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Reviews of Violence in the Middle East: From the Political Struggle to Self-Sacrifice

“Violence has been a central concept in describing the politics and society of many Middle Eastern countries. It has determined not only the political developments of these countries, but it has also played a focal role in the perception of this region by outsiders. Many people living in different parts of the world are confronted daily with news about the violence in the Middle East. Suicide bombing, kidnapping, hijacking, and other forms of violence have become one of the central tenets of politics in this volatile region. Numerous studies have been done by scholars in the academic world regarding the roots of this violence. Economic problems, religious extremism, and a culture of violence have often been considered the usual suspects. This book intends to go beyond these explanations for the violence and emphasizes political structure as a major component of the emergence and transformation of violence in the Middle East.

“Hamit Bozarslan first explains the gap in the literature regarding violence, which made writing such a book necessary. In the attacks of September 11, 2001, nineteen hijackers collectively transformed their bodies into weapons, which was the necessary condition for their actions. This weapons system, in which human bodies are used as integral parts of explosive munitions, has changed the form and meaning of violence in the Middle East, most noticeably in Turkey, Sri Lanka, and Palestine. According to the author, the mainstream models used by social scientists do not explain the peculiarly sacrificial forms of violence that we are now observing in various regions of the world. He emphasizes the necessity of new interdisciplinary approaches, attentive both to long-term structural factors and to sociocognitive discontinuities, and in the remaining pages of the book takes these factors into account.

“The central claim of the book concerning the sporadic violence in the Middle East is that ‘the power relations and subjective perceptions that the authors of violence have of a given situation are heavily accountable for violence’ (p. 8). There are three interrelated hypotheses related to this core argument. The first hypothesis is that ‘Violence in the Middle East is a result primarily of political structures, i.e., the nature of the states and their power relations’ (p. 8). This violence is very much related to the existence of the authoritarian states and power relations and marginalized social groups or ethnic and sectarian minorities within the borders of particular states. The intention of the people who engage in these violent movements is to change power relations and political structures.

“The second hypothesis is that, although the violent movements ‘weaken as organized efforts in their later stages; they very often give birth to fragmented and privatized forms of violence’ (p. 8). In fact, when a particular regime does not divest itself of its repressive authoritarian structure, the violence of those who oppose it may lead to the overthrow of the regime, although there is no guarantee that the new regime will be more democratic. However, when violent struggle cannot achieve this end, the level of violence and organized movements that are behind it usually decline. This decrease in the level of violence does not mean the end of violence. It usually continues, reproduces itself, and sometimes turns into something else. For example, in some cases, it becomes detached from the ideological and political commitment that it used to serve, which leads the way to the privatization and professionalization of violence. This professionalization does not mean the total eradication of the political discourses, but the movement has lost its mobilizing¬†force and has failed to enlarge the initial circles of militants by recruiting new fighters.

“The final hypothesis is that, in some situations, ‘the decline of the collective movements leads not only to the privatization of violence but also to its metamorphosis into nihilistic, sacrificial, and/or messianistic forms’ (p. 9). This form of violence can be seen as the tension between sacredness, which in the initial stages of the violence constitutes a sine qua non for an increasing mobilization and readiness to die, and rationality or pragmatism, which is the next move of the mainstream actors of opposition movements to achieve measurable goals. Consequently, the sacrality makes pragmatism unacceptable for the people in the movement. Nihilistic/self-sacrificial violence emerges among ordinary members at this point, when even the leaders of the struggle start to retreat and overcome this tension.

“Bozarslan tests these hypotheses on cases from Middle Eastern countries, particularly Turkey, and provides an analysis of the violence from a historical, sociological perspective. The first two chapters deal with the Kurdish question in Turkey. Chapter 1 examines the relationship between minority issues and violence. In the second chapter, Bozarslan deals with the emergence and rise of violence among various groups, especially after the 1980 military coup. In the last chapter of the book, he looks at the emergence and transformation of violence in the broader Middle Eastern region. He particularly focuses on the role of power relations.

“Although the book intends to cover the violence in the Middle East, it is more about the violence in Turkey than the Middle East in general. Especially the first two chapters of the book are discussions about the Kurdish problem and violence in Turkey. Although the book sheds light on some important issues regarding violence in the Middle East, it leaves some other issues unexamined, such as widespread blood feud and suicides.

“Overall, the book reads well, with a good summary of violence in some parts of the Middle East. Bozarslan provides a first step for research about violence in the Middle East and opens a new horizon for further research in the field.”
International Journal of Middle East Studies