During the 2023 American Political Science Association (APSA) Annual Meeting, Jadaliyya Syria Page Co-Editor Basileus Zeno received the Best 2022 APSA Paper award from the MENA Politics Section. The award recognizes the best paper presented at the previous meeting. Zeno was selected for his paper “The Shifting Rhetorics of the Syrian Uprising: Politics of Sectarianization,” which he presented at the 2022 Annual Meeting in Montreal, Canada last Fall. An honorable mention went to Allison Spencer Hartnett’s (University of Southern California) and Mohamed Saleh’s (London School of Economics) paper “Rural Intra-Elite Conflict, Colonization, and Demands for Power-Sharing: Evidence from Khedival Egypt.”
The selection committee, composed of professors Lisel Hintz (Johns Hopkins University), Bozena Welborne (Smith College), and Fotini Christia (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), presented the award in a virtual ceremony on September 1st.
The award committee highly praised Zeno’s unique contribution to wider scholarship of agency, identity, violence, and international relations:
This paper addresses the puzzle of how narratives articulated during the Syrian uprising that began in 2011 shifted from calls for political reform to sectarian and militarized discourses. In doing so, the author challenges static and homogenizing treatments of sects and sectarian conflict to unpack how and when the conflict became sectarianized, and by whom. Zeno analyzes the iterative and interactive processes through which the sectarian-coded framing of the conflict promulgated by Syrian elites and supralocal actors on the ground, online, and through Arab satellite channels shaped local activists’ own forms of identification in response to escalating regime violence. The committee found Zeno’s interpretivist approach, which leverages a rich set of data collected through ethnographic observation, interviews, and content analysis of protest slogans and online mobilization, to be particularly well suited to studying relational processes of boundary-making. We found the paper’s analysis of how, as Zeno writes, “sect” as a “residual sociality” becomes activated politically to be highly compelling and extremely well developed. The committee commends the author for the deep dive into the Syrian case, and believes paper makes an important contribution to wider studies of agency, identity, and violence on a topic of great societal importance for MENA and beyond.
A peer-reviewed version of this paper has been published in Nations and Nationalism as an open access with the support of a grant (identifier: G-18-55718) from Carnegie Corporation of New York for the LSE-based Grant number Legitimacy and citizenship in the Arab world research project. The same work has also won the Syrian Studies Association (SSA) annual prize for the most outstanding article at the 2022 Middle East Studies Association (MESA) Annual Meeting.
You can watch a conversation with Basileus Zeno moderated by Bassam Haddad about the Politics of Sectarianization in Syria below.
In related news, earlier this year, Zeno’s collaborative policy work on asylum in the United States was recognized nationally for its impact on the United States immigration law practices. His co-authored policy report, "Lives in Limbo: How the Boston Asylum Office Fails Asylum Seekers," received the 2022 Clinical Legal Education Association (CLEA) Award for Excellence in a Public Interest Case or Project. The report was published in partnership between the Refugee and Human Rights Clinic at the University of Maine School of Law, the ACLU of Maine, the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project (ILAP) and Zeno. It is the first ever comprehensive analysis of the inner workings of an asylum office in the United States. It investigates the problematic practices of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service’s Boston Asylum Office (BAO) and shows how the stunningly low approval rate for affirmative asylum petitions at the BAO causes further trauma to asylum seekers and endangers their family members abroad. The report details findings from analysis of documents and data received as a result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit. Additionally, it builds on interviews with asylees, asylum seekers, former asylum officers, and immigration attorneys. It exposes systemic problems with adjudication of affirmative asylum applications across the United Sates, including bias, a culture of distrust toward asylum seekers, and violations of their due process rights.
You can watch a conversation with Basileus Zeno moderated by Mouin Rabbani about Asylum in the USA below.
Basileus Zeno is a Sessional Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics at York University in Canada, and a co-editor of Jadaliyya’s Syria Page. He received his Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 2021. Following that, he was awarded Karl Loewenstein Fellowship in Political Science at Amherst College. Basileus also holds a B.A. and M.A. in Classical and Islamic Archaeology from Damascus University (Syria), and M.A. in Political Science and International Relations from Ohio University (USA). He was a MESA Global Academy Fellow between 2021and 2023.
Zeno’s writing has been published in academic as well as public-facing outlets, including Nations and Nationalism, Middle East Law and Governance, Digest of Middle East Studies, and The Washington Post. Additionally, Zeno received grants from major international institutions, including the Open Society Foundations, Carnegie Corporation of New York, and London School of Economics and Political Science. His work has combined research, advocacy and policy work on political violence, forced migration, international security, human rights, and decolonizing methodologies. He has been invited by academic and public institutions as a writer and speaker on issues related to Syria, war, and displacement. He presented his work globally at academic institutions such as the University of Chicago, Harvard University, Duke University, UCLA, UC San Diego, University of Vienna, University of Guelph, Wesleyan University, Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, Wellesley College, and numerous other places.