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BookTalk: Compulsion in Religion


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Compulsion in Religion: Saddam Hussein, Islam, and the Roots of Insurgencies

Geopolitics with Granieri


Samuel Helfont
Senior Fellow, FPRI
Lecturer, International Relations Program, UPenn

In his new book from Oxford University Press, Helfont investigates the roots of the religious insurgencies which erupted in Iraq following the American-led invasion in 2003. This book relies on access to the former regime's internal archives and secret files to challenge many of the underlying assumptions of American plans to occupy and rebuild Iraq. When the American-led invasion destroyed the regime’s authoritarian structures in 2003, it unleashed the forces that these structures were designed to contain, creating an atmosphere infused with religion, but lacking the checks provided by the former regime. Groups such as the Sadrists, al-Qaida in Iraq, and eventually the Islamic State emerged out of that context to tear the country apart. Helfont received his Ph.D. in Near Eastern Studies from Princeton University and his articles have appeared in Foreign Affairs, The New Republic, and other outlets.