What We Are Reading Today: State of Repression — Iraq Under Saddam Hussein

Updated 13 July 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: State of Repression — Iraq Under Saddam Hussein

  • In her book in State of Repression, Lisa Blaydes challenges this belief by showing that the country’s breakdown was far from inevitable.  

How did Iraq become one of the most repressive dictatorships of the late twentieth century? The conventional wisdom about Iraq’s modern political history is that the country was doomed by its diverse social fabric. But in State of Repression, Lisa Blaydes challenges this belief by showing that the country’s breakdown was far from inevitable.  

Drawing on archival material captured from the headquarters of Saddam Hussein’s ruling Ba’th Party in the wake of the 2003 US invasion, Blaydes illuminates the complexities of political life in Iraq, including why certain Iraqis chose to collaborate with the regime while others worked to undermine it, says a review on the Princeton University Press website.

She demonstrates that, despite the Ba’thist regime’s pretensions to political hegemony, its frequent reliance on collective punishment of various groups reinforced and cemented identity divisions.

At the same time, a series of costly external shocks to the economy—resulting from fluctuations in oil prices and Iraq’s war with Iran—weakened the capacity of the regime to monitor, co-opt, coerce, and control factions of Iraqi society.

In addition to calling into question the common story of modern Iraqi politics, State of Repression offers a new explanation of why and how dictators repress their people in ways that can inadvertently strengthen regime opponents.


What We Are Reading Today: African Dominion  by Michael A. Gomez

Updated 25 September 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: African Dominion  by Michael A. Gomez

  • Michael Gomez unveils a new vision of how categories of ethnicity, race, gender, and caste emerged in Africa and in global history more generally
  • Islam’s growth in West Africa resulted in a series of political experiments unique to the region

Pick up almost any book on early and medieval world history and empire, and where do you find West Africa? On the periphery. This pioneering book, the first on this period of the region’s history in a generation, tells a different story. 

Interweaving political and social history and drawing on a rich array of sources, including Arabic manuscripts, oral histories, and recent archaeological findings, Michael Gomez unveils a new vision of how categories of ethnicity, race, gender, and caste emerged in Africa and in global history more generally. Scholars have long held that such distinctions arose during the colonial period, but Gomez shows they developed much earlier.

Focusing on the Savannah and Sahel region, Gomez traces the exchange of ideas and influences with North Africa and the Central Islamic Lands by way of merchants, scholars, and pilgrims. 

Islam’s growth in West Africa resulted in a series of political experiments unique to the region, culminating in the rise of empire. A major preoccupation was the question of who could be legally enslaved, which together with other factors led to the construction of new ideas about ethnicity, race, gender, and caste — long before colonialism and the transatlantic slave trade.

Telling a radically new story about early Africa in global history, African Dominion is set to be the standard work on the subject for many years to come.