The best books on the Arab world

6 authors have picked their favorite books about the Arab world and why they recommend each book.

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Book cover of Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate

This pioneering volume was the first major single-author work to survey this important subject, and it remains an essential read. Ahmad examines the major issues in the treatment of women in a clear-eyed way. She theorizes that urbanizing families in early Islam constrained women’s freedom beyond what had been common among pagan rural and Bedouin society, but admits that the picture is mixed, and that at the core of the Muslim religious tradition are accounts and insights of the wives of the Prophet Muhammad.

Women and Gender in Islam

By Leila Ahmed,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Women and Gender in Islam as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A classic, pioneering account of the lives of women in Islamic history, republished for a new generation

This pioneering study of the social and political lives of Muslim women has shaped a whole generation of scholarship. In it, Leila Ahmed explores the historical roots of contemporary debates, ambitiously surveying Islamic discourse on women from Arabia during the period in which Islam was founded to Iraq during the classical age to Egypt during the modern era. The book is now reissued as a Veritas paperback, with a new foreword by Kecia Ali situating the text in its scholarly context and explaining…

Who am I?

My interest in Islam was kindled when I lived in Eritrea, East Africa as a teenager, and in my youth fell in love with the mystical Sufi tradition. I went on to live in the Muslim world for over a decade, making many dear friends whose kindness overwhelmed me. I studied the Qur’an in Cairo and exploring various corners of Muslim civilization, including in India. I have taught Islam and Middle East History for nearly 40 years at the University of Michigan and devoted myself to writing several books and many essays on Islam. For geopolitical reasons, the subject often gets a bad rap these days, but it is an impressive religion that produced a beautiful, intricate civilization. I hope you enjoy these books about it.


I wrote...

Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires

By Juan R.I. Cole,

Book cover of Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires

What is my book about?

In this masterfully told account, preeminent Middle East expert Juan Cole takes us back to Islam's --and the Prophet Muhammad's -- origin story. Many observers stereotype Islam and its scripture as inherently extreme or violent. Cole shows how Muhammad reacted against the unparalleled violence of his era. The eastern Roman Empire and the Sasanian Empire of Iran fought savagely throughout the Near East and Asia Minor. Muhammad envisioned an alternative movement, one firmly grounded in peace.

The religion Muhammad founded, Islam, spread widely during his lifetime, relying on soft power instead of military might, and sought armistices even when militarily attacked. Cole sheds light on this forgotten history, reminding us that in the Qur'an, the legacy of that spiritual message endures. A vibrant history that brings to life the fascinating and complex world of the Prophet, Muhammad is the story of how peace is the rule and not the exception for one of the world's most practiced religions.

America's Great Game

By Hugh Wilford,

Book cover of America's Great Game: The CIA's Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East

A deeply interesting dive into the world of espionage and the early days of the CIA, this accessible book by Hugh Wilford provides an excellent entry point into the exciting movements, people, and ideologies that crosscut the Middle East in the years after World War II. Focusing especially on personalities like Kim Roosevelt and Miles Copeland, this book shows why many Arabs even today suspect the CIA may be behind far more than it lets on. For American audiences, this book will provide an intriguing journey into a world that is unfamiliar to most and fascinating to all, illuminating the role U.S. spy agencies played in creating the modern Middle East.

America's Great Game

By Hugh Wilford,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked America's Great Game as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the 9/11 attacks to waterboarding to drone strikes, relations between the United States and the Middle East seem caught in a downward spiral. And all too often, the Central Intelligence Agency has made the situation worse. But this crisis was not a historical inevitability,far from it. Indeed, the earliest generation of CIA operatives was actually the region's staunchest western ally.In America's Great Game , celebrated intelligence historian Hugh Wilford reveals the surprising history of the CIA's pro-Arab operations in the 1940s and 50s by tracing the work of the agency's three most influential,and colourful,officers in the Middle East. Kermit…

Who am I?

I'm a Communication professor at Fresno Pacific University and former Fulbright grantee to Jordan. Growing up in west Texas I was always fascinated with other countries. I encountered Arabic in college, and I quickly fell in love with a language and society that reminded me so much of my home—in fact, the word “haboob” is used by Texas farmers and Bedouin herders alike to describe a violent dust storm. While I was teaching English in Amman, I realized how much I enjoy learning how different cultures come to understand one another. My driving passion is to explore the centuries-long rhetorical history tying Americans and Middle Easterners together in mutual webs of (mis)representation, and this topic has never been more relevant than today.


