“Middle East”? Most post-9/11 “Western” minds immediately associate this phrase with terms such as conflict, instability, involvement, occupation, terror, and war, as well as “Islam,” “Muslims,” and “Arabs.” Yet the Middle East has always been a much diverse place than these reductionist terms can ever encompass. Yes, the majority of the population is Muslim but the area does not coincide with the Muslim world. In fact, the majority of Muslims live outside the Middle East, the largest Muslim country (Indonesia) lies outside the region and the Muslim minority in a country outside of the Middle East (India) is larger than the Muslim population of any Middle Eastern country. Moreover, there are ancient East Christians (Copts, Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, etc.) and Jews (Mizrahim, Oriental Jews) who are native to the area. What sorts of relationships these groups cultivated with each other? Can we talk about a general trend towards peaceful co-habitation or aggressive confrontation?
In 21H.365 we discuss these and similar questions. We explore notions of “difference” and “sameness” as they have been conceived, experienced, and regulated by peoples of the Middle East. We usually focus on the Ottoman Empire since most of what we now call “the Middle East” used to be a part of the Ottoman Empire (1299-1922) at one time or another. Discussions include how the Ottomans managed their polyglot, multiethnic, multiconfessional population while ruling over a vast territory stretching from the gates of Vienna to Yemen. In the second part of the course we consider what happened when (in the early 19th century) this relatively successful imperial formula for peaceful co-existence was replaced with a politics based on mono-ethnic nation-states. We focus on majority-minority relations in a few post-Ottoman nation-states, such as Iraq, Egypt, and Israel. The course meetings are usually accompanied with documentary films or video clips. The topic does not necessitate any prior knowledge.