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Legacies of the Gilded Age: Politics, Perspectives & Public Perception

Event Date:

November 9, 2017 @ 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm


Flagler College, Ponce de Leon Hall
74 King Street
St. Augustine, FL 32084


Leslee Keys
(904) 819-6443

Program Description:

“Nationalism, Sectarianism, and Identity Politics in the Middle East: Reconsidering the Legacy of the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916”
Robert J. Riggs, Ph.D. Associate Professor and Chair of B.A. program in Religion and Politics and Associate Professor in the M.A. program in Global Development and Peace, University of Bridgeport

In the aftermath of the Islamic State’s takeover of large swaths of Iraq and Syria, Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced, “This blessed advance will not stop until we hit the last nail in the coffin of the Sykes-Picot conspiracy.” Not only leaders from the region itself, but many contemporary scholars and policymakers have attributed the current instability in the Middle East to the drawing of artificial borders for new nation-states in the aftermath of WWI, pointing to the ethnic and religious tensions that have developed by competing communities within these new countries. This oft-cited narrative of ancient ethnic hatreds and religious fanaticism betrays a much more nuanced reality, one in which the Middle East of a century ago had already experienced radical social transformations as part of the late Ottoman Empire since the early 19th century. When President Woodrow Wilson advocated for the self-determination of nations on February 11, 1918, he thrust the U.S. into the middle of competing nationalisms in the region, an entanglement that deepened throughout the 20th and early 21st centuries.

Dr. Robert Riggs offers a counter-history of the early foundations of 20th century nation-states in the Middle East, one that will focus on the competing claims of Jewish, Arab, and Turkish nationalists. In doing so, he will show how modern political and religious sectarianism is a product, rather than a cause, of contemporary political tensions in the Middle East.