[P4806] The Dynamics of Tolerance in the Contemporary Middle East

Created by Jocelyn Sage Mitchell
Sunday, 11/19/17 1:00pm


With the rise of the Islamic State in the Middle East and right-wing populism in the West, the meaning and value of tolerance have become a focal point for academics, politicians, and pundits. Tolerance spans both social and political realms, covering treatment of different groups, such as women and minorities (identity-based tolerance), as well as treatment of different viewpoints (ideological tolerance). Voices from across the Western political spectrum criticize limitations on self-expression and movement on women, non-Muslims, and LGBTQ in the Middle East. As well, many suggest that low tolerance for sociopolitical differences is one of the key contributing factors to the failures of the Arab Spring. Yet one of the most oft-cited verses in the Quran is about toleration: “We have made you nations and tribes that you may know one another.” (49:13)
Despite the intense focus, little is known about how tolerance is understood outside of secular Western democratic conditions; what motivates it in authoritarian societies; and what it implies in terms of behavior. In Western settings, tolerance is typically defined in terms of rights—allowing others you dislike to have civil rights, such as free speech on multiple media platforms—yet such rights are limited or nonexistent in many authoritarian states in the Middle East. In these conditions, what does tolerance mean and what does it require? Why tolerate—what are the benefits? Can toleration exist in a context without universal rights and norms or where citizens are not equal before the law? And what insights can academic work in the Middle East provide to the world about how best to promote tolerance?

This panel delves into these questions by drawing insights from different disciplines (political science, history, anthropology), methodological approaches (survey research and experiments, archival documents, interviews, ethnographic participant-observation), and case study focus (Oman, Qatar, Tunisia, Turkey, the UAE). All papers focus on how and why the concept of tolerance is re-interpreted, behaviorally and normatively, within the Middle East. Two of the papers focus on specific Islamic religious frameworks that promote pragmatic tolerance (Ibadi jurisprudence in Oman, and the Nur community in Turkey). The three other papers focus on the nature and robustness of tolerance in non-Western societies, including the recently-transitioned society of Tunisia and the authoritarian regimes of Qatar and the UAE. Together with our chair and discussant, the collected papers deepen the academic conversation on the dynamics of tolerance in the contemporary Middle East.


Anthro; Hist; Pol Science



John O. Voll

(Georgetown University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Chair;

Jocelyne Cesari

(Georgetown University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Discussant;

Sean Foley

(Middle Tennessee State University)
Dr. Sean Foley is an Associate Professor of History at Middle Tennessee State University (USA). He specializes in the Middle East and religious and political trends in the broader Islamic world. Previously, he taught at Georgetown University, where he...
Panel Participating Role(s): Organizer; Presenter;

Jocelyn Sage Mitchell

(Northwestern University in Qatar)
Jocelyn Sage Mitchell is assistant professor in residence at Northwestern University in Qatar, teaching comparative and American politics and interdisciplinary courses. She is also an affiliated faculty member of Northwestern University's Middle East...
Panel Participating Role(s): Organizer; Presenter;

Marwa Shalaby

(Rice University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Calvert Jones

(University of Maryland, College Park)
Panel Participating Role(s): Co-Author;

Mazen Hassan

(Cairo University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Co-Author;

Maria Tedesco

(Seattle University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

John Fahy

(Georgetown University, Qatar)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;
Jones, Calvert (University of Maryland-College Park) - Abstract Second Author
Hassan, Mazen (Cairo University) - Abstract Second Author