States of Imagination: Four Perspectives on Iraqi Political Culture, 1900-2014

MESA 2015 Panel Report

States of Imagination: Four Perspectives on Iraqi Political Culture, 1900–2014

Report by Annie Greene and Carl Shook, co-organizers

When the 2003 invasion of Iraq failed to establish the stable and Western-friendly state its American architects hoped for, and instead directly precipitated civil war and helped increase the salience of sectarian identification in politics and society, the social fabric and geography of the Iraqi state itself was held responsible. The narrative of Iraq as a contrived state, which arbitrarily and irresponsibly combined the “Kurdish north,” the “Shiʿi south,” and the “Sunni west,” all with an imbalance of political power and natural resources, was dusted off in order to explain the political failures and challenges after 2003. This narrative grew more common, and its proponents more vocal, upon the development of Islamic State and its conquest of Iraqi and Syrian territory in 2014.

In the last two decades or so, a growing number of scholars who specialize in Iraqi history and politics have steadily worked against this narrative through studies that focused on the contingent contexts and processes that may result in political, civil, or religious conflict. The state was rarely the sole or even dominant subject of these studies. Among other advantages, this problematized representations of Iraqi society as either a passive or reactionary partner in Iraqi political history. Our goal in forming this panel was to contribute to this trend of decentralizing politics by looking at the Iraqi state from the perspective of the diverse institutions and actors involved and in contact with, but not necessarily part of, the state. We contend that a de-centered political vantage point is more analytically useful because it treats the Iraqi state as a product of political imagination, negotiation, definition, and contestation.

Therefore, we set out to design a panel that considered the Iraqi state through the country’s political history from four very different perspectives. The first perspective was that of Ottoman-Iraqi intellectuals carving out a discursive space for themselves between Ottoman centralization and local expression in verse, the press, and the parliament. Annie Greene (University of Chicago) examined some of the writings of three Ottoman-era Iraqi intellectuals, the poet Jamil Sidqi al-Zahawi, journalist Sulayman Faydi, and parliamentarian İsmail Hakkı Babanzade. She demonstrated that their critiques and praises of Ottoman state policies, all the while sitting in Baghdad and Basra, reveal an importance and relevance to the imperial capital Istanbul as provincial intellectuals, not merely peripheral ones. They saw themselves as active agents of the reform and renaissance currents going on in the empire, even in the frontier.

Carl Shook (University of Chicago) presents at the “States of Imagination” panel.

The second perspective was that of British Mandate officials towards Iraq as a distinct socio-political entity. Carl Shook (University of Chicago) presented the geographical and historical rationale for dividing territory into irrigated and non-irrigated land, and categorizing the population into “settled” and “un-settled” (read: Bedouin) groups. He then described the normalizing effects of this simplistic social dichotomy on the formation of the Iraq-Syria border between 1918 and 1932. Parts of the new political boundary were delimited to shield agricultural land and trade routes from both “foreign” and “Iraqi” tribal groups, but accommodation of and resistance to the new boundaries by tribal elites, shepherds, traders, and smugglers nevertheless influenced the location and permeability of the resulting border.

The intellectual and avant-garde clientele of Baghdad’s coffee shops provided a third perspective, this time challenging the state’s rationalization and nationalization during the monarchical period of the 1940s. Pelle Valentin Olsen (University of Chicago) discussed leisure as a domain that is not free from political intervention and disciplinary power, but that is rather one of the sites in which different and competing ideals and visions of nation and temporality manifest and in which social norms are both practiced and contested.

Pelle Valentin Olsen (University of Chicago), right, presents at the “States of Imagination” panel. From left to right: Omar Sirri (University of Toronto), Carl Shook (University of Chicago), Annie Greene (University of Chicago), and panel moderator Peter Wien (University of Maryland and current TAARII president)

The fourth perspective was that of the contested legal foundations of Iraq following the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Omar Sirri (University of Toronto) described the absence of constituent power of the people during the drafting of the Iraqi Constitution in 2004 and 2005. Through interviews with constitution makers in Baghdad, his paper indicated that Iraqi political elites came to occupy the seat of constituent power, and showed the implications of this by arguing that these elites remained engaged in a Schmittian political dynamic, which marginalizes the Iraqi people, and that has come to define constitutional politics in Iraq.

This panel intentionally accentuated periods across Iraq’s political history that reject easy narratives and trajectories of continuity of the Iraqi state. Instead of defining the state, we sought to amplify some of the voices and discourses that contributed, one way or another, to its existence. By favoring Iraq’s political history and culture over a state-centric approach, we hope to have illuminated diverse but meaningful moments in Iraqi political history which, taken together, challenge a hard state-society distinction in favor of a “blurred lines” perspective. In other words, the state was taken as just one of many sites where political interaction, through which identity, religion, language, politics, and history are being molded and made concrete, takes place. These four perspectives represent just a few of the ways Iraq was imagined, shaped, critiqued, and invested with meaning and purpose during Iraq’s long twentieth century.

“States of Imagination” panel, from left to right: Omar Sirri (University of Toronto), Pelle Valentin Olsen (University of Chicago), Carl Shook (University of Chicago), and Annie Greene (University of Chicago)

On behalf of all the presenters, we would like to express our gratitude to our panel chair and discussant, Peter Wien, for his time and thoughtful, constructive comments. We would also like to thank TAARII for sponsoring our panel, and all who attended for contributing to an engaging and productive discussion.

Conference: “Oral History in Times of Change: Gender, Documentation and the Making of Archives”

In September 2015, The Women Forum and Memory organized an international conference on “Oral History in Times of Change: Gender, Documentation and the Making of Archives,” in Cairo, Egypt. The conference was organized in co-operation with The Supreme Council for Culture in Cairo and UN Women. It was organized to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the establishment of Women Forum and Memory, which aims to produce alternative knowledge by constructing an archive of women’s voices.

