Sunday, April 20, 2008

Throw-Down - The Experts Go Head to Head Over Iraqi Nationhood

I sit here in the computer lab, writing a paper on forms of Iraqi nationalism after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century. Basically, the whole establishment is here and it's a throw-down. Reinhard Schulze says there's nothing innately "Western" about nationalism and civil rights. Yitzhak Nakash says that the Ottoman's attempts to smash tribal affiliations in the late 19th century created the conditions in the south for widespread tribal conversions to Shi'i Islam. Hanna Batatu says that Iraq's problems after the British anointed Faisal as King of Iraq weren't religious or ethnic, but economic, which is why the Communists had it right all along!

I can't find a picture of the I.C.P.'s legendary secretary general, Fahd, but I can give you a list of some books you might want to check out if, all of a sudden, you start asking yourself, "Why did the British throw these three provinces together as a mandate, anyway? Did they secure for Iraq an inevitable future of fractious nationhood and, eventually, civil war?"

A Modern History of the Islamic World (2000), by Reinhard Schulze, tracks the major events of history in the far-reaching Islamic world and discusses the "secular" and "Islamic" divide, not as the essential and irreconcilable differences between two certain peoples, but as political ideologies. My Islamic history professor once referred to it as "the Bible" of modern Islamic studies.

The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq (1979), by Hanna Batatu, offers an enormously-detailed history of Iraq's social elites during the Ottoman period; its nationalist, communist, socialist and Ba'thi revolutionary movements after the Brits took over Iraq as a mandate; and the process of Iraq's industrialization and modernization. It's a fun and fascinating read and a critical resource.

The Shi'is of Iraq (1995), by Yitzhak Nakash, documents the evolution of Shi'i Islam in the south and central parts of Iraq, beginning in the late 18th century, when tribes flooded into the "frontier" after being chased out of Arabia by Wahhabi warriors. An important resource on the country's largest religious group.

The Marsh Arabs (1964), by Wilfred Thesiger, is about one Briton's adventures in the reed-strewn marshlands of southern Iraq, full of details on plant and animal-life and one view on how industrialization almost completely destroyed the ways of the tribes. Another fun and fascinating resource, for adventurer and book-worm alike.

Republic of Fear (1989), by Kanan Makiya, about Saddam Hussein's Panopticon of a government system. Due to his controversial (and occasionally outrageous) views, Makiya is something of a media darling; his book has been more-or-less canonized on the home-front. It's no more important than the rest of these books, but it certainly beats all of the other readings on just how bad Saddam was.

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