Transnational Language, Transient Identities, and the Crisis of the State in the Arab Region
The project, based at Durham University's School of Government and International Affairs (SGIA), and directed by Professor Anoush Ehteshami, traces the complexities of socio-cultural change at times of political upheaval, focusing on the most active and popular currents in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region - namely those loosely termed ‘political Islam’. The project’s unique interdisciplinary approach (the humanities combined with political science) and mixed research tools (with particular interest in language, discourse and narrative), aim to do two things:
(a) understand the place of IS (Daesh), as an example of radical Islamist currents, in Arab politics.
(b) capture the responses to IS at social and state levels in the Arab region.
The project studies the intellectual roots and political origins of IS in order to see what the rise of this group can tell us about the evolving nature and character of political Islam in the region more generally. In particular it:
(i) scrutinises the IS’s own narrative to better understand its self-declared place in the spectrum of Jihadi movements in the region.
(ii) examines Islamist responses to the IS and its behaviour; and
(iii) considers the various state-level responses to IS, looking at the narratives that such key states as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan and others have used to delegitimise IS while also legitimising their own policies to their often-sceptical domestic audiences and regional rivals.
This project includes research carried out by postdoctoral fellow Dr Amjed Rasheed, who is working on the politics of MENA, the state, and the evolution of political Islam and global Jihad. His work explores the rise of IS and its effect on MENA regional dynamics, with particular focus on transnational circulations of Islamist rhetoric, mainly in Arab-language media. This investigation looks at how the use of discourse shapes and propagates competing paradigms of identity, history and community, in a region where everyone can now ‘hear’ and challenge everyone else, and where, consequently, no dominant narrative of political power and identity has been able to establish itself.
A key contributor to the project is also Juline Beaujouan who completed her PhD (2016-2020) under the supervision of Professor Ehteshami and with funding from Durham’s al-Sabah Programme. The thesis, 'The Islamic State's Discursive Power in the MENA Region' (defended on 17 January 2020), interrogates the effects of IS's use of language on key issues characterizing the dynamic modern Middle East, such as diplomacy, migration, identity or social cohesion. Drawing on a three-dimensional approach to the analysis of narratives, this is a study of the formation and recontextualization by Middle Eastern media and population of IS’s socio-political narrative, which assess the connections and interactions between this narrative and the broader understanding of the political and cultural dynamics at work in the region.
The project team is responsible for the organisation of a series of academic events and impact activities associated with this research, both in the UK and abroad. These are convened under the titles Politics of the Muslim World and Influencing Policy on Radical Islam respectively.