The conference brought together scholars, researchers, students, artists, and practitioners to exchange views and experiences regarding the challenges of documenting oral histories in times of change. It focused on methodological and theoretical issues regarding the documentation of oral history and the creation of archives. The major questions that participants were urged to address included: What are the potential and limits of oral history projects in times of change? What are the challenges facing oral historians in such times? How can oral history empower women to become active participants in politics? What are the challenges posed by the digital revolution in the field of oral history? What are the challenges to the construction of a “representative” archive of voices in times of conflict?

Lucine Taminian (center-right) discussing oral history with researchers from Egypt, Yemen, and Iraq (Photo courtesy of Alaa Hameed, 2015)

The three-day conference started on September 13. Participants came from fourteen countries: Algeria, Canada, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Sudan, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States.

The conference program consisted of eight panels, three keynote presentations, and two round tables. Other activities included the screening of two films, “Four Women of Egypt” and “In the Shadow of a Man,” and the Exhibit of the Private Papers of Wedad Mitiri (1927-2007), who was a prominent figure and unionist in the Egyptian national leftist movement. Recorded interviews with her were played while we walked through the exhibit.

I was invited to present a paper on “Oral History in Times of Conflict: Ethical and Methodological Issues.” My presentation was informed by my experience as senior researcher for TAARII’s Iraqi Oral History Project (IOHP), where more than 180 Iraqis living outside Iraq were interviewed. I explored the following questions, using examples from the oral histories we collected: Why do people remember what they remember? How does memory work? What challenges do oral historians face when documenting oral histories in times of conflict? How do the methods and ethics of documenting oral histories differ from other research methods and ethics?

Panel participants fielding questions from the audience (Photo courtesy of Alaa Hameed, 2015)

Three additional panelists raised the challenges entailed in using oral histories. Sandra Hale, who has worked extensively in Sudan, questioned the application of “expert knowledge” as intervention in crisis. She raised three interesting questions: How can scholars interpret the various forms of knowledge produced by fact-finding missions, “truth” and reconciliation commissions, and witnessing and testimonies? How can we retrieve a form of knowledge from either the collective memory or individual memories to guide us in conflict resolution? Is indigenous knowledge/memory more valid than information produced by “experts” with its claim of “objectivity”? Nadje al-Ali from the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), whose project documented the oral histories of Iraqi women, explored the issue of using oral histories when the prevailing narratives are politicized, contested, and linked to power struggles. Finally, Hessah Lootah, from United Arab Emirates University, talked about the challenges involved in “preserving” oral heritage, which entails reducing it and transferring it from an action-interaction space into one of “reading” and “classification.”

A number of presenters in other panels raised the issue of social media as a source of oral history. For instance, Randi Degulhem, from The Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (National Center for Scientific Research in France), researched two websites of Syrian activists (she calls them “amateur historians”) who collect short testimonies, video narratives, paper publications, graffiti, etc., and place them on the websites to document the history of the Syrian uprising. Nahawand Eissa, from the Lebanese University, shed light on the narratives of what she called “historian-citizens” who created new spaces made possible by recent advances in technology to document their memory without mediators. These presentations raise two related issues: how oral is an online text, and the relationship between orality and writing.

A number of presenters approached the multiple genres of oral history: popular working class songs, novels as depository of oral history, memoirs, testimonies, and drama as an archive of women’s experience.

The first round table, “Archives and Power,” focused on state control over the production of documents and archives, and raised two questions: If the state controls the production of documents, what about documents in the times of the Internet? And, how does state control limit/facilitate researchers’ access to an archive? The second round table, “Feminist Archives and the Production of Alternative Knowledge,” concerned three major questions: What is the nature of a “feminist archive”? What is alternative knowledge? What are the criteria for identifying knowledge as worthy of being preserved and documented?

The American University in Cairo has offered to publish a select number of conference papers in a special issue of Cairo Papers in Social Science (CPSS), a quarterly refereed monograph series, which has become a digital publication as of 2015.

The conference participants having dinner at a Mamluk Palace functioning currently as a cultural center (Photo credit: Lucine Taminian, 2015)

Conference Report: Radical Increments – Toward New Platforms of Engaging Iraqi Studies

A Conference Report by Alda Benjamen, Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of History at the University of Maryland, College Park, and TAARII Representative

On April 24 and 25, 2015 Columbia University in the City of New York hosted a conference focusing on Iraqi studies, entitled “Radical Increments: Toward New Platforms of Engaging Iraqi Studies.” The conference was co-organized by Dr. Muhsin al-Musawa (Columbia University), Dr. Yasmeen Hanoosh (Portland State University), and Dr. Abeer Shaheen (Columbia University), and sponsored by the Columbia University’s Middle East Institute and Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies Department, and Dr. Aziz and Arwa al-Shaibani. One of the goals of the conference was “to create an informed space to address major intellectual and political issues pertinent to Iraq in a manner that bears practical utility.” As a result the conference successfully intertwined speakers from interdisciplinary fields who presented rich material pertaining to institution building and spaces, secular and religious politics, literature, and Iraqi Diasporas. Presenters included highly noted academics, alongside more junior scholars with intriguing academic projects. Also accounted for were internationally acclaimed Iraqi novelists, Iraqi government representatives, and NGO activists. All panels, with the exception of one, were in English, the last being in Arabic. The intermix of disciplines and perspectives fostered an engaging conference.

Introductions by Dr. Muhsin al-Musawi, conference co-organizer (Photo Credit: Alda Benjamen, 2015)

The conference commenced with a welcome speech given by Dr. Muhsin al-Musawi and opening remarks by Dr. Lila Abu-Lughod (Columbia University). This was followed by an opening presentation by Dr. Mohamed Ali Alhakim, Iraq Permanent Representative and Ambassador to the United Nations, who provided statistics about Iraqi higher educational institutions and the number of students enrolled inside the country and abroad with government funding. In his presentation, he strived to paint a picture of Iraq as a country with a positive future, irrespective of the decades of violence the country had been subjected to. Dr. Eric Davis (Rutgers University) gave the keynote address entitled “‘Covering’ and ‘Uncovering’ Iraq: Memory, Place, Authenticity,” in which he challenged the popular representations of Iraq as either an artificial society based on sectarian divides or a fifth column to neighboring countries, especially Iran. Instead, he argued that multiple Iraqi representations existed, where positive, civic and inclusive ones could be created as well. In his presentation, he demonstrated how Iraqi youth transgressed sectarianism within their civic society organizations and cultural production programs, such as the popular television show, “Love and War.” Davis argued that inside Iraq, teachers, academics, intellectuals, newspaper and journal editors were crucial in rebuilding Iraq’s educational system and teaching youth critical thinking skills based on the country’s history. He also advised the international academic community to stop viewing Iraq’s development, including how it was represented, as a “spectator sport,” concluding with “those of us who care about Iraq must be committed to helping it.”