I wrote...

More Than a Doctrine: The Eisenhower Era in the Middle East

By Randall Fowler,

Book cover of More Than a Doctrine: The Eisenhower Era in the Middle East

What is my book about?

Nowadays, the Middle East can seem a quite complicated place. Between ISIS and Iran, Arabs and Israelis, Kurds and Turks, Yazidis and Druze, not to mention oil, Islam, terrorism, Judaism, and Christianity, the issues and conflicts that divide the region often appear bewildering to the average American—much less the ever-changing question of what U.S. foreign policy should be in the region.

My book cuts through those issues to directly explain the origins of American intervention in the Middle East during the Cold War. I use the lens of presidential rhetoric to trace the arguments, fears, and actions that drove U.S. policymakers to get involved in this important region in the first place. I show that many of the anxieties commentators currently voice about the Arab Muslim world are rather similar to the worries felt by Eisenhower and his team. My book demonstrates how major events like the Suez Crisis, Eisenhower Doctrine, coup in Iran, and the 1958 marine landing in Lebanon are still quite relevant to us today. 

1948

By Benny Morris,

Book cover of 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War

History is often in the eye of the beholder. There are many histories, not just one. This is true in general and this statement is particularly apt when we discuss the first Arab-Israeli war. When I teach about the conflict, students ask me for an objective account of the war. My answer is that none is in existence but the closest to the truth, in my opinion, is Morris’ account. It is the best book about the war, based on maticulate survey of documents. It provides a thorough explanation of the war in each and every stage.

Morris paid a price for his honesty. I was happy to pave his way into Israeli academia.

1948

By Benny Morris,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked 1948 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Benny Morris demolishes misconceptions and provides a comprehensive history of the Israeli-Arab war of 1948

This history of the foundational war in the Arab-Israeli conflict is groundbreaking, objective, and deeply revisionist. A riveting account of the military engagements, it also focuses on the war's political dimensions. Benny Morris probes the motives and aims of the protagonists on the basis of newly opened Israeli and Western documentation. The Arab side-where the archives are still closed-is illuminated with the help of intelligence and diplomatic materials.

Morris stresses the jihadi character of the two-stage Arab assault on the Jewish community in Palestine. Throughout,…


Who am I?

Raphael Cohen-Almagor, DPhil, St. Catherine’s College, University of Oxford, is Professor of Politics, Founding Director of the Middle East Study Centre, University of Hull; Global Fellow, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and Vice President of The Association for Israel Studies. Raphael taught, inter alia, at Oxford (UK), Jerusalem, Haifa (Israel), UCLA, Johns Hopkins (USA), and Nirma University (India). He was twice a Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and Distinguished Visiting Professor, Faculty of Laws, University College London. Raphael Has published extensively about Israel, including Basic Issues in Israeli Democracy (Hebrew), Israeli Democracy at the Crossroads, and Public Responsibility in Israel (with Ori Arbel-Ganz and Asa Kasher Hebrew).


I wrote...

Israeli Institutions at the Crossroads

By Raphael Cohen-Almagor,

Book cover of Israeli Institutions at the Crossroads

What is my book about?

I love this book. This is a truly fascinating collection of essays about Israeli society and its institutions. It is written by practitioners who have experience and understanding, who are equipped with the insight and knowledge, and who bore responsibility while serving the public in the various institutions. Among the authors are former State President Yitzhak Navon, former cabinet minister Gad Yaakobi, former Deputy Speaker of the Knesset Naomi Chazan, former Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein, Former Supreme Court President Meir Shamgar, the State Comptroller Eliezer Goldberg, and former member of the Press Council Raphael Cohen-Almagor. The decision-makers provide fresh, practical observations and personal, valuable accounts of their respective roles.

Book cover of Indonesians and Their Arab World: Guided Mobility among Labor Migrants and Mecca Pilgrims

To my knowledge, academic studies that emphasize the study of Indonesian Muslim pilgrims and labor migrants in Saudi Arabia (and other Gulf states) are limited. Hence, this book is undoubtedly significant for both academic and non-academic communities. I have also noticed that the ways in which the author selected field sites (Yogyakarta and Madura, whose societies represent two distinctive Muslim groups in Indonesia) and presented her basic arguments in this study are also fresh and informative. The author argues that the pilgrims’ and migrants’ perceptions, opinions, understandings, and constructions of “Arabness” and the Arab world, as well as their mobility (pilgrimage or migration) to Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf countries, are strongly shaped, influenced and guided by a variety of structures and agencies. This, in my view, is certainly important findings.  

