Alex Lubin interviews Ussama Makdisi about his work on sectarianism and coexistence in the Middle East, the subject of his most recent book. Makdisi also addresses the role of race and colonialism and explains the importance of seeing these ideological formations in historical and geopolitical context. Forthcoming in the next issue of Middle East Report, “Race—Legacies and Challenges.”
War has broken out in Western Sahara and few have heard the news. At a crossroads between sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa, the Saharan desert has long been misconstrued in colonial discourses as a largely unpeopled geography deemed culturally marginal and largely assimilable to Maghrebi post-colonial nation-states. As a result, Saharan political identities occupy a blind spot in social scientific area studies. Partly for this reason, the political demands of hundreds of thousands of Sahrawis who support the Polisario Front—an anti-colonial national liberation movement established in 1973 to recover sovereignty over Western Sahara—are systematically sidelined in global political agendas and mostly ignored in mainstream media.
The Sahrawi people have been struggling for self-determination in Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara since 1975. Despite years of nonviolent resistance, there has been no significant change in the stalled process of decolonization. Until now. The sudden end to the long-running ceasefire and Trump’s tweet recognizing Moroccan control over Western Sahara and Morocco’s normalization of relations with Israel have suddenly altered the political dynamics. Mark Drury explains what this means for Sahrawi aspirations.
The discovery of oil in Turkey’s southeast encouraged state elites to imagine that development would lead to the assimilation of Kurds into Turkish culture and language. Instead, oil infrastructures and the resulting social changes had very different consequences. Zeynep Oguz explains the historical dynamics of the quest for oil and how it nurtured Kurdish dissent and critique of the state.
The discovery of oil in Turkey’s southeast encouraged state elites to imagine that development would lead to the assimilation of Kurds into Turkish culture and language. Instead, oil infrastructures and the resulting social changes had very different consequences. Zeynep Oguz explains the historical dynamics of the quest for oil and how it nurtured Kurdish dissent and critique of the state. Forthcoming in MER issue 296 “Nature and Politics.”
Demonstrations about gentrification in Oran, Algeria are linked to a broader tension over collective versus individual rights to colonial-era properties abandoned by the French, occupied by citizens, nationalized by the state and now subject to varying strategies of individual appropriation in the wake of the broader gentrification of Algerian urban space since the 1990s.
In 1923, a crippling drought pushed the nomads of the Algerian Sahara as far north as Bou-Saada, just 150 miles south of the Mediterranean coast, in search of sustenance. The French colonial authorities worried that fighting would break out between the nomads and locals over scarce water. From their perspective, indeed, nearly every year between the early 1920s and the late 1940s was exceptionally dry.
Under a tent in Benghazi on August 30, 2008, Silvio Berlusconi bowed symbolically before the son of ‘Umar al-Mukhtar, hero of the Libyan resistance to Italian colonial rule. “It is my duty to express to you, in the name of the Italian people, our regret and apologies for the deep wounds that we have caused you,” said the Italian premier.  Eastern Libya was the site of the bulk of the armed resistance to the Italian occupation, which lasted from 1911 to 1943. More than 100,000 Libyans are believed to have died in the counterinsurgency campaign, many in desert prison camps and in southern Italian penal colonies.
Niall Ferguson, Colossus: The Price of America’s Empire (New York: Penguin Press, 2004).
There is something refreshing about British historian Niall Ferguson’s argument “not merely that the United States is an empire, but that it has always been an empire.” For a certain kind of American liberal, the Bush administration's eager invasion of Iraq has been a bad dream. The ignominious departure of US viceroy L. Paul Bremer from Baghdad on June 28, many assume, marks the beginning of the end of a grim, aberrant interlude in an otherwise innocent and idealistic US foreign policy. In contrast, Ferguson cheerily cites the work of the independent Marxist, Harry Magdoff, and the secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Geir Lundestad, to establish that US armed forces were stationed in 64 countries in 1967 and that those forces conducted 168 different overseas military interventions between 1946 and 1965.
On a sweltering Washington sidewalk on July 17, a handful of protesters berated the stream of bespectacled wonks entering the “stink tank” known as the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) — famous worldwide as the home of former Pentagon official Richard Perle and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. In the air-conditioned comfort inside, the lusty strains of “Rule Britannia” welcomed a capacity crowd to AEI’s version of a summertime idyll. We were assembled to hear two vaunted thinkers of the new, new world order debate the proposition that America is, and should be, an empire.
Ian Lustick, Unsettled States, Disputed Lands: Britain and Ireland, France and Algeria, Israel and the West Bank-Gaza (Cornell, 1993).
Clive Thomas, The Rise of the Authoritarian State in Peripheral Societies (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1984).
Anthony D. Smith, State and Nation in the Third World (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1983).
Between 1900 and the end of World War I, the concept of imperialism developed among Marxist thinkers and activists to denote the contemporary expansion of formal colonial empires and the intense conflicts over that expansion among particular capitalist industrialized countries. In subsequent decades, the theory of imperialism has attained the status of the Marxist concept for grasping the course of economic, social and political developments in the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, and the relationship of this Third World to the advanced capitalist countries.