Article | February 2, 2022
Read more about `Roundtable Panel—Ussama Makdisi's Age of Coexistence: The Ecumenical Frame and the Making of the Modern Arab World`
The image of the Middle East as a place plagued with endless sectarian strife and communal violence is an enduring one. These representations were, of course, an integral part of the oriental repertoire of European colonial powers. But in our own times, the proliferation of these images and their attendant discourse has been no less ubiquitous. Especially since the illegal US invasion of Iraq in 2003, sectarianism has been discussed, within and without the academy, as the defining problem of the region. But what does a persistent concern with the question of conflicted division occlude? For Ussama Makdisi, the answer is a parallel history of co-existence. His recent book, Age of Coexistence: The Ecumenical Frame and the Making of the Modern World, offers a corrective to contemporary accounts of communal difference and divide—which he considers a myth “conflating contemporary political identifications with far older religious solidarities”. Makdisi insists that we place this complex history in a larger global context. The question of political (re)-ordering of a diverse polis was not unique in the rapidly modernizing world of the nineteenth century and was not unique to the Ottoman Empire—it was one confronted by all states and societies. The attempts by the late Ottoman state and its constituents to navigate ethnic and racial difference while developing new forms of political associations, is what he terms as the “ecumenical frame”. The book tells the stories of these political imaginations through a narrative that takes us geographically, from Anatolia to the Balkans and from Palestine to Lebanon, and temporally from the Ottoman Age to the end of the twentieth century. Its breadth and intellectual ambition welcome extensive engagement. Last Fall, we invited three imminent scholars to share their reflections on this work. These follow below and end with a response by Professor Makdisi. We are so grateful to our panelists for taking out the time to participate in this panel and trust that readers will find the the discussion invigorating.