Indonesians and Their Arab World

By Mirjam Lücking,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Indonesians and Their Arab World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Indonesians and Their Arab World explores the ways contemporary Indonesians understand their relationship to the Arab world. Despite being home to the largest Muslim population in the world, Indonesia exists on the periphery of an Islamic world centered around the Arabian Peninsula. Mirjam Lucking approaches the problem of interpreting the current conservative turn in Indonesian Islam by considering the ways personal relationships, public discourse, and matters of religious self-understanding guide two groups of Indonesians who actually travel to the Arabian Peninsula-labor migrants and Mecca pilgrims-in becoming physically mobile and making their mobility meaningful. This concept, which Lucking calls "guided mobility,"…


Who am I?

I am an American-trained Indonesian anthropologist, teacher, writer, researcher, and academic nomad who has lived and taught at a Saudi university. I have travelled since childhood. When I was a kid or teenager, I journeyed to various places and cities for schooling away from my home village (and parents) in the isolated highlands of Central Java. I also travelled for shepherding my goats which I did after school. So, I love to travel, learn many things from my travel, and as a teacher of Anthropology of Travel, I have always been fascinated by literature on travel whatever its forms ranging from pilgrimage and nomadism to migration and tourism.   


I wrote...

Saudi Arabia and Indonesian Networks: Migration, Education, and Islam

By Sumanto Al Qurtuby,

Book cover of Saudi Arabia and Indonesian Networks: Migration, Education, and Islam

What is my book about?

What is the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Indonesia? For centuries, Indonesians have travelled to Saudi Arabia and have been deeply involved in education, scholarship and the creation of centres for Islamic learning in the country. Yet the impact of this type of migration has not yet been the focus of scholarly research and little is known about the important intellectual connections that now exist.

This book examines Indonesian educational migrants and intellectual travellers in Saudi Arabia including students, researchers, teachers, and scholars to provide a unique portrait of the religious and intellectual linkages between the two countries. Based on in-depth interviews and questionnaires, Sumanto Al Qurtuby identifies the “Indonesian legacy” in Saudi Arabia and examines in turn how the host country's influential Islamic scholars have impacted on Indonesian Muslims.

Tents and Pyramids

By Fuad I. Khuri,

Book cover of Tents and Pyramids: Games and Ideology in Arab Culture from Backgammon to Autocratic Rule

In Tents and Pyramids, Khuri describes how Arabs’ ways of seeing and dealing with reality have implications for power in the Middle East. He juxtaposes tents—the low horizontal Bedouin ones—against vertical hierarchical pyramids. Khuri argues that authority is not built into the tent approach—rather the strategy is to act as equal groups with leaders who are only “first among equals” and isolated individuals are the vulnerable ones. The second group, imagined as hierarchical pyramids, has no standardized rules for succession and ends up being the ones who conquer the rest. To stay in power these autocrats need strong militaries to keep the public from holding them accountable. Although Khuri’s framework doesn’t always hold up, it offers a useful way of imaging the region’s power structures.    

Tents and Pyramids

By Fuad I. Khuri,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Tents and Pyramids as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This study deals with an unusual and absorbing topic: how the Arabs see and deal with reality and the implications this has for the nature of power in the Arab world. "Tents" and "pyramids" are, metaphorically, opposed mental images; the first signifies the absence of hierarchy and graded authority, the second the presence of both, Khuri argues that the Arabs perceive both social and physical reality as a series of discrete, non-pyramidal structures that are inherently equal in value - much like a Bedouin encampment composed of tents scattered haphazardly on a flat desert surface with no visible hierarchy. Authority…

Who am I?

From over three decades of work on development projects in countries of the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Africa, I am convinced that when efforts fail, it is invariably because we lack the cultural understanding of what people want or how we provide it. These books all reinforce my point by either underlining the way culture shapes the way people see the world or by showing how when we neglect culture, we do so at our own peril. Culture can be discovered through multiple entry points with these books offering a good start. Even something as mundane as advice columns in newspapers offer political insights when plumbed for the meanings below the surface.


I wrote...