Keynote address by Dr. Eric Davis (Photo Credit: Alda Benjamen, 2015)

Slide presentation by Dr. Eric Davis, “Anti-Sectarian activity, Iraqi youth 2013″ (Photo Credit: Alda Benjamen, 2015)

Slide presentation by Dr. Eric Davis, “Many Iraqis refused to celebrate their Eid in solidarity with Christians in Mosul” (Photo Credit: Alda Benjamen, 2015)

Dr. Yasmeen Hanoosh, conference co-organizer (Photo Credit: Alda Benjamen, 2015)

Dr. Yasmeen Hanoosh chaired the first session of the conference: “Institutions, Infrastructure, Space.” The session included a presentation by Dr. Abeer Shaheen, “God’s Eye View into Transparent Baghdad.” Shaheen described how Baghdad came to be defined as a city under security parameters following the U.S. invasion in 2003. The imposition of physical barriers, such as walls between neighborhoods based on sectarian divides, further segregated Baghdadis. In “Baghdad Resolve: An International Collaboration to Improve Cancer Care in Iraq,” Claudia Lefko of the Iraqi Children’s Art Exchange, described the formation of an international connection project in 2012 where American children sent art to hospitalized Iraqi children diagnosed with cancer. She provided concerning statistics about the increased mortality rate in Iraq for children under five years of age, as well as the increased cancer rates for children in general. Adding to this dilemma was the decline in Iraqi social organization and schools, along with the isolation of Iraqi doctors given years of instability and war. In “Virtual Realities: The Wartime Labor of Eden in Iraq’s Marshes,” Dr. Bridget Guarasci (Oberlin College) described the material dimension of virtuality, which she tackled by engaging in an international project that aimed to restore the marshes in Iraq post 2003. Eden’s restoration came to be considered by the international community the success story of the Iraq war, though it had little effect on the actual marshes and local population. Guarasci considered the marshes restoration project the hyper simulation that did not correspond to reality. Finally, Dr. Emily Stetler’s (Mount St. Mary’s University) presentation, “Education for a New National Identity: Sketching an Iraqi Critical Pedagogy,” stipulated that Iraq’s prospects lie in the ability of its diverse youth to envision a future. An inclusive curriculum that engaged all communities was crucial in this vision. As Stetler concluded, for “Sunnis, Shi‘is, Assyrians, Turkomens, Kurds and Caucasians, the conversation begins in the classroom.”

Dr. Bridget Guarasci, “Virtual Realities: The Wartime Labor of Eden in Iraq’s Marshes” (Photo Credit: Alda Benjamen, 2015)

Slide presentation by Dr. Bridget Guarasci, “Narrative Labor on Eden” (Photo Credit: Alda Benjamen, 2015)

Henrik Andersen, “The Politics of Corruption and Organized Crime in Contemporary Iraq” (Photo Credit: Alda Benjamen, 2015)

Dr. Mohammad Salama chaired the second session, “Secularism, Religion, Politics.” Dr. Jabbar al-Obaidi’s (Bridgewater State University) presentation was entitled, “Iraqi Media Post 2003: An Analytical, Historical, and Political Overview.” In it, al-Obaidi described the five types of media ownership existing in Iraq post 2003: Sectarian Media Ownership, Ideological Media Ownership, Independent Media Ownership, and American Media Ownership. The Independent Media was the smallest type of media ownership, with fewer financial abilities but with an independent and inclusive voice. Al-Obaidi concluded by stressing the need for an inclusive rhetoric and denouncing the employment of racist terminology by these agencies.

Henrik Andersen (independent researcher) discussed corruption in Iraq in his talk, “The Politics of Corruption and Organized Crime in Contemporary Iraq.” He described the intricate connections linking militias to Iraqi politicians and parties. As a result, average citizens felt disconnected from the state and distrustful of its ability to protect them. Andersen further described the state of corruption in other government agencies and ministries in both the Iraqi central and the KRG regional governments. Finally, the presentation of Yaseen Raad (American University of Beirut) was read in absentia as he was not able to secure a visa to the U.S. His presentation was entitled, “Consolidating Socio-Spatial Practices in a Militarized Public Space: The Case of Abu Nuwas Street in Baghdad.”

Dr. Muhsin al-Musawi chaired the third session, entitled “Iraq in Literature.” Dr. Moneera al-Ghadeer (Columbia University) described the “Cannibalizing Iraq,” as relating to colonial violence, and focused specifically on the interrogation operation at Abu Ghraib prison carried out by American soldiers. Daniel Wolk’s (University of Chicago) presentation, “Confronting Corruption in the Iraqi City from Afar: Ṣakhī’s Khalfa al Saddah/Durūb al-fiqdān and al-Dāhūdī’s Dhākirat madinah munqariḍah,” described conceptual frameworks of corruption in Iraqi novels. Dr. Ikram Masmoudi’s (University of Delaware) talk, “Desertion: Then and Now,” compared the massive population flights of Yezidi, Christian, Sunni, and other Iraqis following the occupation of the Islamic State of Mosul and its vicinities in the summer of 2014, to the state of desertion Iraqis experienced during the Iran-Iraq war. Masmoudi argued that the Iraqi psyche was still narrated by the past and words such as “deserter” occupied the mind of contemporary Iraqi novelists, as desertion then and now conveyed a perennial response to coercion, abuse and killing. Dr. Mohammad Salama’s (San Francisco State University) presentation titled, “A Mimesis of the Future: The Dialectic of Writing and Forgetting in Luay Ḥamza ‘Abbās,” argued that ‘Abbās’ writing triggered an alternative thinking of effaced cities and mutilated memories in order to articulate a mimesis of the future which did not currently exist.

