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The Question of Identity: Ethnicity, Language, Religion, and Gender

Islamic Period:  The Concept of Ethnicity

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Examining Stereotypes

“‘Ethnic Minorities’ Are Repressed with Particular Intensity in Muslim Countries”

Many recent crises involving the persecution of religious and ethnic minorities have been reported by the Western media in ways that often suggest that there is something inherently authoritarian in Middle Eastern culture, whether in religious practice or in political practice, that produces a peculiar intolerance of difference, and a readiness to eradicate that difference violently. Without going into the details of particular cases, all of which involve careful contextualization, we should remind ourselves that the dominant religion, Islam, has systematically enjoined tolerance of the ‘People of the Book’. Under the dhimmi and millet system, minority Jews and Christians in the Middle East often enjoyed a high degree of security and autonomy, certainly in comparison to the ways in which religious minorities were treated at similar times in the Christian West. This has persisted, despite pressures, as the outrage expressed by Muslims and others in Turkey after the bombing of the Jewish synagogue in Istanbul in 2003 by extremists suggests. Ethnic and sectarian violence in the Middle East may have more to do with the artificial nature of colonially imposed borders and struggles between superpowers for strategic advantages and material resources than with Islam or with the political cultures of specific nation-states.

Supporting Links:

Middle East Center. University of Pennsylvania. Link to resourcenew window (accessed May 7, 2010).

“Minorities in the Middle East.” Columbia University Libraries Resource List. Link to resourcenew window (accessed May 7, 2010).

Nielsen, Jorgen S. “Contemporary Discussions on Religious Minorities in Islam,” Link to resourcenew window (accessed May 7, 2010).

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