Violent extremism: historical patterns and precedents, ancient and modern

A panel discussion on the ancient and modern dynamics of extremist transnational movements
Wednesday, March 14
12:00 - 1:30 pm
The Middle East Institute
1319 18th St NW
Washington , District of Columbia 20036

Event Information

Use the above video player to tune in for the livestream, starting a few minutes before the event.

Middle Eastern history is often portrayed as a succession of empires and political orders harassed and occasionally brought down by violent opponents--usually labeled as terrorists at the time. This was true in ancient times as well as modern. And today’s violent extremist groups resurrect historical narratives and grievances to fuel contemporary conflict.

How do 21st century socio-political and geopolitical trends interact with historical ethnic, sectarian, and anti-colonial narratives to fuel the rise of extremist movements? How can we understand these dynamics? How can this understanding contribute to better policy to counter violent extremism?

The Middle East Institute (MEI) is pleased to host a panel discussion on the ancient and modern dynamics of extremist transnational movements featuring Sandra Scham, author of Extremism, Ancient and Modern: Insurgency, Terror, and Empire in the Middle East. She will be joined by MEI’s senior vice president for policy research and programs, Paul Salem (author of “The Rise of Transnational Violent Movements in the Middle East”), and MEI Scholar Hassan Mneimneh. MEI’s director of the extremism and counterterrorism program, Charles Lister, will moderate the discussion.

Speaker biographies:
Hassan Mneimneh
Scholar, MEI
Hassan Mneimneh specializes in the Middle East and North Africa and the wider Islamic world with a particular emphasis on radicalism and factionalism. In previous capacities, he has focused on the significance of socio-political and cultural developments in the MENA region to U.S. and European policies; assessed civil reaction to radicalizing tendencies in Muslim societies; and studied the evolution, record, and prospects of radical Islamist formations worldwide. He has written on political, cultural, historical, and intellectual questions concerning the Arab and Muslim worlds. He is a regular contributor to the pan-Arab newspaper al-Hayat, and is currently affiliated with Middle East Alternatives and Fikra Forum. His previous affiliations include the German Marshall Fund of the United States, Hudson Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Iraq Memory Foundation.

Paul Salem
Senior vice president for policy research and programs, MEI
Paul Salem is senior vice president for policy research and programs at MEI. He focuses on issues of political change, transition, and conflict as well as the regional and international relations of the Middle East.  He has a particular emphasis on the countries of the Levant and Egypt. Salem writes regularly in the Arab and Western press and has been published in numerous journals and newspapers. Salem is the author and editor of a number of books and reports including From Chaos to Cooperation: Toward Regional Order in the Middle East (ed. with Ross Harrison, 2017), Broken Orders: The Causes and Consequences of the Arab Uprisings (In Arabic, 2013), “The Recurring Rise and Fall of Political Islam” (CSIS, 2015), “The Middle East in 2015 and Beyond: Trends and Drivers” (MEI 2014), Bitter Legacy: Ideology and Politics in the Arab World (1994), Conflict Resolution in the Arab World (ed., 1997).  Prior to joining MEI, Salem was the founding director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, Lebanon between 2006 and 2013.  From 1999 to 2006, he was director of the Fares Foundation and in 1989-1999 founded and directed the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies, Lebanon's leading public policy think tank.

Sandra Scham
Author, Extremism, Ancient and Modern: Insurgency, Terror, and Empire in the Middle East
Sandra Scham is adjunct associate professor of archaeology and anthropology at the Catholic University of America. She is also a countering violent extremism specialist and social science advisor who works with USAID and the Department of State. She was an American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow at USAID for two years and lived in the Middle East for seven years teaching and also implementing Israeli–Palestinian exchange and peace-building projects. She is the co-editor of the Journal of Eastern Mediterranean Archaeology and Heritage Studies, served as editor of Near Eastern Archaeology, and is a contributing editor to Archaeology magazine. She has taught courses on archaeology, politics and the heritage of the Middle East at the University of Maryland and Stanford University.

Charles Lister
Senior Fellow, director of extremism and counterterrorism program, MEI
Charles Lister is a senior fellow and director of the Extremism and Counterterrorism Program at the Middle East Institute. His work focuses primarily on the conflict in Syria, including as a member of the MEI-convened Syria Study Group; and on issues of terrorism and insurgency across the Levant. Prior to this, Lister was a Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution in Qatar and a Senior Consultant to the multinationally-backed Syria Track II Dialogue Initiative, where he managed nearly three years of intensive face-to-face engagement with the leaderships of over 100 Syrian armed opposition groups. Lister is a frequent source of briefings on the Syrian insurgency to political, military and intelligence leaderships in the United States and across Europe and the Middle East. He appears regularly on television media, including CNN, BBC and Al-Jazeera, and his articles have been widely published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, BBC, CNN, Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy, among others. Lister has previously held positions at the Brookings Institution and as head of MENA at IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Center in London, UK. Lister’s critically-acclaimed book, The Syrian Jihad: Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and the Evolution of an Insurgency, was published in February 2016 by Oxford University Press. He also published The Islamic State: A Brief Introduction (Brookings Press, 2015) and he is now working on a third book on Syria, commissioned by Oxford University Press.