ASTK15394U COURSE: Armed Groups in the Middle East

Volume 2015/2016

Bachelorlevel: 20 ECTS
Masterlevel: 15 ECTS

SRM - Elective course: 15 ECTS


How do we conceptualize armed group? Torn between a Hobbesian paranoia towards anarchy and a Weberian assumption of the state’s monopoly over violence, the study of politics seems to perpetually lack the appropriate heuristic tool to comprehensively understand armed groups. Subsequently, adjudging them as simply spoilers of international politics, the likes of Schneckener posit that such groups are “…trouble-makers for state-building and peace building efforts, meaning the strengthening, reform or reconstruction of state structures and institutions.” But, conversely as groups such as the PKK (Partiya Karkeren Kurdistane or Kurdish Workers’ Party), Hamas (Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya or Islamic Resistance Movement), Hezbollah (Party of God), Palestinian Islamic Jihah, LeT (Lashkar-e-Tayyiba or Army of the Pure) and more recently ISIS take center stage in local and regional politics, it seems critical to go beyond the notion of them as being ‘trouble-makers’ to a far more critical approach to enumerating the essence of what armed figurations are as seemingly resolute stakeholders in world politics. This course would provide for an introduction to the study of armed groups, with a regional focus on the Middle East. It begins with a critical perspective on notions of ‘Armed Groups’, ‘Violence’ and ‘Ideology’, before exploring their convergence in the study of some of the major armed figurations operational in the Middle East. That said, with a multitude of such actors active in the region, this course hopes to provide a ‘how to’ guide to studying armed groups that could possibly applied to examples from around the world.

Course Topics:

  • Armed Groups: A Theoretical Overview
  • The State-ness of Non-State Actors
  • Armed Groups and Ideology: Left,  Right and Center
  • Armed Groups and Religious Politics
  • Armed Groups: Just a Proxy?
  • Armed Groups and Violence
  • Empirical Case #1: Hamas
  • Empirical Case #2: Hezbollah
  • Empirical Case #3: Islamic Jihad
  • Empirical Case #4: PKK
  • Empirical Case #5: Al Qaeeda
  • Empirical Case #6: ISIS



Learning Outcome

Upon completion of the course, students should

  • Be able to rise above politicized academic and public discourses on armed group and have an extensive empirical knowledge on armed factions in the Middle East


  • Reflect critically on the politics of armed groups and the manner in which they fit in or challenge the politics of states.


  • Be able to challenge ‘mainstream’ approaches to studying armed groups and engage in an interdisciplinary approach that draws on non-traditional understandings of armed groups as canvass on which studies on ideology, violence and state-formation intersect.


