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Middle EastAfter Nationalism?

A significant challenge to nationalism has emerged in the Islamist movements that have gained prominence in recent decades. At the abstract level, the primacy of the religious bond over loyalty to territory, polity, or ethnie is basic to Islamist ideology. The formulation of Sayyid Qutb, founding father of Sunni Arab Islamism, states the position starkly: "There is no country for a Muslim except that where the law of God is established.… There is no nationality for a Muslim except his belief, which makes him a member of the Islamic community" (Milestones, p. 103). In political terms, a considerable measure of sympathy, mutual aid, and collaborative action have marked the relations between Islamist activists and movements originating in different countries. From the galvanizing impact of the Iranian Revolution of 1979 on Islamist activism elsewhere, through international support for the mujahideen opposing Soviet occupation in Afghanistan in the 1980s, to the international makeup and operations of Al Qaeda in the 1990s and after, a revived emphasis on the Islamic umma (Arabic, "community" of believers) as the most meaningful community of solidarity and destiny for Muslims has reasserted itself in the contemporary era.

But this is not the whole story. Territorial and ethnic nationalism still have their advocates, ideologues, and public figures who question the political salience of the religious bond and who posit that political behavior should be based on non-religious criteria. The current division of the Muslim world into numerous states inevitably influences the practical articulation of contemporary Islamism. Many Islamist activists accept the reality of existing territorially or ethnically based states and operate within the political field determined by state structures, directing their activism toward infusing existing states with a more Islamic content.

By reasserting the centrality of a previously recessive collective identity, the Islamic resurgence of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries has complicated but not totally transformed the nationalist landscape of the Middle East. Sentiments of religious solidarity coexist with territorial, local, and ethnic/linguistic nationalism. The result is a complex, crowded, and unstable universe of imagined communities in which individuals are faced with determining the relevance of alternative referents for self-definition, allegiance, and action.



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Hertzberg, Arthur, ed. The Zionist Idea: A Historical Analysis and Reader. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1959. A lengthy introductory essay and a wide range of excerpts from Zionist thinkers.


Avineri, Sholmo. The Making of Modern Zionism: Intellectual Origins of the Jewish State. New York: Basic Books, 1981. A probing intellectual history.

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Gelvin, James L. Divided Loyalties: Nationalism and Mass Politics in Syria at the Close of Empire. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998. A pioneering analysis of the relationship of elite and nonelite Arab nationalism.

Hanioğlu, M. Şükrü. Preparations for a Revolution: The Young Turks, 1902–1908. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. The continuation of his 1995 work.

——. The Young Turks in Opposition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. A detailed account of the genesis of the main Turkish nationalist movement.

Jankowski, James, and Israel Gershoni, eds. Rethinking Nationalism in the Arab Middle East. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997. Essays suggesting new approaches to the study of nationalisms in the Arab world since World War I.

Khalidi, Rashid, et. al., eds. The Origins of Arab Nationalism. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991. Studies of the development of Arab nationalism up to World War I.

Khoury, Philip S. Urban Notables and Arab Nationalism: The Politics of Damascus, 1860-1920. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1983. A thoughtful exploration of the social basis of Arab nationalism.

Laqueur, Walter. A History of Zionism. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1972. A comprehensive political and intellectual history of Zionism to 1948.

Lewis, Bernard. The Emergence of Modern Turkey. London: Oxford University Press, 1961. A classic exploration of Turkish political and intellectual history.

Mottahedeh, Roy. The Mantle of the Prophet: Religion and Politics in Iran. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985. A masterful study of how religious and nationalist thought intertwine.

Qutb, Sayyid. Milestones. Indianapolis, Ind.: American Trust Publications, 1990.

Sternhell, Zeev. The Founding Myths of Israel: Nationalism, Socialism, and the Making of the Jewish State. Translated by David Maisel. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1998. A revisionist interpretation arguing for the nationalist over socialist ideas in Zionism.

James Jankowski

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Mysticism to Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotideNationalism - Middle East - The Emergence Of Modern Nationalisms, World War I And Its Settlement, Differential Nationalist Trajectories, After Nationalism?