The Falls of Baghdad in 1258 and 2003: A Study in Sunni-Shi'i Clashing Memories
This dissertation analyzes the narratives on the fall of Baghdad of 1258, focusing on the question of responsibility for the event: why did Baghdad fall to the Mongols and to whom was responsibility attributed? The dissertation argues that the earliest narratives of the fall of the `Abassid Caliphate demonstrate a plethora of views, which can be explained by the socio-political role of the historians writing for powerful patrons, but also by the critical importance of literary topoi. While some of the earliest works laid the blame on the Shi'i vizier Ibn al-`Alqami, this view is expanded among the Sunni- Mamluk sources, which show a certain consensus around the responsibility of the Shi'i community at large for the event. A category of Mamluk clerics even go beyond accusing Ibn al-`Alqami and focus their narratives on the person of Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, a philosopher and astronomer. These views should be seen as a direct consequence of the rise of Shi'ism under the early Ilkhanid Empire and the battle of the Sunni 'ulama' to protect what they saw as "orthodox" Islam in a threatening environment. These polemical views, mostly shaped a century or two after the fall of Baghdad, have a significant impact on today's communal memories of the events. Polarized discourses have been growing since the fall of Baghdad in 2003: the event has been described by many Sunni intellectuals, clerics, politicians, but also Iraqis more generally, as a repetition of the Shi'i betrayal of 1258, in which the Shi`a are believed to have brought in the invader. If Nouri al-Maliki, the current Prime Minister of Iraq, has been called "the new Ibn al-`Alqami," a new polemical term has been forged to describe the Shi'i community at large: the `alaqima, used throughout social media and in the press, establishing a link between past and present, and reinforcing the polarization of Sunni and Shi'i historical memories.
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