Egyptian Advice Columnists: Envisioning the Good Life in an Era of Extremism

By Andrea Rugh,

Book cover of Egyptian Advice Columnists: Envisioning the Good Life in an Era of Extremism

What is my book about?

In the 1980s, religious conservativism gained momentum in Egypt. At the time a column appeared in Al-Ahram written by a self-described humanist addressing readers’ questions about personal problems. Also, religious sheiks in numerous newspapers answered readers’ questions about Islam’s views of the morality of certain behaviors. The two types of columns differed in their prescriptions for how to achieve the good life—the humanist by recommending time-tested traditions and the sheikhs by telling readers to comply with their Islamic duties. Both addressed extremism cautiously, probably out of fear of Islamists’ reactions. The sheikhs, although salaried government employees, showed a perplexing ambivalence by vacillating between support for government positions and contradictory extremist positions. This was partly to make themselves appear independent of government control but also to avoid angering the Islamists.

Arab France

By Ian Coller,

Book cover of Arab France: Islam and the Making of Modern Europe, 1798-1831

Ian Coller’s study shows how, even in the Napoleonic era, the empire was a two-way process that left a lasting legacy for modern France. He discusses the community of Arabs - several hundred Egyptians, Syrians, and others - who followed the French army back home after the Egyptian Campaign to settle in France, mainly in Marseille and Paris. They faced critical issues of identity and cultural isolation, forging few links with the native French, and their story leads Coller to reflect on the history of France more generally, with due emphasis on the processes of memory formation and forgetting.

Arab France

By Ian Coller,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Arab France as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Many think of Muslims in Europe as a twentieth century phenomenon, but this book brings to life a lost community of Arabs who lived through war, revolution, and empire in early nineteenth century France. Ian Coller uncovers the surprising story of the several hundred men, women, and children - Egyptians, Syrians, Greeks, and others - who followed the French army back home after Napoleon's occupation of Egypt. Based on research in neglected archives, on the rediscovery of forgotten Franco-Arab authors, and on a diverse collection of visual materials, the book builds a rich picture of the first Arab France -…

Who am I?

Now an emeritus professor of history at the University of York, I have long been fascinated by France, by its history and identity, and by its innumerable tensions and contradictions. In the course of my career I have published more than a dozen books on different aspects of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic era, ranging from a biography of Napoleon in 2011 to more specialized works on the experience and memory of war – on the soldiers of the Revolution, on the letters and memoirs they wrote, and on the legacy of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars for nineteenth- and twentieth-century France. My current research focuses on France’s place in the wider Atlantic world and on the significance of the Revolution and Empire in world history.


I wrote...

The Death of the French Atlantic: Trade, War, and Slavery in the Age of Revolution

By Alan Forrest,

Book cover of The Death of the French Atlantic: Trade, War, and Slavery in the Age of Revolution

What is my book about?

The Death of the French Atlantic examines the dramatic decline of France’s Atlantic empire in the Age of Revolution, showing how three major forces – war, revolution and anti-slavery – created instability and led to the loss of her richest Caribbean colony, Saint-Domingue, to insurrection and revolution. The book underlines the importance of slaving to the prosperity of France’s west-coast ports and relies heavily on individual testimony as it follows merchants, planters and ships’ captains as they criss-crossed the Atlantic world.  It concludes by examining the uneasy memory of these years in port cities such as Nantes, Bordeaux and La Rochelle, a memory that has left an indelible mark on race relations in France today.

The Naked Blogger of Cairo

By Marwan M. Kraidy,

Book cover of The Naked Blogger of Cairo: Creative Insurgency in the Arab World

Marwan Kraidy’s book is a deep dive into the cultural politics of the Arab Uprisings during 2011. Wonderfully written and cleverly organized this academic book looks at the ‘digital’ nature of these resistance movements and the use of art and media tools in the protests. The focus is on young Arabs who used the street to challenge authority and cutting-edge social media platforms to argue for social change. In the book political activism and a period of digital euphoria meet when places like Tahrir Square became the centre of the world. This is one of the most essential accounts of 2011 that offers a refreshing take on Facebook and Twitter as revolutionary agents that helped to bring down the military regime. 

