The following is an excerpt from an interview with me and my collaborator Nader Hashemi that will be published soon by the excellent online magazine Qantara.de. The interviewer is Emran Feroz, a journalist based in Germany, founder of the Drone Memorial, a virtual memorial for civilian drone strike victims, and author of a book on drone warfare. The interview revolves around our recent book Sectarianization: Mapping the New Politics of the Middle East, in which we challenge the new conventional wisdom in Western media and policy circles that attributes the violence engulfing the Middle East today to “ancient hatreds”. We call this sectarian essentialism a new form of Orientalism. In this section of the interview we’re responding to a question about the pervasiveness of this sectarian narrative across the ideological spectrum.
This is hardly surprising, given the anti-Muslim prejudice so pervasive on the right. What is surprising is to find people on the left trafficking in the sectarian narrative. Take the case of Patrick Cockburn, the influential Middle East reporter for The Independent. Cockburn has consistently framed the Syrian conflict in sectarian terms — using language like “sectarian blood-letting” and “demons” — and even criticized others for downplaying sectarianism. He did this from very early on, seeing sectarianism as immanent even during the nonviolent popular demonstrations of 2011, which were notably devoid of sectarian slogans and involved Syrians of multiple religious backgrounds/identities. The Syrian conflict became sectarian, but it didn’t start that way and, contra Cockburn, its sectarianization was by no means inevitable. In his chapter in our book, the anthropologist Paulo Gabriel Hilu Pinto demonstrates how the Assad regime pursued a deliberate strategy of sectarianizing the conflict through the use of sectarian pro-regime militias and the “selective distribution of violence” to punish specific sub-groups of protesters; and by releasing various jihadis from Syria’s prisons, to poison the well and produce a “preferred enemy”. Continue reading “Left-Wing Orientalism: The Curious Case of Patrick Cockburn”
Joel Beinin has been a major figure in Middle East studies for several decades. He has been involved with the Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP) since the 1970s and remains a contributing editor to its magazine, Middle East Report. He and Joe Stork assembled the cri de coeur Political Islam: Essays from Middle East Report. Beinin’s MERIP author page reads like a one-man archive of leftist thinking about the Middle East over the last 30 years.
In the increasingly disfigured debate about Syria, it is scarcely even remembered that it all began as a popular uprising—indeed, as a nonviolent and non-sectarian one whose goals were dignity, justice, and freedom from a one-family mafia torture state in power for more than four decades.
Wendy Pearlman is out to set that record straight and explain why the Syrian uprising happened in the first place.
A vibrant and wonderful student movement has flowered a the Strathclyde University which has scored two major victories for peace and justice within this month. We at PULSE salute all the students, in particular Strathclyde Stop the War, Action Palestine, and the Strathclyde University Muslim Students Association (SUMSA) for their indispensable work. In today’s excellent guest editorial, Kim Bizzarri, who has himself lead from the front, reports on these successes and the prospects for future.
The vote, which took place in relation to a motion submitted by a group of students to their Union’s General Meeting (AGM) – the student’s highest decision-making body – won with an overwhelming majority of the over 200 students who queued in the union’s corridors and stairs to participate in the event. Such a high student attendance had been unprecedented in any previous AGM, most of which failed in the past 10 years to even reach quorum.
Despite attempts by the Union’s administration to dilute the substance of the motion and have it voted upon by the conservative Student Representative Council (SRC) – who had already rejected a similar popular motion two years earlier given the uncomfortable position it placed the University vis-à-vis its corporate funders – the fervent group of passionate students were successful in galvanising sufficient support amongst their fellows to turn the motion into student policy.
Within weeks of occupying the McCance Building – heart of the University’s administration – the original 60 students involved in the occupation have already gained the support of a sizable number of their fellow students.