Political Science 395, Section 2: Middle East Conflicts

Spring 2006

Northern Illinois University


Instructor: Mazen Nagi

Class Meetings: T & TH 3:30-4:45 Dusable Hall 461


Contact Information

Office: 420 Zulauf Hall

Phone: TBA

Email: tiedye95@yahoo.com

Office Hours: Tuesdays 5-6 or by appointment



The Middle East is and important and often deeply misunderstood region of the world. Its significance emanates from a number of sources. For instance, it is the cradle of Western civilization. At various points in ancient times, Egyptian, Sumerian, Babylonian, and Assyrian empires all flourished in this part of the world. Also, the Middle East is the birthplace of three major religions - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - as well as home to a variety of cultures and peoples including, but certainly not limited to, Arabs, Berbers, Armenians, Jews, Iranians, Turks and Kurds. Furthermore, outside intervention has been a constant theme throughout Middle East history; strategically, the Middle East remains home to the world’s most significant developed oil deposits. While the region is not in danger of being overrun by Romans, Mongols, or Turks, it has recently witnessed the reintroduction of American combat troops into the heart of the region, Iraq. With the collapse of Soviet-style communism as the primary threat to be confronted in the international arena, many Western states, and particularly the United States, now regard international violence with roots that trace back to the Middle East region, and certain Middle Eastern countries among their greatest threats to their well being. This perception introduced to the American public at large by the events of September 11, 2001. In the end, the diversity and strategic import of the region have, and will continue to serve as sources of conflict.

This course will try to make sense of two of the more prominent Middle East conflicts currently at the forefront of media attention, the American occupation of Iraq, and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. It is these two conflicts which have the potential to “make or break” American policy in the region, and inflame, or alternatively placate Arab and Muslim public opinion vis-à-vis the United States. The first part of this course will focus upon the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. While the United States is not directly involved in this conflict on the ground, it is involved in nearly every other aspect, in the sense that it provides political, diplomatic, economic and military backing to one side of the conflict. This fact has, over the years, likely been the most significant source of anger in the region towards the United States. This growing antipathy among the Arab masses has been an important roadblock to uplifting the image of the United States in the region. This course will look at the issue in order to understand the facts, as opposed to the myths and rhetoric at the core of this conflict. The second part of this course will study the conflict in Iraq. Numerous questions have been raised concerning this conflict, beginning well before the military campaign to remove Saddam Hussein; these questions ranged from whether the United States should have gone into Iraq in the first place, to how imposing the United States should be in asserting its interests in Iraq, to whether the U.S. will even be able to accomplish even minimally acceptable objectives (or in other words, what constitutes success that would allow America to withdraw). This course will try to bring some perspective to the various questions surrounding the war and the subsequent occupation.

            This course has two specific objectives, and one more general one. The first goal is to facilitate a basic understanding of the people, events and issues that have brought these conflicts to their current states. The second aim is to help students develop a sound and realistic familiarity with the policies of the various parties involved in these conflicts. Thirdly and more generally, I hope that through this course, I will be able to help students to understand why the peoples of the region think and act as they do; what often seems irrational to us, may have very rational reasoning behind it (whether we agree with it or not). Finally, while not a formal objective, it is hoped that this course will instill or ignite an intellectual curiosity that will leads students to continue to seek information and knowledge about this most important region.

            Finally, it is important to note that this course is intended for students with little or no knowledge of the Middle East. While it will be taught in a way that corresponds to its 300-level classification, it is not likely to appeal to students who have studied or lived in the region for several years.


Class Format

As mentioned, the presumption is that students have little or no background in the subject matter. For that reason, each class will have a lecture component. However, questions and comments about the material are encouraged and always welcome. Also, members of the class should be prepared to respond to questions the instructor might ask about a lecture topic, assigned readings, or contemporary events. We will spend a good portion of our time discussing and dissecting these conflicts as a group. Regular participation is expected. Again, as mentioned, all opinions and interpretations are welcome, but must be presented in a calm and respectful manner. This point is particularly important because many Middle East issues are closely intertwined with some individuals’ political and religious beliefs.


Assigned Readings

The readings used for this course have been selected to provide the most up-to-date material as possible, as well as to maintain a high quality of academic intellectualism. For those students faced with limited budgets, a copy of the text and readings will be placed on two-hour reserve in the library. Please return these materials in a timely fashion so that everyone is guaranteed reasonable access. If possible, however, I would encourage students to have a personal copy of the book not only for use during the semester, but for future reference as well.


1. Sifry & Cref (eds.). 2003. The Iraq War Reader – History, Documents, Opinions. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.


Grade Requirements

There are four basic requirements. The first is written examinations. The midterm exam will be given on Thursday March 9. The final exam will be administered on (TBA) from (TBA). The midterm will comprise 25% of the grade, while the final exam will also account for 25%. A study guide will be distributed before each exam. In order to pass this class, all exams and quizzes must be completed.

            The second requirement is the submission of 5 neatly clipped or photocopied articles with an accompanying well-written, typed page that reacts thoughtfully to a news story that bears a clear relationship with the class subject matter. For instance, the commentary can tie a selected article to a course reading, draw a connection to a theory or concept discussed in class, relate its significance to present or future policy, or convey how a policy-maker should address the issue. Regardless of the approach, the page must be well constructed and thought out and typed! The due dates of these essays are to be roughly every 15-20 days on Thursdays in class (the exact dates are found in later in this syllabus); no late submissions will be accepted. This component of the grade is worth 25% of the final grade.

