Previous session – Friday 21 April 2017 – “The Fads and Fashions of Iraqi History-Telling”

Friday, 21 April 2017 – “The Fads and Fashions of Iraqi History-Telling”

Iraq, since the first gulf war, might seem to be a state confounded by an irresolvable tension between centrifugal and centripetal forces. Tribes, sects and ethnicities encouraged by outsiders would threaten to break the nascent state into rival and ungovernable fiefdoms. Only the strong hand of a centralised state, managed perhaps by an autocratic rule, would bind these units into a workable polity.

In this Majlis we ask how we ought to read Iraqi history, and about the implications of such a reading for the sorts of political descriptions offered above. We are joined by Dr Hala Fattah who argues that social scientific literature on Iraq has been unduly focussed on the internal dynamics of the Iraqi state. Dr Fattah offers a reading of Arabic language memoirs and autobiographies that indicates a transnational and regional current that challenges this statist methodological bias. Her readings follow Sufi, Shia and other transnational currents, including the surprising involvement of Gulf and rural personalities in the Iraqi polity.

Dr Fattah brings these regional dynamics into dialogue with two overriding assumptions about Iraqi history and politics that flow from this focus on the state. First, she will assess the idea that Iraq is almost genetically vulnerable to internal secessionist movements propelled by external focuses. Second, she challenges the idea that the Iraqi state form is somehow inherently amenable to the Sunni minority and inimical to the Shii and ethnic sub-groups within the polity.

Dr Fattah is a historian based in Amman, Jordan. She received her PhD from UCLA in the history of the Modern Middle East, and is the author of The Politics of Regional Trade in Iraq, Arabia and the Gulf, 1700-1900’ (SUNY Press, 1997) and ‘A Brief History of Iraq’ (Facts on File, 2008), as well as numerous articles. She has previously taught at Georgetown University and Qatar University.

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