The fourth session, “Diasporic Continuities” was chaired by Dr. Jabbbar al-Obaidi. Deborah al-Najjar (University of Southern California), in “Iraq and the Consolidation of Grief,” engaged with cultural production as an imaginative space in which Iraqi Studies was re-conceptualized. She focused specifically on Dr. Sinan Antoon’s The Corpse Washer. Dr. Sobia Khan (Richland College), in “Enacting Disaster: The Iraqi Nights, a Site of Conflict and Crisis,” discussed the anguish for the homeland in Dunya Mikhail’s writings, befittingly evoked by Mikhail in this verse: “homeland. I am not your mother, so why do you weep in my lap like this every time something hurts you?” The Arabic original of this verse was written along an image of a broken brick wall, resembling a Sumerian tablet. Reemah al-Urfali’s (American University in Cairo) presentation, titled, “Translating Iraqi Women’s Literature: Between Gender and Genre,” described the ways in which Iraqi female writings were translated to English, relying on certain political ideologies and gender expectations intelligible to English readers. Finally, Dena al-Adeeb (New York University), in “Architecture of Trauma: Embodied Practices and Resistance,” focused on the Shi‘i practices of mourning post 2003 and their utilization in new political, religious, and social formations to transform previously marginalized Shi‘i communities from the periphery to the center.

Panel participants Samuel Shimon, Dr. Taher al-Bakka, Dr. Jabbar al-Obaidi, Shakir Noori, Ali Badr, and Dr. Ikram Masmoudi (Photo Credit: Alda Benjamen, 2015)

The fifth session, chaired by Dr. Ikram Masmoudi, was presented in Arabic and titled, “Writing in Post-Occupation Iraq: Session in Arabic with Translation.” The first speaker was Dr. Taher al-Bakka, former Minister of Higher Education in Iraq, 2004–2005. Al-Bakka provided background on the effects of the 2003 war and absence of power on higher education. During this period, 1,600 Iraqi professors left their posts and 500 were killed. In the aftermath of the war, Iraqi political parties heightened their influence on academic institutions, whereby their religious and political views were imposed on universities (for example, certain deans forced female students, including Christians, to wear the Islamic veil). Al-Bakka concluded with ways in which universities can improve, chiefly in being politically and religiously independent. Turning to the audience, he stated: “Iraq and its higher education are in need of your pens and your intellects.” Samuel Shimon (Banipal Literary Magazine, U.K.) discussed his literary career focusing on his novel Iraqi in Paris. He also shed light on his current memoir, which will tackle his experience in the Iraqi civil war of the 1970s — although an Assyrian, Shimon fought in the Kurdish uprising against the Iraqi regime. Shimon further explored the importance of teaching tolerance, and how Iraqi pluralism was reflected in his novels. Shakir Noori, (Iraqi journalist and novelist) illustrated the important relationship between a historical period and the novel. He lamented the absence of the Iraqi novel within this genre and described his role in rectifying this by writing war novels. As a novelist, Noori wrote while war was going on instead of waiting for it to end, preferring not to distance himself from the immediate sentiments associated with war. Finally, Ali Badr (Iraqi journalist and novelist) described his numerous novels, including The Tobacco Keeper and the Sinful Woman. He vividly illustrated a lucid dream while stationed in Alqosh as soldier in the 1990s. He woke up to write what he considers to be his masterpiece, The Road to Moutran Hill, a novel about a Christian character, in 24 hours. Badr was 22 years of age at the time.

The closing remarks were provided by Dr. Muhsin al-Musawi. He introduced plans for the formation of an Iraqi Center, where larger conferences on Iraqi studies can be organized. The conference co-organizers are planning to publish the conference proceedings, along with additional compelling submissions on the topic, in a co-edited volume.

Iraqi Scholar Participates in Carnegie-funded Workshop in Jordan

I participated in the Arab Regional Fellowship Workshop held at American Center of Oriental Research (ACOR) in Amman, Jordan, October 19–­21, 2014. The workshop was organized by the Council of American Overseas Research Centers (CAORC).

The workshop was attended by a remarkable number of academics and researchers, who represented a wide variety of universities and institutions from different Arab countries.

Abubakir Majeed (Hawler Medical University, Erbil), Amir Khalil (Benzirt University, Palestine), and Mehdi Souiah (D’Oran University, Algeria) at the Arab Regional Workshop, ACOR (Photo Credit: Barbara Porter, October 2014)

The agenda of the workshop was impressive. It was designed to facilitate exchange and strengthen the networking among more than 30 academics and researchers from all branches of science including humanities and social sciences.

Participants in the Arab Regional Workshop with Directors Laryssa, Bobb, and Angel in the library at ACOR (Photo Credit: Barbara Porter, October 2014)

ucine Taminian, Resident Director of TAARII, and Abubakir Majeed, from Hawler Medical University, Erbil, at the Arab Regional Workshop Reception, ACOR (Photo Credit: Barbara Porter, October 2014)

On the second day of the workshop, every fellow presented his or her project. My project is about a quality assurance process in higher education in Iraq, which is a new topic. I will use Q-methodology, which is a new methodology that combines the strength of both quantitative and qualitative methods. I received a lot of feedback and comments from mentors and other colleagues, which will improve my project.

The workshop was a real and genuine opportunity for me and gave me a chance to know, share ideas, and build networks with many scholars from several countries.

Thanks so much to CAORC for giving me the chance to participate in the Arab Regional Fellowship Workshop and for providing the funds to complete my project.

