Politics of Sectarianism: Rethinking Religion and Politics in the Middle East

in Middle East Law and Governance
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Allegations of sectarian violence and discrimination saturate popular and scholarly accounts of developments in the mena region, particularly in the wake of renewed violence in Syria and Iraq. These accounts should sound a warning bell to scholars of religion and politics. The discourse of sectarianism is a modern discourse of religion-in-politics authorized by particular authorities in particular times and places. It relies on a fixed and stable representation of the shifting roles played by that which is named as “religion” or “sect” in politics and society. The complex and often conflicting forces that come together in any given episode of violence or discrimination subvert the stable notions of sectarian motivation and causation that form the bedrock in which such accounts rest. This essay disaggregates and politicizes the discourse of sectarianism, drawing on examples from Egypt, Bahrain, and Israel. It argues for distinguishing between religious difference as construed by those in positions of power, and religious difference as construed and experienced—and at times downplayed or ignored—by individuals and communities that are subjected to, and shaped by, sectarian projects, policies, and narratives.

Politics of Sectarianism: Rethinking Religion and Politics in the Middle East

in Middle East Law and Governance

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References

1

Yasmine Saleh“Egyptian Christians Fear Chaos after Wedding Bloodshed,” Aswat MasriyaOctober 21 2013 http://en.aswatmasriya.com/news/view.aspx?id=2b5d83ba-d465-4a56-9128-4adb73c24d69.

4

Kristen Chick“Sectarian Violence in Cairo Has Egypt on Edge,” Christian Science MonitorMay 8 2011 http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2011/0508/Sectarian-violence-in-Cairo-has-Egypt-on-edge.

5

Ussama MakdisiThe Culture of Sectarianism: Community History and Violence in Nineteenth-Century Ottoman Lebanon (Berkeley: University of California Press2000) 174.

7

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8

MakdisiCulture of Sectarianism71.

10

Ala’a Shehabi“Why Is Bahrain Outsourcing Extremism?” Foreign PolicyOctober 29 2014 http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/10/29/why_is_bahrain_outsourcing_extremism_isis_democracy. Shehabi connects the Bahraini regime to is despite the latter’s frustrations with the former suggesting that “the Bahraini government had also been nurturing and nourishing extremist groups and their sectarian ideology to counter the so-called ‘Shiite threat’ posed by the pro-democracy uprising.”

12

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Lisa Hajjar“Israel’s Interventions among the Druzes,” Middle East Report 200 (Spring 1996) http://www.merip.org/mer/mer200/israels-interventions-among-druze.

18

Jonathan Cook“Onward, Christian Soldiers” Middle East Report OnlineMay 13 2014 http://www.merip.org/mero/mero051314?ip_login_no_cache=519fa174ed39f3c3566446cadb4d3f5b.

23

Robert A. OrsiBetween Heaven and Earth: The Religious Worlds People Make and the Scholars Who Study Them (Princeton: Princeton University Press2005) 167.

24

Wendy BrownRegulating Aversion: Tolerance in the Age of Identity and Empire (Princeton: Princeton University Press2006) 15.

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