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Articles in Myth of the Nation-State

The Afghan “Graveyard of Empires” Myth and the Wakhan Corridor

By Martin W. Lewis | November 9, 2011 | 3 Comments
Map of Wakhan Corridor, Afghanistan

The idea that Afghanistan is the “Graveyard of Empires,” a country that perennially entices imperial conquerors only to humiliate and expel them, is often encountered.  This potent cliché has been thoroughly debunked, yet it refuses to die. An October 7, 2011 Time magazine article, for example, opens with the provocative headline, “Afghanistan: Endgame in the Graveyard of Empires.” And as …

Thomas Friedman’s Afghanistan Fantasies

By Martin W. Lewis | November 6, 2011 | 19 Comments
Wikipedia Map of the Persian Safavid Empire

On November 1, 2011, noted New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman implicitly placed the United States in “a long list of suckers,” a roster composed of countries that had been foolish enough to invade Afghanistan. Friedman came up with the idea while on a tour of historical sites in northern India. When told by a guide that in the …

The Simplistic World-View of Thomas L. Friedman

By Martin W. Lewis | April 14, 2011 | 13 Comments

In his April 13, 2011 column in the New York Times, Thomas L. Friedman argues that the recent uprisings in the Arab world will probably not lead to the kind of mass democratization that occurred in eastern and central Europe after 1989. Although I must agree with Friedman’s basic thesis, I reject his reasoning, which

Russell Jacoby and the Myth of the Nation-State

By Martin W. Lewis | April 6, 2011 | One Comment

Few ideas are as intellectually pernicious as notion that the citizens of a given sovereign country necessarily share the bonds of common nationhood. As evidence of the confusion that this idea generates, consider Russell Jacoby’s important recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, entitled “Bloodlust: Why We Should Fear Our Neighbors More Than Strangers”

Libya’s Tribal Divisions and the Nation-State

By Martin W. Lewis | February 27, 2011 |

Unlike the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings, that of Libya has a strong tribal component. When key tribal leaders rejected his regime, Muammar Gaddafi’s power began to evaporate from large segments of the country.
The phenomenon of tribalism in oil-rich Libya has caused some confusion in the media. A recent article in the Christian Science Monitor

Syria Is Not a Nation-State: The Baath Party’s Denial of Kurdish Identity

By Martin W. Lewis | November 4, 2010 |

The official Syrian credo of Arab nationalism may allow safe haven for Christians, provided that they do not defy the state or attempt to convert Muslims. But it gives no such concessions to the Kurds, whose very identity challenges the Baath ideology of the Syrian state, which is based on the political priority

Spain, Bolivia, Iraq, and the Fallacy of the Nation-State

By Martin W. Lewis | September 10, 2010 | 2 Comments

This final posting on regionalism in Spain steps back to reexamine the concept of the nation-state. Spain constitutionally defines itself as a nation-state, insisting that all its citizens belong to the Spanish nation. But as we have seen, many are adamant that Spain is a country of multiple nations. Some sub-Spanish nationalists retain the

Contested Regionalism in Andalusia, León, and Asturias

By Martin W. Lewis | September 3, 2010 | 3 Comments

Controversies over identity and territory in Spain are not limited to the Catalan- and Basque-speaking areas. Calls for regional autonomy, nationality recognition, and even national status are being voiced elsewhere, too. Andalusia in southern Spain is one such place. Some seek to enhance the autonomy of Andalusia as a whole, while others seek to

Catalonia: Nationality or Nation?

By Martin W. Lewis | September 2, 2010 |

The Spanish policy of preserving national unity by devolving power to the regions faces three main challenges. First, some groups remain unsatisfied, pressing for enhanced self-rule or even outright independence. Second, members of several smaller unrecognized groups seek to hive off their own autonomous communities. Third, the borders of the existing autonomous communities poorly correspond

The Nation, Nationalities, and Autonomous Regions in Spain

By Martin W. Lewis | September 1, 2010 |

In everyday speech, “nation” and “nationality” are largely synonymous terms. “Nationality,” my desktop dictionary informs me, is “the status of belonging to a particular nation.” In Spain, however, the Spanish equivalents of the two terms have come to convey distinct meanings through political fiat. The official differentiation of the Spanish nation from several distinct Spanish

The Problem of National Identity in Pakistan

By Martin W. Lewis | August 13, 2010 | One Comment

At first glance, the statements on Pakistani nationalism by Fahd Ali and the anonymous author of the Wikipedia article seem completely contradictory. Wikipedia claims that Pakistanis are among the most nationalistic people in the world; Ali isn’t fully convinced that they form a nation at all.

Underfit Nation-States

By Martin W. Lewis | April 27, 2010 | One Comment

The boundaries between so-called nation-states rarely correspond perfectly with those of the ethno-linguistic groups for which they are named. In most cases the discrepancies are relatively minor, with external members of a given ethno-national group forming a small minority relative to those inside the country in question. In some cases, however, they are more substantial

The Limits of French Nationalism

By Martin W. Lewis | April 12, 2010 | 2 Comments

France is often regarded as a model nation-state. Its national identity is pronounced, its government has long claimed to represent the national will, and its state structures are strong and centralized. But even in France, the nation-state remains an incompletely realized ideal. France’s colonial holdings and overseas department most clearly challenge the identity of state

DR Congo: A Potemkin State?

By Martin W. Lewis | February 16, 2010 | 2 Comments

The ongoing war in the Democratic Republic of Congo is reputed to be the world’s deadliest conflict since World War II. Most observers estimate the death toll at around 5.4 million deaths; some figures put the toll as high as 6.9 million. One controversial 2009 report—from the Human Security Report Project of Simon Fraser University—claims

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