Dr. Abubakir Majeed Saleh
Director of Academic Relations, Hawler Medical University, Erbil-Iraq & CAORC Arab Regional Fellow

Former TAARII Iraq Fellow Participates in World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies (WOCMES) in August 2014

Faris Nadhmi*

The entrance of the Culture and Convention Center (CCC) of the Middle East Technical University (METU) – Ankara, where WOCMES 2014 was held (Photo credit: Faris Nadhmi, 2014)

I participated in the Fourth World Congress for Middle East Studies (WOCMES) held at Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara, Turkey, August 18–22, 2014. The congress was organized by the Department of Political Science and Public Administration and the Graduate Program of Middle East Studies at METU, in collaboration with the Turkish Social Sciences Association.

After the highly successful experiences of the three previous WOCMES meetings held in Mainz, Germany, in 2002, Amman, Jordan, in 2006, and Barcelona, Spain, in 2010, WOCMES Ankara brought this unique event to the Eastern Mediterranean region.

WOCMES 2014 was attended by a remarkable number of very distinguished academics, policymakers, and researchers, who represented a wide variety of universities and institutions from 74 countries. The scientific program of the Congress, with its 400 academic sessions, meetings, exhibits, roundtables, and poster presentations, was impressive. It was designed to facilitate exchange and strengthen networking among more than 1,500 experts from all branches of the humanities, social sciences and related disciplines, and from all over the world.

Samir Amin giving the WOCMES keynote speech on the “Implosion of the Neoliberal Globalization and Its Effects on the Middle East Regions” (Photo credit: Faris Nadhmi, 2014)

The main disciplines at the congress were: Anthropology, Archeology, Architecture, Economics, Education, Fine Arts, Gender Studies Geography, History, International Relations, Journalism, Labor Studies, Law and Legal Studies, Literature and Linguistics, Environmental Studies, Peace and Conflict Resolution, Philosophy, Political Science, Religious Studies, Social Psychology, and Sociology.

Topics covered in the academic presentations focused on: Ancient Middle East, Islam in the Past and Present, Christian and Biblical Studies, Urban Studies and Space, Water and the Environment, Economics and Politics, Women and Gender Studies, Normative Phenomena and Legal Research, Migration Studies, Media and Cultural Studies, Linguistics and Literature, Nationality, and Identities and Ethnicity.

The panel on “Iraq: Human Costs of Occupation,” organized by the International Association of Middle Eastern Studies (IAMES) in cooperation with the International Association of Contemporary Iraqi Studies (IACIS). From right to left: Dr. Faris Nadhmi (Iraq), Dirk Adriaensens (Belgium), moderator Prof. Raymond Baker, and Dr. Mundher Al- Adhami (Iraq). (Photo credit: Bie Kentane, Belgium, 2014)

On August 20, 2014, I participated in the panel, “Iraq: Human Costs of Occupation,” which was organized by the International Association of Middle Eastern Studies (IAMES) in cooperation with the International Association of Contemporary Iraqi Studies (IACIS). Two other scholars joined me in the panel: Dr. Mundher Al-Adhami (Iraq) and Dirk Adriaensens (Belgium), as well as the moderator Prof. Raymond Baker (USA). My presentation was titled: “The Power of Political Islamization in Iraq, the Case of Ending the Civil State: Psycho-Political Perspective.”

In my presentation, I argued that The American Coalition Provisional Authority helped leaders of religious groups and parties to dominate the political scene. Since the occupation of Iraq in 2003, Islamic political parties have been trying to reproduce the state and society in accordance with their sectarian views. Their attempts to Islamize Iraqi society go against the deep-rooted secularist trends that had dominated the public life since the establishment of the nation-state in the 1920s. Based on my six years of research on political Islam, I concluded that the psychological basis of political Islam includes: a phobia of freedoms; hostility to beauty; denial of the basic facts of human nature; women’s complex (women’s erotic nature and their inferiority to men); a wish to impose ignorance on society; a glorification of the past and fear of the future; an instinctive trend toward money, power, and sex; and hatred of national identity. These undeclared motives of political Islam that dominate public life in Iraq have produced a number of negative social phenomena, including: fighting the social secularist trends in Iraq; spreading false religiosity; immortalization of hostage society; strengthening the masochistic trend in Iraqi mentality; undermining the Baghdadi identity; academic corruption in the Iraqi universities; targeting and terrorizing of minorities; and Green Zone psychology.

Faris Nadhmi introducing his presentation, “The Power of Political Islamization in Iraq, the Case of Ending the Civil State: Psycho-Political Perspective,” within the session titled “Iraq: Human Costs of Occupation.” (Photo credit: Bie Kentane, Belgium, 2014)

Joint Meeting of the International Association of Middle Eastern Studies (IAMES) and the International Association of Contemporary Iraqi Studies (IACIS) (Photo credit: Bie Kentane, Belgium, 2014)

The issues that my presentation raised focused on: my research methodology, the role of The American Coalition Provisional Authority in providing the opportunity for political Islam to dominate public life, and whether the psychological basis of political Islam I listed above can be generalized to political Islam in other countries in the Middle East.

WOCMES 2014 was a real and genuine opportunity for me to update my viewpoints regarding the issues and crises of the Middle East from multiple academic perspectives. It gave me the chance to build networks with many scholars from several countries. Such an academic event is a true occasion to strengthen the values of peace and tolerance, as long as the hundreds of participants can contribute to shaping their countries’ policies towards the Middle East.

Thanks so much to TAARII for giving me the chance to participate in WOCMES 2014. This support helped me to present a theoretical paper regarding the relation between political Islam and society in Iraq, as well as to attend numerous sessions and meetings of the Congress.

