9:30 am to 12:30 pm
A compelling story about religious violence in Syria is making the rounds. In this account the war is an armed conflict pitting Sunnis, who make up the majority of Syria’s population, against the Alawites, who back the Assad regime, and their Shiite allies—Iran and Hezbollah. In this telling, Christians and other innocent minorities are under siege, caught in the crossfire and afraid they will be oppressed by a Sunni majority in a post-Assad Syria. In this account, Syria appears as the latest in a long string of Middle Eastern countries riven by intractable sectarian differences that lead to interminable chaos and violence. Because religious divisions define people’s identities in this region, the story goes, history tells us that there is no choice but to let them “fight it out” while we do everything we can—including arming the opposition—to ensure that those who support American interests prevail. This course will examine the perils and pitfalls of a simplified sectarian reading of the war in Syria, the conflict in Bahrain, ongoing developments in Egypt, and other transitions associated with the “Arab spring” in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). It will explore alternative ways to think and talk about the politics of religious difference in the MENA region, and outside of it.