The Naked Blogger of Cairo

By Marwan M. Kraidy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Naked Blogger of Cairo as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Uprisings spread like wildfire across the Arab world from 2010 to 2012, fueled by a desire for popular sovereignty. In Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria, protesters flooded the streets and the media, voicing dissent through slogans, graffiti, puppetry, videos, and satire that called for the overthrow of dictatorial regimes. Investigating what drives people to risk everything to express themselves in rebellious art, The Naked Blogger of Cairo uncovers the creative insurgency at the heart of the Arab uprisings. While commentators have stressed the role of texting and Twitter, Marwan M. Kraidy shows that the essential medium of expression was the human…

Who am I?

I'm a writer and filmmaker based in Cairo for over a decade. I was inspired to move to Egypt when I visited during the 2011 Revolution and fell in love with the vibrance of the city. Since then Cairo has changed and I have lived through an extraordinary history with some difficult times but always with a sense of curiosity for stories. My book, Cairo’s Ultras, began as a documentary film project in 2012 and I have found many other interesting topics during my time in this enigmatic and fascinating place. I will publish a second book next year, called Decolonising Images, that looks at the photographic heritage and visual culture of Egypt.


I wrote...

Cairo's Ultras: Resistance and Revolution in Egypt’s Football Culture

By Ronnie Close,

Book cover of Cairo's Ultras: Resistance and Revolution in Egypt’s Football Culture

What is my book about?

The history of Cairo’s football fans is one of the most poignant narratives of the January 25th, 2011 Egyptian uprising. Football fans became embroiled in the street protests that brought down the Mubarak regime and in the violent turmoil since the Ultras have been locked in a bitter conflict with the security state. This book explores the Ultras in Cairo and their role in the uprising alongside the politics of soccer in Egypt. Cairo’s Ultras provides an intimate sense of this unique subculture and how football communities offer ways of belonging in everyday life. Along the way, the book skewers media clichés and retraces Egyptian revolutionary politics to consider the capacity of sport to emancipate through fan performances on the football terraces.

The Pickup

By Nadine Gordimer,

Book cover of The Pickup

South African writer Nadine Gordimer, the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1991, commands enormous power with her words. While they have a deceptively poetic lilting beauty, they also deal incisively with epic issues. The Pickup is one of my favourites, an ultimately lifting tale about a white woman and an illegal Arab immigrant, which portrays the power of love and understanding to cross great divides in class and wealth and outlook.

The Pickup

By Nadine Gordimer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Pickup as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When Julie Summers' car breaks down in a sleazy street, a young Arab garage mechanic comes to her rescue. Out of this meeting develops a friendship that turns to love. But soon, despite his attempts to make the most of Julie's wealthy connections, Abdu is deported from South Africa and Julie insists on going too - but the couple must marry to make the relationship legitimate in the traditional village which is to be their home. Here, whilst Abdu is dedicated to escaping back to the life he has discovered, Julie finds herself slowly drawn in by the charm of…

Who am I?

I am a journalist, travel writer, and author based in Australia, writing about all sorts of people and on topics that I find personally inspiring and thrilling, and which are guaranteed to raise the spirits of readers. I was born in England but travelled the world for 10 years before ending up in Australia in 1989. I also lecture in travel writing at Boston University’s Sydney campus.


I wrote...

Healing Lives

By Sue Williams,

Book cover of Healing Lives

What is my book about?

It’s about a heartwarming friendship between two women from opposite ends of the earth, and with stunningly different backgrounds, which has ended up changing the lives of tens of thousands of the poorest women on earth. 

Australian doctor Catherine Hamlin went over to Ethiopia in 1959 and was horrified to discover that so many young women were suffering life-threatening fistula injuries after undergoing difficult childbirths. One of them was a young peasant girl, Mamitu Gashe. Catherine saved her life, and they became like family to each other. Today, even though Mamitu can still neither read, nor write, nor speak English, she has become one of the top fistula surgeons in the world. It’s a story that touched my heart.

Arabian Love Poems

By Bassam K. Frangieh, Clementina R. Brown, Nizar Qabbani

Book cover of Arabian Love Poems

Damascus-born Nizar Qabbani, a lawyer by training, abandoned a career in diplomacy in the late 1960s to become one of the Arab world’s most beloved poets. Both his sensual and political poems carry seeds of defiance, rebellion and a quest for liberation from autocratic institutions and rigid social norms. This edition reproduces Qabbani’s own handwritten text of the selected poems.

