Wilson Center Experts

Yitzhak Nakash

Fellow
Middle East Program

Expertise:
Middle East and North Africa
Affiliation:
Associate Professor of Middle East History and Chair of the Program of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies, Brandeis University
Wilson Center Project(s):
"Shi`ism and Nationalism in the Arab World"
Term:
Jan 01, 2005
-
May 01, 2005

Whereas my previous book, The Shi`is of Iraq, illuminated the socioreligious life and political inclinations of a single Shi`i community, the project that I will pursue at the Wilson Center expands the discussion beyond Iraq and explores what nationalism means for Shi`is in the Arab world. In taking this approach—and utilizing a rich Arabic Shi`i literature, government publications, and British and U.S. archival material—this new book will enhance our knowledge of the Arab Shi`is.My book will demonstrate the shift of focus among Shiites in the past fifteen years from violence to accommodation. The desire of Shiites to carve out a political space for themselves has become even more pronounced since 2001. In the wake of the September 11 attacks, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the threat to U.S. interests in the Middle East has not emanated from the Arab Shiites, nor from an Iranian Shiite revolution that has long lost its zeal, but rather from the growth of Sunni Islamic radicalism. To contain the spread of Sunni radicalism, the United States will need to build bridges to those Shiites who have sought to fuse Islamic and Western concepts of government.How America handles the Shiites in the coming years—beginning with the reconstruction of Iraq—will be crucial both for the Middle East and for the U.S. presence there. Success in Iraq is likely to foster the trend within Shi`ism toward accommodation and away from violence. Failure will generate renewed feelings of betrayal among Shiites as well as a brand of Shiite religious nationalism with strong anti-American overtones.
 

Education

B.A. (1982) Middle East History and Arabic Language and Literature, University of Haifa; M.A. (1984) Middle East History, University of Haifa; Ph.D. (1992) Near Eastern Studies, Princeton University
 

Subjects

Iraq,Political Islam,Shi'ism
 

Experience

  • Associate Professor of Middle East History, Brandeis University, 1997-present
  • Assistant Professor of Middle East History, Brandeis University, 1994-97
  • Lecturer, Princeton University, Department of Near Eastern Studies, 1993-94

Expertise

Modern Iraqi history; Shi`ism in the Arab world and in Iran; Political Islam

Project Summary

The interplay between group and national identity among Arab Shi`is is the focus of a book that I plan to complete at the Wilson Center. Arab Shi`is form a majority in Iraq and Bahrain, and today they are the largest single sect in Lebanon. There are also Arab Shi`i communities in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirate, and Oman. The Arab Shi`is share ethnic attributes with their Sunni counterparts. Yet unlike in Iran, where Shi`ism is the state religion, in the Arab world Shi`is have been dominated by Sunni governments, or even by Christians, as was the case in Lebanon until the mid-1970s. The project has relevance to American policy in the Middle East, particularly as the United States attempts to refashion postwar Iraq and establish itself as a credible broker in Shi`i eyes.

Major Publications

  • The Shi`is of Iraq, Princeton University Press, 2nd ed., 2003
  • "Najaf, Renewed," Newsweek International, March 1, 2004, pp. 20-23
  • "The Shiites and the Future of Iraq," Foreign Affairs 82, July/August 2003, pp. 17-26
  • "The Struggle for Power in Iraq," Dissent, Summer 2003, pp. 47-51

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