Accepted paper:

Nationalism, sectarianism and the 'impossibility' of democracy: state formation, political subjectivities and violence in contemporary Syria

Authors:

Maria Kastrinou (Brunel University London)

Paper short abstract:

Through a historical re-examination of 'sectarianism', this paper compares 'sect' and 'nation' as strategies of state formation, and ethnographically captures the ways in which these become tropes of sympathy, recognition and violence in the current war in Syria.

Paper long abstract:

In December 2013, the latest estimated cost of the conflict in Syria: more than 120,000 deaths, 2 million refugees and more than 5 million internally displaced; these figures index the ongoing humanitarian disaster, the slow dismantling of the state's infrastructure, and, what is more dangerous, the slow, painful dismembering of social fabric. Fears and realities of sectarian clashes are engulfing Syria, threatening a future Lebanisation, Balkanisation or a second Somalia. With sectarian clashes having a profound impact on both Syria's society and sovereignty, this paper takes claims of 'sectarianism' seriously, combining historical and political economy approaches with anthropology of the state in order to ethnographically situate the seeming 'impossibility' of democracy in Europe's historical and geographic neighbour, Syria. Specifically, by looking at how nationalist and sectarian identities are formed, transformed and mobilised in Syria and Lebanon, this paper seeks to demonstrate how representations, practices and geographies of the nation and the sect may challenge, reinforce or bypass state sovereignty and form political subjectivities and social boundaries. Through a historical re-examination of 'sectarianism', this paper compares how 'sect' and 'nation' have been employed as strategies of state formation in Greater Syria from the late Ottoman Empire to today, and ethnographically captures the ways in which these become tropes of sympathy, recognition but also violence in the current war in Syria.

panel P26
Nationalism, democracy and morality: a historical and anthropological approach to the role of moral sentiments in contemporary politics