            The third requirement involves a short but important test. The test, which will be given Tuesday April 4, will examine students’ basic understanding of Middle East geography. More details will be provided in class. This quiz will account for 15% of the final grade.

Fourth, and lastly, class attendance/participation is expected and will be rewarded; it will contribute 10% to the final course grade. The way this works is as follows: Three unexcused absences will be allowed (although not on exam or quiz days) as long as assignments are submitted on time. Each absence after will count two points towards the final grade up to a total of eight absences. Nine or more absences will result in an automatic failure of the course without exception. Attendance will generally be taken at the beginning of each class session. Finally, being tardy will be treated the same as being absent. This is done in order to keep classroom disruptions to a minimum and provide a better teaching and learning environment.


Components of the Final Grade

a. Midterm Exam          =25%

b. Final Exam                =25%

c. Essays                      =25%

d. Geography Test         =15%

e. Attendance               =10%


Odds & Ends

1) Make-up Exams: Make-up exams will only be given in extraordinary circumstances. If such circumstances arise, please contact the instructor as soon as possible and before the scheduled exam. To keep the process fair for everyone in the course, students may be asked to support requests for make-up exams with documentation. A missed examination without prior notification and a documented excuse will result in a zero and a grade of “F” as opposed to an incomplete.


2) Students with Disabilities: The instructor recognizes that some students require special testing environments because of documented physical and learning disabilities. If such arrangements are necessary, the instructor should be informed early in the semester. Please do not wait until exam time.


3) Late Assignments: The only out-of-class assignments other than readings are the current events requirements, which, as mentioned, must be turned in at the time due; there will be no exceptions unless the student has an excused absence.


4) Submitting Materials: Assignments should be handed in to me personally, or given to a department secretary to be time-stamped. Assignments placed under my office door or sent with a friend tend to disappear at times. If a student selects one of these modes of delivery, he or she does so at their own risk.


5) Extra Credit: Extra credit assignments will not be given on an individual basis to raise final course grades. Like make-up exams, such assignments raise major questions of equity. If the need arises to provide some sort of extra-credit assignment, the entire class will be given the opportunity to complete it.


6) Handouts: Handouts, including study guides, are a privilege for those students who attend class on a regular basis. No student is entitled to supplemental materials simply because they are registered for the course.


7) Incomplete Requests: Such petitions will be granted in extraordinary circumstances. The instructor reserves the right to ask for documentation to verify the problem preventing completion of the course by the normal deadlines. It the student does not present documentation from a university office or official, the matter will be left to the instructor’s discretion.


8) Academic Dishonesty: Please refer to the NIU Undergraduate Catalog (p. 47) section entitled “Academic Integrity” for details. In general the point is that students should do their own work and learn the proper rules of citation and paraphrasing.


9) Class Participation: It is recognized that class discussion comes more easily for some than others. By temperament or habit some people are “talkers” and others “listeners.” While the preference is that students volunteer to participate, I may at times call upon individuals if that is the only way to bring them into the discussion. If you are particularly uneasy about speaking in class, please see me. There are some things I can suggest that may help to make participation easier.


10) Unannounced Quizzes: The instructor reserves the right to conduct “pop quizzes” if during the course of the semester it becomes apparent that students are not completing the reading assignments in time for discussion in class.


Course Schedule and Reading Assignments


Important Dates

News Article Submission Dates: February 3 (Thursday)

                                                February 23 (Thursday)

                                                March 9 (Thursday)

                                                March 30 (Thursday)

April 20 (Thursday)


Midterm Examination:                March 9 (Thursday)

Geography Test:                        April 4 (Tuesday)

Final Examination:                     TBA


Week 1

January 17: Course Introduction

January 19: Review of Basic International Relations Theories

                                    No Readings


Week 2

January 24: Review of IR Theories continued

                                    No Readings

January 26: Basic Introduction to Islam

                                    No Readings


Week 3

January 31: European Colonialism

            Readings: Louise Fawcett, International Relations in the Middle East, pp. 310-315

February 2: The United States in the Middle East

            Readings: Louise Fawcett, International Relations in the Middle East, pp. 283-305


Week 4

February 7 & 9: The Arab/Israeli Conflict

            Readings: Louise Fawcett, International Relations in the Middle East, pp. 217-239


Week 5

February 14: Readings TBA

February 16: Readings TBA


Week 6

February 21 Readings TBA

February 23: Readings TBA


Week 7

February 28 Readings TBA

March 2: Readings TBA


Week 8

March 7 Midterm Review-This is optional

                        Readings: No assigned readings

March 9: **Midterm Exam


SPRING BREAK-March 14-16: No Class Meetings


Week 9

March 21 Readings TBA

Midterm will be returned by March 21

March 23: Readings TBA


Week 10

March 28: Readings TBA

March 30: Readings TBA


Week 11

April 4: Readings TBA

**Geography Quiz

April 6: Readings TBA


Week 12

April 11 Readings TBA

April 13: Readings TBA


Week 13

April 18 Readings TBA

April 20: Readings TBA


Week 14

April 25 Readings TBA

April 27: Readings TBA


Week 15

May 2: Readings TBA

May 4: Readings TBA


Final Exam Review-Date and Time TBA

Final Exam- Date and Time TBA