A Clash of Emotions: The Politics of Humiliation and Political Violence in the Middle East

Khaled Fattah, Karin Marie Fierke

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

131 Citations (Scopus)


After the attacks of 9/11 Americans asked, 'Why do they hate us so much?' The answer has been framed in terms of a range of 'clashes', none of which has addressed emotion, which is at the centre of the question. Emotion, and particularly humiliation, has begun to be addressed within the literature of IR. Numerous scholars have highlighted the pervasiveness of a discourse of humiliation in the Middle East and its relationship to the swelling ranks of recruits who are willing to act as human bombs. The purpose of this article is to examine the emotional dynamics of this relationship. The first section undertakes a conceptual analysis of humiliation and betrayal. The second section explores how these emotions have been given coherent meaning in the narrative of Islamists from the region. This is followed by an historical analysis of how this narrative has provided a framework for giving meaning to a range of national, regional and international interactions, particularly since 1967, and has contributed to the emergence of Islam as the basis for transnational identity in what had become a highly secular region. Section three examines flaws in the logic of both militant Islamists and the US-led 'War on Terrorism', arguing that both have exacerbated feelings of humiliation in the region rather than contributing to a restoration of dignity. The conclusion builds on the principle of human dignity to rethink the international approach to political violence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-93
Number of pages27
JournalEuropean Journal of International Relations
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2009


  • betrayal
  • dignity
  • emotion
  • humiliation
  • political violence
  • WAR


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