Reimagining Political Space: Jihad, Empire, and the Interwar Making of the Modern Middle East and North Africa

Historiography of the Middle East

A lecture by Jonathan Wyrtzen​, Depts. of Sociology and History​ (Yale University)

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Duration: 46:28

Against a dominant historical narrative emphasizing the importance of European war-time agreements (Sykes-Picot et al) and the post-World War I peace settlement in "making" the modern Middle East, this talk shifts the focus to the postwar decade, to five sites of political conflict extending from Morocco to Turkey that I argue were the critical points at which a new interstate political topography was forged. I propose a multi-scalar, relational method of global/translocal historical analysis that takes into account how empire-level, regional, and local factors interacted over time at these friction zones. The empirical analysis focuses on how these unsettled political spaces in both North Africa and the Middle East emerged as focal sites of violent contention between state-building colonial powers (British, French, Spanish, Italian) and counter-state-building (Ataturk, Abd al-Krim, Ibn Saud) resistance movements in the Rif, Cyrenaica, Kurdistan, Arabia, and Syria.

Jonathan Wyrtzen’s teaching and research engages a set of related thematic areas that include empire and colonialism, state formation and non-state forms of political organization, ethnicity and nationalism, and religion and socio-political action.  His work focuses on society and politics in North Africa and the Middle East, particularly with regards to interactions catalyzed by the expansion of European empires into this region. His book, Making Morocco: Colonial Intervention and the Politics of Identity (2015,  Cornell University Press) examines how, within the colonial political field created during the French and Spanish protectorates (1912-56), four pillars of Moroccan identity—religion, ethnicity, territory, and the role of the monarchy—became indelibly politicized through state-society interactions involving a wide range of Moroccan and colonial actors. In explaining the rise of Arabo-Islamic nationalism in North Africa in the mid-20th century, this study also explores the central roles of three marginal groups – Imazighen (Berbers), Jews, and women - in defining Moroccan identity during the mobilization of anti-colonial nationalism.   

His current  project, titled Reimagining Political Space, focuses on a set of synchronic revolts in Morocco, Libya, Syria, Anatolia, and the Arabian Peninsula in the mid-1920s to comparatively examine the contingencies, counter-movements, and negotiations involved in the forging and negotiation of new political topographies in the Middle East and North Africa aftermath of World War I.  

Published: Wednesday, March 9, 2016