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Project D14

Strategies of Heroization in Conflicts in the Middle East Since the 1970s


Prof. Dr. Johanna Pink
Dr. Olmo Gölz

Department of Middle-Eastern Studies

This project addresses the evaluation of heroization strategies in violent conflicts in the Middle East since the 1970s. That state and non-state actors use a large repertoire of heroic figures and heroization mechanisms for mobilization in revolutionary contexts, conflicts and wars serves as the analytic starting point of this research. This heroically charged discourse serves to legitimize or delegitimize the use of violence. It propagates idealized models of soldiers and calls for heroic martyrs. This rhetoric has helped to establish the stereotypical perception of "suicide assassins" and "Islamic fighters" in the Middle East as well as in Europe. This project concentrates on the time between the late 1970s and early 1990s, when it is assumed that the ideological, religious and political conflicts and actors in the Middle East contributed to the emergence of heroic and demonized or anti-heroic stereotypes.

The project furthermore aims to examine the underlying historical processes of relationships of exchange between opposing parties while also analyzing heroization and demonization processes. In this way, this research not only contributes to a better understanding of the mechanisms of the active production of heroes and types of heroism in one specific place and time; it also seeks to formulate a theoretical framework that allows the heroic to be used as an instrument of analysis in the evaluation of the relationship between conflicting parties. Moreover, the project aims to investigate the recent ideological, social and medial history of the region, which has not been previously explored in depth, while also historically delving into contemporary discussions of jihadism and martyrdom. It is assumed that, during the time in question, assessments can be made about how discourse formations were implemented in the medial analysis of the production of heroes, something which has shaped the Middle East since the turn of the millennium and has become increasingly reactivated in contemporary conflicts.

The postdoctoral thesis accompanying this project furthermore examines the dynamics of heroization in the Iran-Iraq War (1980–1988), consolidating the systems of heroization processes on the level of official-ideological discourse. The central thesis of this work is that the analysis of the heroic in the case of the Iran-Iraq War and the discourse embedded in it is paradigmatically adequate for characterizing the political systems that have emerged in both states.