  • Schneckener, Ulrich. “Fragile Statehood, Armed Non-State Actors and Security Governance” in eds. Alan Bryden and Marina Caparini Private Actors and Security Governance (Geneva: DCAF, 2006)
  • Krause, Keith and Jennifer Milliken. “Introduction: The Challenge of Non-State Armed Groups” Contemporary Security Policy 30.2 (August, 2009)
  • Davis, Diane E. “Non-State Armed Actors, New Imagined Communities, and Shifting Patterns of Sovereignty and Insecurity in the Modern World” Contemporary Security Policy 30.2 (2009)
  • Karp, Aaron. “The Changing Ownership of War: States, Insurgencies and Technology” Contemporary Security Policy 30.2 (August, 2009)
  • Marten, Kimberly Zisk. “Warlordism in Comparative Perspective” International Security 31.3 (Winter 2006/07)
  • Schlichte, Klaus. “With the State against the State? The Formation of Armed Groups” Contemporary Security Policy 30.2 (2009)
  • Schmeidl, Susanne and Masood Karokhail. “The Role of Non-State Actors in ‘Community-Based Policing – An Exploration of the Arbakai (Tribal Police) in South-Eastern Afghanistan” Contemporary Security Policy 30.2 (August, 2009)
  • Neumann, Michael. “Israelis and Indians” Counterpunch (April 9, 2002)
  • Enzensberger, Hans Magnus. “The Resurgence of Human Sacrifice” Society (March/April, 2002)
  • Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth (New York: Grove Press, 1963): 1-62
  • Schlichte, Klaus, In the Shadow of Violence (Frankfurt: Campus Verlag, 2009): 57-115
  • Lawrence, A,. “Driven to Arms? The Escalation to Violence in National Conflicts” In: E. Chenoweth, A. Lawrence and S. Kalyvas eds. Rethinking Violence: State and Non-State Actors in Conflict. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2010): 143-172.
  • Brubaker, R. and Laitin, D. D. “Ethnic and Nationalist Violence” Annual Reviews of Sociology, 24.1 (1999)
  • Kalyvas, Stathis. The Logic of Violence in Civil War: 19-23
  • Haugbolle, Sune. “Reflections on Ideology After the Arab Spring” Jadaliyya (March 21, 2012)
  • Browers, Michaelle L. Political Ideology in the Arab World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009): 1-76 (“Introduction”, “Retreat from Secularism” and “A More Inclusive Islamism?”)
  • Bayat, Asef. How Ordinary People Change the Middle East (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2009): 96-114 (“Feminism of Everyday Life”), 241-251 (“No Silence, No Violence”)
  • Roy, S. Hamas and Civil Society in Gaza: Engaging the Islamist Social Sector. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011): 51-95
  • Litvak, M. “‘Martyrdom is Life’: Jihad and Martyrdom in the Ideology of Hamas.” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 33.8 (2010)
  • Ayyash, Mark Muhannad. “Hamas and the Israeli State: A ‘Violent Dialogue’” European Journal of International Relations 16 (2010)
  • Ghassan, Hage. “Comes a Time we are All Enthusiasm: Understanding Palestinian Suicide Bombers in Times of Exighophobia” Public Culture 15.1 (2003)
  • Flanigan, Shawn Teresa. “Charity as Resistance: Connections between Charity, Contentious Politics, and Terror” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism 29.7 (2006)
  • Flanigan, Shawn Teresa. “Hezbollah’s Social Jihad: Nonprofits as Resistance Organizations” Middle East Policy 16.2 (Summer, 2009)
  • Fawaz, Mona. “Agency and Ideology in Community Services: Islamic NGOs in a Southern Suburb of Beirut” in eds. Sarah Ben Nefissa, Nabil Abd al-Fattah, Sari Hanafi and Carlas Milani, NGOs and Governance in the Arab World (Cairo: American University Press, 2005)
  • Hazran, Y., 2010. The Rise of Politicized Shi’ite Religiosity and the Territorial State in Iraq and Lebanon. Middle East Journal, 64(4)
  • Haddad, S., 2006. The Origins of Popular Support for Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 29(1)
  • el-Husseini, R., 2008. Resistance, Jihad, and Martyrdom in Contemporary Lebanese Shi’a Discourse. Middle East Journal, 62(3)
  • el-Husseini, R., 2010. Hezbollah and the Axis of Refusal: Hamas, Iran and Syria. Third World Quarterly, 31(5)
  • “Radical Islam in Gaza” Middle East Report No. 104: International Crisis Group (29 March 2011)
  • P Ocalan, Abdullah. Prison Writings: The PKK and the Kurdish Question in the 21st Century (London: Transmedia Publishing, 2011)
  • Qutb, Sayyid. Milestones


A basic knowledge of international politics, Middle East politics and political science will suffice as a prerequisite for this course. For a background on Middle East politics students can read Roger Owen’s State, Power and Politics in the Making of the Modern Middle East (New York: Routledge, 2004)
Sessions will be a combination of lectures by the instructor, visiting speakers and in-class discussions.
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 56
  • Total
  • 56
Type of assessment
Written examination
Written assignment
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
External censorship
Criteria for exam assesment
  • Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings
  • Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings
  • Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner