This introductory chapter begins with a brief description of the ʻAlawis, considered one of the most conspicuous, talked-about confessional groups in the Middle East today. The ʻAlawis represent perhaps 11 percent of the population in Syria, with important regional concentrations in the province of Antioch (Hatay) as well as in Adana and Mersin in southern Turkey, and in the ʻAkkar district and the city of Tripoli in northern Lebanon. The discussion then turns to classical perceptions of ʻAlawism, nomenclaturism, and dissimulation. Almost all previous studies of the ʻAlawi past either have been too concerned with theology or have provided only histoiré événementielle, emplotting a handful of references to seemingly ubiquitous, but in fact very rare, instances of sectarian strife, discrimination, and violence of the sort favored in the narrative chronicles, to produce a story of apparently unremitting conflict. In contrast, this book focuses on the less conspicuous—but ultimately more typical—historical evidence of mundane, uneventful, everyday interaction between the ʻAlawis, their neighbors, and the state authorities. An overview of the subsequent chapters is also presented.
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