Several WOCMES participants in the Culture and Convention Center (CCC) of the Middle East Technical University (METU)-Ankara. From right to left: Dr. Faris Nadhmi (Iraq), Dr. Yasmine Jawad (Iraq), and Dr. Gamal Selim (Egypt) (Photo credit: Faris Nadhmi, 2014)

Faris Nadhmi, Ph.D., Social Psychology. Nadhmi is a writer, researcher, and lecturer in political, social, and personality psychology at Baghdad University, Salahaddin University-Erbil. He can be contacted by email:

TAARII Resident Director Participates in Oral History Workshop in Tunisia

In May 2014, TAARII’s Resident Director, Lucine Taminian, who oversees TAARII’s Iraqi Oral History Project, participated in the Memory and Action Workshop in Tunisia organized by the Coalition of Sites of Conscience. The Coalition is a global network of more than 185 institutions, including museums and memorial sites (old prisons, mass killing sites, sites of torture, etc.), which promotes the use of oral history to connect memory to action. The workshop was organized in partnership with the Tunisian Site of Conscience, the Association for Justice and Rehabilitation, and the Mediterranean Forum for Memory. It was attended by representatives of non-governmental organizations from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and South East Asia. Doudou Diene, from the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Ereshnee Naidu, from the Coalition, also attended the workshop. Shirley Gunn, the executive director of Human Rights Media Center, South Africa, led the workshop sessions on oral history.

The opening session of the Memory and Action workshop in Tunisia, headed by the Tunisian Minster of Transitional Justice (second from right). Seen to his left are Doudou Diene from the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ereshnee Naidu from the Coalition of Sites of Conscience, and Shirley Gunn, executive director of Human Rights Media Center, South Africa.

The first two days of the workshop were devoted to discussing the need to document memory in conflict and post-conflict situations, the ethics of documentation, and ways to move from documentation to action. Participants hotly debated the following issues: whose memory should be documented, the selective and changing nature of memory, and the possibility of falsifying/neutralizing memory. Participants agreed that individuals are affected by their surroundings; thus, what is remembered changes through time and space, and what is considered a violation today may not be seen as such in the future. They noted that the media turn memory into a spectacle, such as cowboy movies, and reduce it to the bare bones. Participants also asked: In the process of moving from memory to action, and in turning individual narratives, which usually do not fit together, into collective memory, whose narratives prevail, and whose are overshadowed?

Workshop participants listen to the presentation of Doudou Diene (at center table, second from left) on oral history and human rights.

In the second part of the workshop, the participants presented their own activities, which use memory to change people’s consciousness. Projects included the Cambodian Youth for Peace Initiative, a community memory-based initiative that transformed the mass killing sites into centers for remembering and dialogue, where youth collect stories of elders and use the narratives to initiate dialogue. Another project, the Tea Plantation Workers Museum in Sri Lanka, uses oral history to enlighten the wider community about the lives of tea plantation workers, many of whom were migrant laborers from Tamil-speaking India. In addition, UMAM Documentation & Research of Lebanon collects, preserves, and publicly promotes narratives on the Lebanese civil war (1975–1990). Participants were interested in TAARII’s Iraqi Oral History Project and the guide that it produced with Columbia Center for Oral History Research.

Participants presented the activities of their centers during the second half of the Memory and Action workshop in Tunisia.

Participants of the Memory and Action workshop visited downtown Tunis, the site of the demonstrations during the “Tunisian Spring.”

Workshop participants visited the headquarters of the previous ruling party, the basement of which was used as a prison. It is now a center for human rights. Shown here are Ereshnee Naidu (right), from the Coalition of Sites of Conscience, and Shirley Gunn (left), from the Human Rights Media Center in South Africa.

TAARII Joins CAORC Directors in Istanbul, Turkey

TAARII’s Executive Director, Beth Kangas, and Overseas Director, Lucine Taminian, joined directors of 21 other American overseas research centers and staff of the Council of American Overseas Research Centers (CAORC) for a three-day workshop in Istanbul, Turkey, April 5–8, 2014. The workshop provided the opportunity for directors to share ideas and experiences and to learn tips for fundraising and evaluating programs.

The CAORC workshop overlapped with the Fulbright Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) Directors meeting. TAARII enjoyed the chance to meet with Fulbright staff members of the US embassy in Baghdad to see how we might work together to promote interactions between American and Iraqi scholars.

For more information about CAORC, go to:

Directors from 22 of CAORC’s American overseas research centers met in Istanbul, Turkey, for a three-day workshop (Photo courtesy of Barbara A. Porter, ACOR)

American overseas research center directors benefitted from sharing experiences and ideas at the Istanbul meeting. Shown here: Eric de Sena (left) of the American Research Center in Sofia (ARCS); Andrew McCarthy, Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute (CAARI); Beth Kangas (TAARII); Lucine Taminian (TAARII); and Penny Mitchell (right), Palestinian American Research Center (PARC) (Photo courtesy of Barbara A. Porter, ACOR)

TAARII’s Executive Director, Beth Kangas (right), and Overseas Director, Lucine Taminian (center), thank Monica Clark (left), CAORC program manager, for her assistance to TAARII over the years. Monica left CAORC on April 14 to begin a new position (Photo courtesy of Barbara A. Porter, ACOR)

Lunches provided an opportunity for AORC directors to interact informally with each other and Fulbright Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) directors. Shown here: Beth Kangas (left) (TAARII); Karen Park (right), Global Projects Manager and ACLS Public Fellow with CAORC; Heidi Massaro (second on left), Deputy Director of CAORC; Lucine Taminian (third on left) (TAARII); and Fulbright directors (Photo courtesy of Barbara A. Porter, ACOR)

TAARII’s Overseas Director, Lucine Taminian, preparing to begin a cruise on the Bosporus on the final evening of the three-day workshop with directors of CAORC’s American overseas research centers (Photo courtesy of Barbara A. Porter, ACOR)

Conference Review: Iraq 10 Years On: Intervention, Occupation, Withdrawal and Beyond

“Iraq 10 Years On: Intervention, Occupation, Withdrawal and Beyond”

Wael Elhabrouk and Benjamin Isakhan

To mark the tenth anniversary of the US-led war in Iraq, the Centre for Citizenship and Globalization at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, hosted the symposium “Iraq 10 Years On: Intervention, Occupation, Withdrawal and Beyond” from 14–15 March 2013. The symposium was convened by Dr. Benjamin Isakhan and sponsored by the Middle East Institute at the National University of Singapore, and the Australian Middle East Research Forum at Deakin University. The event provided a valuable opportunity to engage with diplomatic staff, politicians, academics, business leaders, policy-makers, Iraqi expatriates, media, and NGOs concerned with the Iraq War. As is detailed below, the two days of the symposium covered distinct aspects of the Iraq war with Day 1 focusing on Australia’s role in the war and Day 2 focused on the legacy of the war for Iraq today.

