On September 17, 2017, IRIS hosted a lecture by Dr. Faleh Jabbar on the topics of “State-building and Nationalism in the Middle East.” Dr. Jabbar focused on the historical evolution of nationalism and related it to recent events in the Kurdistan Region, including the upcoming referendum. Students and professors from many disciplines, including International Relations, Engineering, and Business Administration, attended the lecture.

Dr. Jabbar began with a broad definition of nationalism and its constituting factors, defining a common marker among nations as “culture.” He proceeded to explain culture as a phenomenon defined by a common language, race, or religion. Language is the most widespread marker, followed by religion, then race. In some cases, such as that of Japan, a nation’s culture is defined by all three, while in others, such as the United States, there is no common marker.


In order to understand the concept of nationalism, a number of factors must be evaluated, including the history of its development and variable reasons for its emergence. In some societies, such as those of England and France in the sixteenth century, the emergence of nationalism is associated with the industrial capitalist system that emerged at that time. In others, such as those of the Middle East, an agrarian or artisanal sense of nationalism existed a pre-industrial, pre-capitalist, pre-modern context.


Dr. Jabbar aimed to revise the ways in which nationalism had been defined early on by France and later Germany. He asserted that nations in the Middle East -- and the Kurds in particular -- needed to have constant referenda to agree on being nations, as divisions that inhibited nationalism in older generations needed to be constantly reevaluated by new generations.


Nationalism on the basis of language, Dr. Jabbar claimed, is problematic because there are many different linguistic groups in the region. Multilingual states are the rule rather than the exception. Languages are thousands of years old, and the era of nation states--brought about by capitalism, industrialism, and modernity--allowed the myth of nationalism on the basis of language to emerge.


Dr. Jabbar is one of the leading experts on Iraq, Kurds, and Nationalism and has written extensively on these topics. His books include:

A podcast of the lecture is available here.