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(Alternate title: PS2255 – Politics of the Perpetually Conflictual Region)
As ISIS was rampaging across much of the Middle East last summer and scoring victory after victory like they were playing an RTS game with cheats, I realized that I wanted to do this module because I knew jack shit about the Middle East as a region. Having done modules that covered Northeast Asia and China, India, the United States and Japan, this was a blind spot that could be resolved quite well by taking this module.
What I expected
With a title like ‘Politics of the Middle East’, I expected to learn some history of the region and how said history affected the Middle East’s contemporary politics as well. Also I secretly hoped to learn something more about the ongoing FUBAR-fest that wasn’t covered by the mass media. Finally, given that it was classified within the field of comparative politics, I expected some…comparing to take place?
What I got
A brief introduction to the region’s history, a discussion about Orientalism and Occidentalism along with studying major characteristics of the region such as corruption, the Israel-Palestine conflict, Pan-Arabism and Political Islam, Civil Military Relations, Civil Society and Authoritarianism within the region. Oh, and Sectarianism. At this point, I’m just listing keywords or headers of each topic, but within each topic lies a depth of literature and knowledge untapped, unexplained and otherwise unknown if I hadn’t taken this module.
A short segment at the end of the last few lectures are devoted to contemporary events such as the 2011 Arab Spring and the rise of ISIS, but for the most part, the module is concerned with overarching themes within the region and looks a lot more at case studies (as is the approach of comparative politics generally) to draw conclusions from them than historical events (as International Relations tends to do, sometimes.)
I should note that this module was done under Dr. Fanar, who is clearly, clearly knowledgeable about this subject. He visits Iraq on a regular basis for field work, and from there has written several books (and has contributed to others) based on his research specialty: that of sectarian relations in Iraq. A truly fascinating teacher to be under, and one whom I enjoyed tutorial discussions with (since he was also my tutor). And he can read Arabic too!
No webcasting was done for this module~
[Course Materials?] PDF readings and lots and lots and lots of supplementary PDF readings.
Assessment & Workload
One is assessed as follows:
- Tutorial participation, as usual.
- Two term papers, questions are chosen from a list of twelve offered. Some questions can only be written upon later as the content required to write them are covered in later lectures, while others can be written sometime before Recess Week begins. The word limit is 2k individually for both papers.
- Semester finals, consisting of 10C3 (iirc) essay questions to be written within two hours. Quite challenging, since that works out to be 40 minutes or so per question, yet one has to argue convincingly while quoting evidence and keeping in mind where they’re going with the essay. Perhaps the one saving grace is that the semester finals was open book (limited to two sheets of paper, double-sided), so one could bring in their compressed notes written in microscopic handwriting.
The workload for this module is…moderate to slightly high. The difficulty comes not so much in reading quantity (for one goes through a maximum of three readings per week), but that of depth. Each mandatory reading issued by Dr. Fanar is so deep that it takes a lot of time to digest it and tease out what it’s saying so that it can be cited and quoted in the term papers or semester finals. Expect to spend about three hours a week plowing through the readings, to say nothing of the time spent preparing for each tutorial. Maybe 4 hours weekly is a safe bet for this module.
Scoring a B for my first term paper (I wrote out of point T_T) and a A for my second term paper (Yay!), I expected it to average somewhere between a B+ and an A- depending on how my tutorial participation and semester finals went.
And I got an A-! Not a full A (that’ll have to wait, unfortunately), but it’s nicer to get than a B+.
Conclusion & Tips
This module is recommended for those that have a passing interest in the region’s history and what may (and does not) explain the upheavals we currently see today. If one has a stronger interest, it’s even better, for you’ll need that when going through the readings that can be a bit difficult to go through at times. And yet, one will definitely come out of the module having learned a fair bit of content knowledge, giving them the ability to comment (mentally or otherwise) from a point of slightly elevated understanding compared to the ordinary person informed by mass media.
- If the semester finals are still open book in the future, just dump the key ideas and who one needs to be cited on a piece of paper and bring it in. Saves one time from having to recall who said what, and it’s a lot lighter than bringing in stacks of material. One should have done the readings anyway and know what the key outlines of each theme are before stepping into the exam hall.
- Consult once or twice with the person taking the module: If it’s still Dr. Fanar, he’s always open to consultations and can give great direction on a particular question or elaborate about what he’s looking for in an answer. He’s also knowledgeable about many resources that one can use for research, which can save one time if they have no idea where to begin.
- Keeping up to date on the readings is easier said than done, especially in the midst of other modules, but if one doesn’t, it then becomes nigh impossible to survive the rest of the semester. Cramming it during reading week probably isn’t the best idea.