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Wisdom of Crowds

Dec 18, 2022

This was one of the richest conversations we've recorded in a while. Our guest this week is Robert Nicholson, the founder of The Philos Project, an organization that promotes Christian engagement with the Middle East, and host of The Deep Map, a new podcast that explores the religious and historical roots of conflict in the region.

We asked Robert about what he thinks Westerners misunderstand the most about Middle Eastern politics: the role religion does, and doesn't play in the region's conflicts. Will countries need to craft collective identities that rise above religion for societies to progress? Robert thinks that goal is wildly unrealistic, and not even necessarily desirable.

Veering from from minimal democracy to forced population transfers, the conversation only gets more contentious—and weirdly philosophical—from there.

In Part 2 (available here for subscribers) Damir tries to push Shadi's fundamental commitments to a breaking point. If democratic minimalism requires that we respect the basic outcomes of the democratic process, then why should we be particularly concerned about illiberalism in Middle Eastern countries (or France, for that matter)? What higher principles can we appeal to, other than notions of liberal universalism that voters in the Middle East may not respect? And finally, we close out the discussion by asking Robert about the incoming Israeli coalition government—and the likelihood of things getting seriously ugly on the ground in the coming months.

Required Reading:

  • Shadi’s appearance on Robert’s podcast, The Deep Map.
  • “Benjamin Netanyahu: What Drives Israel’s Incoming Prime Minister?” by Michah Goodman (The Jerusalem Post).
  • The Problem of Democracy: America, the Middle East and the Rise and Fall of an Idea, by Shadi Hamid (Amazon).
  • The Mossawa Center, an advocacy organization for Arab citizens in Israel.