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May 22, 2010, 2:30 PM

The Politics of Identity and Social Cohesion

Participants: Paul Berman, Richard Bulliet (moderator), Dan Stets, Isser Woloch

Xenophobia creates group cohesion when societies band together against a real or imagined enemy. In the former Yugoslavia, Muslim and Christian neighbors who once lived peacefully, albeit in a totalitarian state, fell victim to violent identity politics that led to civil war. Under what conditions do extremist ideologies thrive, and how do historical mythologies create the intense group identities that lead to genocide of the kind inflicted on the Tutsis by the Hutus in Rwanda? Islamist thinker Sayyid Qutb, who was executed by the Egyptian government under dictator Gamil Abdul Nasser in 1966, provided the ideology for the Muslim Brotherhood, which influenced the Wahhabi sect that later spawned Osama bin Laden's brand of violent radicalism. How does extreme political ideology grow out of religious thinking in the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian worlds? This panel will examine extremist thinking both as a survival mechanism and as a form of social organization.

Paul Berman is a writer in residence at the Arthur L. Carter Institute at New York University. His essays and reviews appear in The New Republic, The New York Times Book Review, Dissent, and other journals. His books include A Tale of Two Utopias, Power and Idealists, Terror and Liberalism, and, most recently, The Flight of the Intellectuals. He is the editor of the Library of America's Carl Sandburg: Selected Poems.

Richard Bulliet is Professor of History at Columbia University's Middle East Institute. He specializes in Middle Eastern history, the social and institutional history of Islamic countries, and the history of technology. His publications include The Patricians of Nishapur: A Study in Medieval Islamic Social History, The Camel and the Wheel, Islam: The View from the Edge, The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization, and the forthcoming Cotton and Climate in Early Islamic Iran. He co-edited The Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East, co-authored The Earth and its Peoples: A Global History, and conceived and edited The Columbia History of the Twentieth Century.

Dan Stets has been a news reporter and editor for more than 30 years. As a Berlin-based correspondent for the Philadelphia Inquirer in the early 1990s, he covered ethnic cleansing and the wars in the former Yugoslavia. He also covered the persecution of the Kurds by Saddam Hussein at the end of the first Gulf War, as well as the conflict between Kurds and Turks in southern Turkey. He is currently the leader of the Energy Markets news team at Bloomberg News in New York. He joined Bloomberg as an editor in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1998.

Isser Woloch is Moore Collegiate Professor Emeritus of History at Columbia University, specializing in modern Europe and France. His works include Eighteenth-Century Europe: Tradition and Progress, 1715-1789; The New Regime: Transformations of the French Civic Order, 1789-1820s; and Napoleon and His Collaborators: The Making of a Dictatorship.

This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council.


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