Perpetrator Studies Network


The Politics of Mass Violence in the Middle East

By Laura Robson.

The Middle East today is characterized by an astonishingly bloody civil war in Syria, an ever more highly racialized and militarized approach to the concept of a Jewish state in Israel and the Palestinian territories, an Iraqi state paralyzed by the emergence of class- and region-inflected sectarian identifications, a Lebanon teetering on the edge of collapse from the pressures of its huge numbers of refugees and its sect-bound political system, and the rise of a wide variety of Islamist paramilitary organizations seeking to operate outside all these states.

The region’s emergence as a ‘zone of violence’, characterized by a viciously dystopian politics of identity, is a relatively recent phenomenon, developing only over the past century; but despite these shallow historical roots, the mass violence and dispossession now characterizing Syria, Lebanon, Israel/Palestine, and Iraq have emerged as some of the twenty-first century’s most intractable problems. In this study, Laura Robson uses a framework of mass violence – encompassing the concepts of genocide, ethnic cleansing, forced migration, appropriation of resources, mass deportation, and forcible denationalization – to explain the emergence of a dystopian politics of identity across the Eastern Mediterranean in the modern era and to illuminate the contemporary breakdown of the state from Syria to Iraq to Israel.

Laura Robson is the Oliver McCourtney Professor of History at Penn State University, focusing on histories of forced migration, the construction of refugee and asylum policies, and decolonization and mass violence. She has written and edited several books, including States of Separation: Transfer, Partition, and the Making of the Modern Middle EastColonialism and Christianity in Mandate PalestineMinorities and the Modern Arab World: New Perspectives, and, most recently, Partitions: A Transnational History of 20th Century Territorial Separatism, co-edited with Arie Dubnov.

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