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Dividing Lines – Executive Summary

Article by Prof Simon Mabon

July 19, 2022

Dividing Lines – Executive Summary

In the post 9/11 political landscape, politics is increasingly characterised by division. Whilst international politics has long been characterised by differences between states, shifts in global politics have contributed to the opening of fissures within states amidst the emergence of increasingly prominent identity markers in societies. In the Middle East, where deep societal divisions continue to resonate within and across state borders, the concept of sectarianism has become increasingly useful in understanding the nature of difference.


Although increasingly prominent, there is little consensus on how to define sectarianism, causing problems for scholars, practitioners and journalists. Despite this, there are strong reasons to use sectarianism as a means to analyse communal difference across different contexts. Indeed, the concept of sectarianism offers a strong analytical approach to understand the (re)construction, manipulation, or mobilisation of particular identity markers across time and place.


This report uses the concept of sectarianism to reflect on communal tensions across different contexts as a means of understanding the nature of division and the means through which divisions are mobilised. For those interested in understanding and addressing communal tensions and working towards a more just and equitable world, this report offers valuable insight into the workings of divided societies.


Key recommendations


  • To avoid viewing communal conflict as a product of immutable ‘ancient hatreds’;
  • To offer more nuanced analysis of communal difference beyond identity markers;
  • To contextualise identities within broader socio-economic moments;
  • To avoid essentialism in analysis of communal tensions; and
  • To acknowledge the importance of history, culture and religion in understanding difference but not to over stress it.


Policy Based:

  • To encourage a move to issue based politics;
  • To support civil society initiatives that operate across communal groups;
  • To support the emergence of issue based political parties;
  • To avoid a ‘one size fits all’ approach to addressing communal violence; and
  • To support efforts to facilitate democracy and good governance.
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