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Question: How Useful Has the Concept of Sectarianism Been for Understanding the History, Society, and Politics of the Middle East?

Pensée 1: Imagining the “New Middle East”

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 November 2008

Julie Peteet
Affiliation:
Department of Anthropology, University of Louisville, Louisville, Ky.; e-mail: jpeteet@louisville.edu
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Extract

Every society has subterranean fractures—ethnic, regional, racial, tribal, or sectarian. Given the right confluence of events, these can erupt and take on new life. When imperial and colonial powers produce a body of knowledge about those they rule, they often construct sociodemographic categories along these very fault lines. In the Middle East, this process has coincided with an attempted regional remapping using imagined and yet real (although newly configured) social categories. With the democracy project fading, the mosaic—in which the region is conceptualized as a multitude of discrete sociocultural units based on sect, ethnicity, and tribe—has appeared. Complex social categories are distilled into bounded categories whose correspondence to reality is problematic.

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Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2008

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References

1 Patai, Raphael, The Arab Mind, rev. ed. (Long Island City, N.Y.: Hatherleigh Press, 2007)Google Scholar; Salzman, Philip Carl, Culture and Conflict in the Middle East (Amherst, N.Y.: Humanities Books, 2008)Google Scholar.

2 Tripp, Charles, A History of Iraq, 3rd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 284CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

3 Joseph, Suad, “Muslim–Christian Conflict in Lebanon: A Perspective on the Evolution of Sectarianism,” in Muslim–Christian Conflicts: Economic, Political, and Social Origins, ed. Joseph, Suad and Pillsbury, Barbara (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1978), 20Google Scholar.

4 Ibid., 21.

Ibid.

5 Joseph, Suad “Elite Strategies for State Building: Women, Family, Religion and State in Iraq and Lebanon,” in Women, Islam and the State, ed. Kandiyoti, Deniz (Philadelphia, Pa.: Temple University Press, 1991), 186–87Google Scholar.

6 Salzman, Culture and Conflict, 181.

7 See Stanley Kurtz, “I and My Brother Against My Cousin. Is Islam the best way to understand the war on terror? Tribalism may offer a clearer view of our enemies' motivations,” Weekly Standard 13, http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/014/947kigpp.asp (accessed 25 June 2008).

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Question: How Useful Has the Concept of Sectarianism Been for Understanding the History, Society, and Politics of the Middle East?
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