Sunday, July 26, 2015

Understanding the emergence of modern Shi‘ism

See full article on Your Middle East

Dr Zackery M. Heern, author of the new book 'The Emergence of Modern Shi‘ism: Islamic Reform in Iraq and Iran', has written a thought-provoking piece that helps us better grasp key developments in the Muslim Middle East.

I often complain that media related to the Middle East and Islam frequently lacks context. Indeed, news reports, related to the Middle East or otherwise, often assume that events occur without precedent and are unconnected to the past. Analysis, therefore, can be wildly misleading. The antidote for this absence of context is the study of history, which is why I tell my students that historians make good journalists. 
Unfortunately, however, history is often only invoked by pundits when the assertion is made that the Middle East has a long history of problems - violence, inequality, injustice, sectarianism, etc. These assumptions are biased in the worst way since they wrongly assume that the current state of affairs in the Middle East is identical to its seemingly unchanging history. On this faulty foundation, some analysts make doomsday prognostications that the Middle East will always be a problematic region since they assume that it always has been.
Instead of confining my contribution to this problem to exasperation, I wrote a book that situates modern Shi‘ism within the contexts of Iraq, Iran, the Middle East, and world history. In other words, the book is about Shi‘i Islam and its place in the modern world. By “modern” I do not mean the contemporary world, which is the domain of journalists and political scientists. I use the amorphous term “modern” in the historical sense. According to many historians, the modern world began sometime around 1750...

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