm, ذهنية التحريم لصادق جلال العظم, Karl Marx by Francis Wheen, وليمة لأعشاب البحر لحيدر حيدر, Candide by Voltaire, النزعات المادية في الفلسفة العربية الإسلامية لحسين مروة, Listen Little Man by Wilhelm Reich ..
  • Films: Alexanderplatz by Rainer Fassbinder, Clockwork Orange, Apocalypse Now, The Battle of Algiers, films by P. P. Passolini, Persepolis, Midnight Express, 1984, Papillion, Gangs of New York, Sophie Scholl, Life of Brian, Ivan the Terrble, Battleship Potemkine ...

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

AS: I take your point, and clearly Europe to did see, as you call it, a great ‘sorting-out’, but of course that term as you’re using it describes a set of different processes – or, I should say, historical events and catastrophes – ranging from the Final Solution, the extermination of European jewry to the ethnic cleansing that took place at the very end of and in the aftermath of the Second World War. But what all these events share is that they’re are not a sorting-out of primordial identities so much as they are political events, driven by war, state interests, racial ideology, etc. And so to bring the conversation back to the Middle East, I think there is, unfortunately, a danger in the West’s conversation about sectarian warfare, to treat these identities as if they were primordial and as if this conflict that we’ve been seeing in Iraq and Syria is somehow natural, this sorting-out is a natural process, when in fact Syrian and Iraqi Sunni and Shia Muslims and Christians lived together for centuries with only episodes of internecine conflict. What we’re seeing now is actually quite exceptional.

JL: You’re absolutely right, Adam. This should not be mistaken for primordialism. These identities, religious identities, had been accommodated in the Ottoman Empire, as they had been in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, where you see cities like Jerusalem, Damascus, Aleppo, Baghdad, have very distinct quarters for Armenians, Shi’ites, Sunnis, Jewish Quarter, Catholic, Orthodox – all these different quarters, where people lived cheek by jowl. Now, that didn’t necessarily mean that they saw each other as equals, but they had much more in common than separated them. There might be walls between these different sections of town, but the Ottoman Empire was able to contain the centrifugal forces of these many different groups, and keep them. And that was the power of the Ottomans – that’s why the Ottoman Empire lasted for 500 years; it’s one of the central arguments that every historian makes, is that the Ottoman Empire was more successful than Spain, than much of medieval Europe, because it accommodated these different identities and peoples in a happy empire – and Jews fled Spain, where they were evicted, and came to Istanbul, where they were protected. And so it’s nationalism – it’s a very modern ... notions of community and difference that turn these identities into something completely different. They’re radically changed, and, unfortunately, these religious differences, which had sat more lightly on people, get turned into very important differences, and that’s why we’re seeing Shi’ite and Sunni, all of a sudden, recognising who they are – people who didn’t even know the difference, really, are now ... they’ve become profoundly important, in the same way that Czechs and Slovaks, or so forth ... in a way, religion has become the new ethnicity in the Middle East; and that’s a great danger, because it does rip people apart, and it leads to things like the Armenians being ... the holocaust of the Armenians, with the rise of Turkish nationalism; the driving out of Palestinians, with the rise of Jewish 
nationalism. Nationalism is a very brutal force, and ... I guess the point of my argument is that we shouldn’t look at nationalism as something that’s not important, that doesn’t reorganise people – because Americans think that they can shape the national identities of the peoples of the Middle East much too easily, where it’s much more difficult to get an Arab–Israeli peace, or to get Sunnis and Shi’ites to sit down together in Iraq, after something like, you know, retaking Mosul. We shouldn’t underplay the difficulties, because we will make mistakes that lead to further violence.
By Joshua Landis and Adam Shtaz

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