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Focusing on Ottoman Lebanon, Ussama Makdisi shows how sectarianism was a manifestation of modernity that transcended the physical boundaries of a particular country. His study challenges those who have viewed sectarian violence as an Islamic response to westernization or simply as a product of social and economic inequities among religious groups. The religious violence of the 19th century, which culminated in sectarian mobilizations and massacres in 1860, was a complex, multilayered, subaltern expression of modernization, he says, not a primordial reaction to it. Makdisi argues that sectarianism represented a deliberate mobilization of religious identities for political and social purposes. The Ottoman reform movement launched in 1839 and the growing European presence in the Middle East contributed to the disintegration of the traditional Lebanese social order based on a hierarchy that bridged religious differences.
Ussama Makdisi is Assistant Professor of History at Rice University.