Day 1 – Australia’s Role in Iraq

Following an official welcome and introduction from Dr. Isakhan, the “Iraq 10 Years On” symposium got underway with a presentation from Her Excellency Ms. Lyndall Sachs, Australian Ambassador to the Republic of Iraq in Baghdad. Ms. Sachs gave some insightful comments on the developments in Australian-Iraqi relations following the fall of Saddam Hussein. She also talked about expected future co-operation between Australia and Iraq and her aim to see Australian-Iraqi relations strengthened over the coming decade. The Ambassador also reiterated the Australian government’s commitment to supporting Iraq’s national development and the country’s progress towards strengthening its democratic institutions.

Dr. Benjamin Isakhan welcomes the crowd in his introduction (Credit: Deakin University).

Her Excellency Ms. Lyndall Sachs, Australian Ambassador to the Republic of Iraq in Baghdad addressing the crowd (Credit: Deakin University).

Following Ms. Sachs’ statement, the late morning presentations brought the themes of human rights, social justice, and national responsibility, with regard to the intervention in Iraq, to the fore. These presentations also tended to highlight Australia’s role in the Iraq War. For example, the infamous case of the torture of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison was addressed by human rights and social justice advocate Ms. Aloysia Brooks (University of Sydney). During her presentation, Ms. Brooks argued that little has been publicised about the alleged involvement of Australian personnel in attempts to cover-up what happened in Abu Ghraib. She argued that evidence had emerged linking Australian personnel to attempts of hindering investigations conducted by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The presentation constituted, through its topic, an exploration of the need for accountability and recognition of mistakes made during the occupation, particularly on Australia’s behalf.

Ms. Aloysia Brooks (University of Sydney) addressing the crowd (Credit: Deakin University).

Ms. Aloysia Brooks (University of Sydney) addressing the crowd (Credit: Deakin University).

A highlight presentation on the first day of the conference was presented by Mr. Paul Barrat, President of the Campaign for an Iraq War Inquiry and former Secretary of the Department of Defence and Deputy Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Following the theme of Australia’s role in the Iraq War, Mr. Barrat’s presentation focused on the need for a better understanding of how and why the Australian government chose to back the U.S. in its invasion and later occupation of Iraq. Ten years after the Iraq War it is apparent that as a consequence of the Iraq War and its aftermath many of the countries that had been militarily engaged in Iraq are forced to reflect upon the mechanisms used to enable the war to happen in the first place. Such reflections are of course essential in order to apply past lessons to future scenarios involving military intervention abroad. Mr. Barrat’s objective is to shed light on the state of the decision-making process within the Australian government and to promote measures to help make this process more inclusive of the Australian public.

Day 2 – The Legacy of the Iraq War

The second day of the conference saw a change in focus with our distinguished international speakers addressing less the role of Australia in the war and more the current situation in Iraq. The day began with a keynote presentation by Professor Liam Anderson (Wright State University) on the contentious topic of Iraq’s constitutional gridlock and power-based politics. Professor Anderson drew on the issue of Kurdish autonomy as a key example of contentious political disputes in Iraq worsened by the absence of effective judicial authority and key institutions. The Kurds, who were instrumental in drafting Iraq’s 2005 constitution, are seeking a state where the federal government is weak relative to regional authorities. It is such a system, which Professor Anderson argues is depicted by the Iraqi constitution, that consequently places the management of oil and gas resources in the hands of regional governments. The issue, as noted in the presentation, is the fact that a significant number of Arab (Sunni and Shi’a) nationalists prefer “a unitary system of government with a strong central government, and national control over the exploitation of oil and gas reserves.” Consequently, Professor Anderson argues for the need for an Iraqi “constitutional settlement that respects Kurdish autonomy while facilitating Arab (Sunni/Shi’a) reconciliation.”

Professor Liam Anderson (Wright State University) addressing the crowd (Credit: Deakin University).

In the afternoon, three papers were presented by some of the most well-respected senior academics within the field of Arab and Middle East political studies, Professor Michael C. Hudson (Director, Middle East Institute, National University of Singapore), Professor Peter Sluglett (MEI, NUS) and Professor Amin Saikal (Director, Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies, Australian National University). In his address, Professor Hudson touched on both the history and future of Iraqi-U.S. relations. Professor Hudson’s paper laid the historical groundwork by reviewing American attempts at helping Iraq during the Iran–Iraq war and how this changed dramatically following Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait. The presentation also addressed how neo-conservatism influenced the White House’s decision to seek regime change in Iraq following 9/11. Finally, Professor Hudson’s paper explored some of the questions which arose more recently with regard to the impact of the Iraq War: Did Bush’s “freedom agenda” inspire the eruption of the Arab Spring? Was Iran’s influence in the Persian Gulf strengthened by the U.S.’s intervention in Iraq? The presentation concluded with an argument from Professor Hudson asserting that the U.S.’s strategic blunder in Iraq cost it much influence both in the region and globally and only contributed to hastening its decline as a global superpower.

Professor Liam Anderson (Wright State University) addressing the crowd (Credit: Deakin University).

Professor Michael C. Hudson (National University of Singapore) addressing the crowd (Credit: Deakin University).

Continuing with the theme of American miscalculations and strategic blunders when it comes to Iraq, Professor Sluglett explored the failure of U.S. policy towards Iraq. Professor Sluglett pointed out how misconceptions contributed to the development of inadequate U.S. policy towards Iraq both in the period “preceding and immediately following the invasion.” The presentation insightfully drew the attention of the audience to the realities of change that Iraqi society witnessed during Saddam Hussein’s final decade in power. The issue for the U.S. and its allies, argued Professor Sluglett, was that these changes were misconceived and misunderstood. Consequently, the U.S. and its allies, going into Iraq, were unaware of the overwhelming monopoly of ‘religious politics’ within Iraqi political discourse and interactions. Evidently, as Professor Sluglett noted, this caught many by surprise not least amongst them U.S. policy-makers as well as long-time Iraqi exiles who backed the invasion.