Arabian Love Poems

By Bassam K. Frangieh, Clementina R. Brown, Nizar Qabbani

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Arabian Love Poems as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This translation of Nizar Kabbani's poetry is accompanied by the striking Arabic texts of the poems, penned by Kabbani especially for this collection. Kabbani was a poet of great simplicity - direct, spontaneous, musical, using the language of everyday life. He was a ceasless campaigner for women's rights, and his verses praise the beauty of the female body, and of love. He was an Arab nationalist, yet he criticized Arab dictators and the lack of freedom in the Arab world.

Who am I?

Sam Dagher is a Lebanese-American journalist and author with more than 15 years of experience reporting on the Middle East and its people. He has lived in Baghdad, Beirut, and Damascus and worked throughout the region. Sam has been committed to telling the region’s stories from the ground up and in the process shedding new light on the root causes of war, extremism, and migration.


I wrote...

Book cover of Assad or We Burn the Country: How One Family's Lust for Power Destroyed Syria

What is my book about?

From an award winning journalist specializing in the Middle East, this groundbreaking account of the Syrian Civil War reveals the never-before-published true story of a 21st-century humanitarian disaster. Assad or We Burn the Country examines Syria's tragedy through the generational saga of the Assad and Tlass families, once deeply intertwined and now estranged in Bashar's bloody quest to preserve his father's inheritance. By drawing on his own reporting experience in Damascus and exclusive interviews with Tlass, Dagher takes readers within palace walls to reveal the family behind the destruction of a country and the chaos of an entire region.

Book cover of Understanding 'Sectarianism': Sunni-Shi'a Relations in the Modern Arab World

Fanar Haddad offers his readers a novel analysis of sectarianism in the Arab world – a topic that has been receiving increasing attention in academic research on the region. Haddad provides a deep theoretical analysis of the concept of sectarianism. He shows that sectarian identity, like all identities, is multi-dimensional and multi-layered, operating on various levels: religious, subnational, national, and transnational. He aptly demonstrates that sectarian identities are contextual; they are constantly negotiated through interactions within, and conversations with, a socio-political setting and the relentless flux of historical change. Haddad devotes a full chapter to the question of sectarian identity and the contestation of the state in Iraq between 2003 and 2018. Haddad’s analysis is indispensable for understanding the various dimensions of the problem of sectarianism in the Middle East.

Understanding 'Sectarianism'

By Fanar Haddad,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Understanding 'Sectarianism' as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Sectarianism' is one of the most over-discussed yet under-analysed concepts in debates about the Middle East. Despite the deluge of commentary, there is no agreement on what 'sectarianism' is. Is it a social issue, one of dogmatic incompatibility, a historic one or one purely related to modern power politics? Is it something innately felt or politically imposed? Is it a product of modernity or its antithesis? Is it a function of the nation-state or its negation?
This book seeks to move the study of modern sectarian dynamics beyond these analytically paralysing dichotomies by shifting the focus away from the meaningless…

Who am I?

I’ve had a diverse work experience, having taught political science, and worked as a journalist and UN official. My interest in sectarianism in the Arab world grew from my work as a journalist covering Middle Eastern and Iraqi affairs and as a UN official in Iraq. Working in Iraq following the 2003 US-led invasion, I witnessed firsthand how the sectarian violence that gripped Iraq highlighted the failure of social integration in nurturing a national identity. Scholarly work on sectarianism in the region was focused on Lebanon. In addressing this scholarly gap, I combined my academic training in political science, extensive knowledge of Islamic history, and decades-long fieldwork and life experiences in the region.


I wrote...

Sectarianism in Iraq: The Making of State and Nation Since 1920

By Khalil F. Osman,

Book cover of Sectarianism in Iraq: The Making of State and Nation Since 1920

What is my book about?

This study addresses the failure to resolve inherent tensions between sectarian identities and concepts of unified statehood and uniform citizenry since the establishment of the modern Iraqi nation-state in 1921. I trace the deepening of sectarian solidarities despite the adoption of homogenizing policies by the state. I examine how Sunni-Shi’ite interactions in Iraq cultivated divergent collective memories of victimization and shaped dynamics of inclusion and exclusion favorable to Sunni Arabs before 2003 and to Shi’ites in the post-2003 period. The injection of hegemonic communal discourses into the educational curriculum provoked masked forms of resistance that undermined the homogenizing utility of education. I also examine the debate over federalism in the post-2003 period and show how it encapsulates the fragmentation of collective identity in Iraq.

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