Sunday Book Recommendation: Shiism and Politics in the Middle East

Laurence Louer: Shiism and Politics in the Middle East (Oct 2012)

Louer, a Research Fellow at CERI/SciencesPo in Paris offers in this concise, 139-page book a cogent examination of Shia political movements and their transnational organizational links through personal relationships and the Hawzya, religious shiisminstitutions of Higher Learning, that were established most reputably and competitively in Qom, Iran and Najaf, Iraq to train the Clerical class. There is no sense of disparagement or demagoguery within these pages, but a focused attempt to describe Shia political and religious movements and how the schools of thought and action are distinct from one another.

I believe this is perhaps the best academic introduction to Shiism, particularly for a College Undergraduate trying to understand the comparative nature of, say, Shirazists and Da’wa, or the Sadr Brigades and the Mahdi Army. If you are curious how far Hezbollah’s reach is in the Shia world or what part Iran really plays in Hezbollah’s decision-making structure, these questions are also tackled by Louer.

The basic conclusion I received from Shiism and Politics in the Middle East is that Shia movements rarely act in an interrelated manner towards the singular goal of a Shia Crescent. They are largely driven by domestic political concerns and strategies. Even after the revolution in Iran, which Louer explains was not able to export itself, and indeed fairly quickly made the decision to normalize its Foreign Policy. The Revolution in fact, just created new questions which were debated within a transnational Network that is fairly individual and personality-driven. The book involves a lot of modern history, speaking as far back as Iraq in the 1920s, but mostly focusing on the 1960’s to the present, with a real emphasis on the 70’s and 80’s, in the aftermath of the Islamic revolution in Iran..

  • Book Recommendation: 5/5
  • Book Content: 5/5
  • Book Length: 5/5
  • Book Price: 4/5
  • Did it leave me wanting for more: Yes, 3/5

4 thoughts on “Sunday Book Recommendation: Shiism and Politics in the Middle East

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  3. Thanks for the tip, the Sunni-Shi’a divide in the region’s politics is fascinating to me.
    Do you know of any books that focus more on the current politics? I have a couple excellent ones but they were written before the Arab Spring.

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    • Thanks for comment! Although this book doesn’t include the context of the Arab Spring, it does in a cool way set the stage for it, particularly in Iraq’s post-war environment. Trita Parsi’s Treacherous Alliance and Vali Nasr’s The Shia Awakening do this very well, too.
      Not to skirt your question, I think the jury is still out on what part the Sunni-Shia Divide is playing in the politics of the Middle East (although many people will write books saying that’s the real issue…already we are seeing books published on ISIS). Hassan Nasrallah (Hezbollah) makes the argument in some of his speeches (Ashura, Nov 2014) that the problems aren’t really sectarian, but political. Not a question of religious identity, but political ideology.
      However, Melani Cammett’s Compassionate Communalism: Welfare and Sectarianism in Lebanon is a good look at sectarian identity and community (not just in Lebanon either but extends it to Iraq). I am still on the lookout myself to find a great book that broadly interprets the salience of the Sunni-Shia divide at present.

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