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Tackling complex Middle East statehood issues

Bustani Middle East Seminar lectures by Leila Farsakh and Peter Krause PhD '11 take a close look at nationalist movements in Israel, Palestine, and Algeria.
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Guest speaker Peter Krause presents a chart measuring changes over time in the rate of political violence in Algeria.
Guest speaker Peter Krause presents a chart measuring changes over time in the rate of political violence in Algeria.

Photo: Dain Goding

Two guest lecturers this fall offered a vivid look at the questions that concern any contested territory: Does a nation of people need a state to have self-determination, and if so, what is the most effective strategy for earning statehood? These questions have different answers in different historical eras, but represent one of the most fundamental debates in international studies.

Both Leila Faraskh and Peter Krause PhD '11 explored the complex forces and political workings behind national movements and the pursuit of statehood in separate lectures sponsored by the Emile Bustani Middle East Seminar.

Faraskh, an associate professor of political science at University of Massachusetts at Boston, laid out the history of the fight for Palestinian statehood, beginning with the Balfour Declaration of 100 years ago, through the various political movements that have sought to strengthen protections for the nation of Palestine within the state of Israel.

Frequently referencing political theorist Hannah Arendt’s notion of “the right to have rights,” Farsakh made a case for the idea that a formal state that respects the rights of all people regardless of “nation” is the only solution to the political struggle in Israel. As a part of her research, she recently conducted a survey of Palestinians in the West Bank which found that a majority of young people there approved of a single state in which all citizens enjoy the benefits of statehood, in contrast to the more hardline views of previous generations of Arab political leaders.

Krause, an assistant professor of political science at Boston College, gave an engaging presentation on the research that culminated in his new book, “Rebel Power: Why National Movements Compete, Fight and Win.” Krause, who earned his doctorate in political science at MIT and is a research affiliate with the MIT Security Studies program, offered an analytical approach to understanding and predicting the strategies of national movements.

Krause said most disputes over statehood involve multiple groups in competition with another. The organization in power, with the most to lose, is risk averse, while groups that seek to gain more power have a greater risk acceptance. In countries with extreme disparity between the amount of power wielded by those in control of the state and those seeking to gain control, challengers to organizational power are more likely to use divisive and “risky” tactics such as political violence, he said. Krause’s presentation was illustrated by examples from historical and current national movements including Algeria, Israel, Palestine, and Ireland.

The Bustani Middle East Seminar is now in its 32nd year. Presenting four speaking programs focused on Middle East affairs each academic year, the lecture series is funded by Myrna Bustani of Beirut, Lebanon, in memory of her father, Emile M. Bustani '33, who earned his degree in civil engineering. Ford International Professor of History and Associate Provost Philip S. Khoury has chaired the Bustani Seminar for three decades.

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