Finally, Professor Saikal, explored the chasm that exists between advocates of self-democratisation and proponents of induced democratisation. Professor Saikal rightly pointed out the strong support that exists for both views; does democratisation effectively succeed only when it is a product of “indigenous processes”? Or, is outside intervention (both military and otherwise) a valid, and possibly necessary, form of inducing democratisation in an authoritative state? Prof Saikal’s presentation evaluated the case of Iraq in the context of the aforementioned wider debate in order to shed light on where Iraq is located along the democratising spectrum and whether “interventionist democratisation has worked.”

Professor Amin Saikal (Australian National University) addressing the crowd (Credit: Deakin University).

Overall, the conference allowed a number of key figures in the field to address some pressing and contentious questions and debates surrounding the military intervention in Iraq and its aftermath. Inevitably however, many more questions were also raised throughout the course of the two-day long conference. Chief amongst those were: What is next for Iraq? And, what steps ought to be taken by both Iraqis and Western power to ensure Iraq’s development towards stability, unity, and democracy. Likely, only with time will such questions be conclusively addressed. Nonetheless, the conference provided a valuable opportunity for those interested in the events witnessed in Iraq over the past decade to engage with the experts and review the past while contemplating some of the possibilities for the future.

Our Institutional Members: Hofstra University

Iraq and the MECA Program at Hofstra University

In 2002, Hofstra created the Middle Eastern and Central Asian Studies (MECA) program ( to complement other area studies program on campus. This program currently offers undergraduate students a minor that includes a Middle Eastern Language, an introductory course to the region, and a variety of courses in anthropology, art history, economics, history, political science, and religion on the Middle East. The MECA program also sponsors invited speakers to campus. The founder and director is Daniel Martin Varisco (Anthropology). Participating faculty include Massoud Fazeli (Economics), Anna Feuerbach (Anthropology), David Kaufman (Religion), Mustapha Masrour (Comparative Languages and Literatures), Fatemeh Moghadam (Economics), Stephanie E. Nanes (Political Science), Aleksandr Naymark (Art History), Hussein Rashid (Religion), Mario Ruiz (History), and Irene Siegel (Comparative Languages and Literatures).

MECA has sponsored several speakers about Iraq to campus. In 2009, with joint sponsorship from TAARII, a panel on “Iraq: How the Past Shapes the Future” was held. The participants included Orit Bashkin (Professor of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago and author of The Other Iraq: Pluralism and Culture in Hashemite Iraq), Magnus Bernhardsson (Professor of History at Williams College and author of Reclaiming a Plundered Past: Archaeology and Nation Building in Modern Iraq), Eric Davis (Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University and author of Memories of State: Politics, History and Collective Identity in Modern Iraq), Bassam Yousif (Professor of Economics at Indiana State University and author of Development and Political Violence in Iraq), and Nida al-Ahmad, Department of Political Science, the New School. For more information on this panel, please see “The Making of Modern Iraq,” in TAARII’s Fall Newsletter, Issue 04-02, available as a PDF on TAARII’s website (

Hofstra University was founded in 1935 and is located in Hempstead, Long Island, 25 miles east of NYC. It is a private, nonsectarian, coeducational institution with Schools of Business, Communication, Education, Engineering and Applied Science, Health Sciences and Human Services, Law, Liberal Arts and a Medical School. Hofstra has 517 full-time (75% tenured) and 618 part-time faculty. The total fall 2012 enrollment was 11,090 (6,899 Undergraduate, 3,078 Graduate, 1,008 Law, 105 Medicine). About 3,800 students live on campus in 37 residence halls. The Hofstra libraries contain over 1 million volumes and provide 24/7 online access to more than 55,000 full-text journals and 70,000 electronic books.

Daniel Martin Varisco, MECA Director (Photo courtesy of Hofstra University)

Bassam Yousif, right, and Eric Davis, left, at Hofstra’s Iraq Study Day, 2009 (Photo courtesy of Hofstra University)

TAARII-sponsored Roundtable Discussion at MESA: Researching Iraq Today

TAARII is pleased to be sponsoring the following roundtable discussion at the Middle East Studies Association 47th Annual Meeting in New Orleans from October 10–13, 2013.

The roundtable, [R3406] Researching Iraq Today: Archives, Oral Histories, and Ethnographies, will take place on Saturday, October 12, at 11:00 a.m.


Iraq has weathered one of the longest periods of ongoing and active combat in its history over the last decade. Simultaneously, the country has witnessed a resurgence of historical, ethnographic, and politically engaged research by international scholars. Ten years after the American-led coalition invasion, the panelists on this interdisciplinary roundtable propose that it is time to discuss the methodologies, difficulties, and possibilities of conducting scholarly research on Iraq today.

This roundtable examines the potential for and limits of historical and ethnographic fieldwork on — and in — Iraq. Drawing from a range of historical and contemporary contexts that span environmental movements, political movements, media representations, and urban transformations, panelists will explore three fundamental questions. First, what kinds of historical, especially archival, research and ethnographic engagement can be sustained in Iraq today? Second, how do the successes and challenges of such qualitative research influence both the quality of original scholarship on Iraq and the integrity of knowledge about Iraq itself? Third, what role do archives outside of Iraq — such as colonial archives and oil-company papers — play in these processes?

To address these questions, the roundtable considers the conditions for ethnographic fieldwork under the Ba’th period and in the subsequent decade that followed the American-led invasion, as well as discussing the status of the Iraqi archives and underexplored human and archival sources outside of Iraq. Questioning potential connections between various fieldwork methodologies and the ongoing occupation of Iraq, we will explore how these politically problematic relationships and uncomfortable alignments come to be embraced, negotiated, or refused by the researcher. Collectively, we examine the historical and ethnographic tactics and approaches used to research Iraq in the midst of conflict and we consider how these innovative forms have, in turn, spurred disciplinary transformations in the conventions of qualitative research.


For more information, visit MESA’s website and the roundtable’s page