Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Lebanon: The Culture of Sectarianism: Community, History, and Violence in Nineteenth-Century Ottoman Lebanon

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Lebanon: The Culture of Sectarianism: Community, History, and Violence in Nineteenth-Century Ottoman Lebanon

Article excerpt

The Culture of Sectarianism: Community, History, and Violence in Nineteenth-Century Ottoman Lebanon, by Ussama Makdisi. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2000. xv + 174 pages. Notes to p. 230. Bibl. to p. 249. Index to p. 259. $55 cloth; $22 paper.

Reviewed by Leila Fawaz

The Culture of Sectarianism is a thoughtful and exciting book. It argues that sectarianism in Ottoman Lebanon represents a transitional phase from a society in a multinational empire based on privilege to one based on a shared - even if contested - national Lebanese identity. In that transitional phase, sectarian clashes erupted partly because the cultures of the traditionally privileged groups, on the one hand, and of the popular classes longing for new rights, on the other, never merged. The result was a modern Lebanese nationalism in which political identities remained tied to religious affiliations in what is often referred to as a "confessional" political system. Although Dr. Makdisi regards 19th-century sectarianism as an already embedded antecedent to modern Lebanese nationalism, he argues that, "Sectarianism was produced. Therefore it can be changed" (p. 166).

This reviewer does not agree with all of Dr. Makdisi's approach, particularly his decision to leave out an analysis of sectarianism in other parts of what is referred to as Ottoman "Greater Syria." Since he rightly tells the reader that his theory is relevant in other contexts, whether in Europe, Asia, or elsewhere, where "margins can become centers" (p. 3), it is not clear why it would not have been useful to address the closer, even if different, context of sectarian outbreaks in, say, neighboring Aleppo in 1850 or Damascus in 1860. …

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