Skip to comments.Why We Will Never See Democracy in the Middle East
Posted on 10/08/2006 7:11:46 AM PDT by Axhandle
September 11, 2006 In the five years since 9/11, much looking-back has been done. The problem is we haven't looked back far enough. To understand the nature of the enemy in the Middle East and to evaluate the prospects for democracy and peace, we need to extend our gaze not five years into the past, but five hundred and even five thousand.
I've spent the last four years writing two books about Alexander the Great's campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, 331-327 B.C. What has struck me in the research is the dead-ringer parallels between that ancient East-West clash and the modern ones the U.S. is fighting today despite the fact that Alexander was pre-Christian and his enemies were pre-Islamic.
What history seems to be telling us is that the quality that most defines our Eastern adversaries, then and now, is neither religion nor extremism nor "Islamo-fascism," but something much older and more fundamental.
Extremist Islam is merely an overlay (and a recent one at that) atop the primal, unchanging mind-set of the East, which is tribalism, and its constituent individual, the tribesman.
Tribalism and the tribal mind-set are what the West is up against in Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, the Iraqi insurgency, the Sunni and Shiite militias, and the Taliban.
What exactly is the tribal mind-set? It derives from that most ancient of social organizations, whose virtues are obedience, fidelity, warrior pride, respect for ancestors, hostility to outsiders and willingness to lay down one's life for the cause/faith/group. The tribe's ideal leader is closer to Tony Soprano than to FDR and its social mores are more like those of Geronimo's Apaches than the city council of Scarsdale or Shepherd's Bush.
Can the tribal mind embrace democracy? Consider the contrast between the tribesman and the citizen:
A citizen is an autonomous individual. A citizen is free. A citizen possesses the capacity to evaluate the facts and prospects of his world and to make decisions guided by his own conscience, uncoerced by authority. A congress of citizens acting in free elections determines the political course of a democratic community.
A citizen prizes his freedom; therefore he grants it to others. He is willing to respect the rights of minorities within the community, so that his own rights will be shielded when he finds himself in the minority.
The tribesman doesn't see it that way. Within the fixed hierarchy of the tribe, disagreement is not dissent (and thus to be tolerated) but treachery, even heresy, which must be ruthlessly expunged. The tribe exists for itself alone. It is perpetually at war with all other tribes, even of its own race and religion.
The tribesman deals in absolutes. One is either "of blood" or not. The enemy spy can infiltrate the tribal network no more than a prison guard can worm his way into the Aryan Brotherhood. The tribe recognizes its own. It expels (or beheads) the alien. The tribe cannot be negotiated with. "Good faith" applies only within the pale, never beyond.
The tribesman does not operate by a body of civil law but by a code of honor. If he receives a wrong, he does not seek redress. He wants revenge. The taking of revenge is a virtue in tribal eyes, called badal in the Pathan code of nangwali. A man who does not take revenge is not a man. Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and the sectarian militias of Iraq are not in the war business, they are in the revenge business. The revenge-seeker cannot be negotiated with because his intent is bound up with honor. It is an absolute.
Perhaps the most telling difference between the citizen and the tribesman lies in their views of the Other. The citizen embraces multiplicity; to him, the melting pot produces richness and cultural diversity. To the tribesman, the alien is not even given the dignity of being a human being; he is a gentile, an infidel, a demon.
The tribesman grants justice within the tribe. In his internal councils, empathy, humor and compassion may prevail. Outside the tribe? Forget it. Can Shiites really sit down with Sunnis? Will the pledges of Hezbollah or Hamas to Israel prove true?
The democratic virtues of the Enlightenment, the Rights of Man and the American Constitution are not virtues to the tribesman. They are effeminate. They lack warrior honor. "Freedom" to the tribesman means the extinction of all he and his ancestors hold dear; "democracy" and Western values are a mortal threat to the ancient and proud way of life that the tribal mind has embraced (whether Scythian nomads, Amazon warriors, or American Indians) for tens of thousands of years.
The tribesman isn't "wrong" or "evil." He just doesn't want what we're selling. We will not convert him with free elections or with SAW machine guns. To him, 9/11 is only the most recent act of badal in a clash that has been raging for more than two thousand years. We will not find the way to contest him, let alone defeat him, until we see the struggle against him within the greater context of this millenia-old, unaltering, East-West war.
Historian Steven Pressfield is the author of the just-release novel The Afghan Campaign. He has written four other historical novels including "Gates of Fire," "The War of Art," and "The Legend of Bagger Vance."
The neo-confederates that hang onto their flag in the south are an example of American tribalism.
I would qualify that to say that "history to some starts each day when they wake up.
The West had those but they had one thing more that united them they had the Christian faith which in the long run rose above tribalism because it was monolithic.
WRONG... Sharia law IS democracy.. Democracy is MOB RULE...
Islam is has always been ruled by Mob Rule.. Tribal Law..
Like Canada and virtually all Euopean countrys.. including England.. Democracy results in socialism and socialism is Slavery by Government..
Democracy is the road to socialism. Karl Marx
Democracy is indispensable to socialism. The goal of socialism is communism. V.I. Lenin
The meaning of peace is the absence of opposition to socialism.- Karl Marx
About the author...
"Nice boy, but he's about as sharp as a bowling ball"-Foghorn Leghorn
Rome wasn't built in a day, Mr. Pressfield.
I agree. But we've got a whole lot of tribes and past grievances and outside actors to contend with.
I found this article while reading a blog post about tribalism. I did not find that post to be all that useful, but it did have an interesting point about religion being a historically successful means of overcoming tribalism: "The universe is a unity. Since it is a unity there can be only one Maker. Tribal gods are null and void. Unity for a nation then becomes possible."
Kind of an oddly worded way of saying it, but basically allegiance to the tribe (the extended family) is difficult to overcome, but it can be overcome, substituted and/or augmented with allegiance to the greatest elder of all: our maker. Religion has been a key instrument in uniting. It is how Mohammed united the Arab tribes, for example.
The problem that we now face in Iraq is that religion already united the tribes. Hussein, especially after Desert Storm, very skillfully reconstituted tribal politics in order to reconsolidate his hold on power. A great article that I read a while back (which I am no longer able to find online) was called "Neo-Tribalism in Iraq". It discussed how tribalism came to dominate Iraqi politics, how rewards and punishments were doled out to tribes more so than individuals or other groups. It also discussed, to my surprise, tribal wars in the 90s that were so large and violent that the government didn't even intervene. There were, in some cases, tribes literally firing Howitzers at one another.
So how to unify the tribes now? Religion has already been used and tribalism revived. Try another religion, perhaps? Prosletyzing in the mideast goes over about as well as a fart in church. Many who have commented on this thread point out that we have democracy in the mideast - just look at the votes that have been held and the purple fingers being waved. Well, congratulations to them for reading the title of the article and nothing else. If our goal were to hold an election or two, then our mission is accomplished and we can pack up and go home. Our goal is to establish a sustainable democracy - not hold a couple of elections.
Tribalism and religion are the big stumbling blocks for us as we try to formulate and implement a strategy for creating a sustainable democracy in Iraq. Religion can effectively overcome tribalism, but religion has been effectively manipulated to rally the masses against building institutions necessary for democracy. This has caused us to often resort to exploiting tribal politics as an expedient means to gaining cooperation from the people, which reinforces the tribalism that lends itself to conditions that are not conducive to democracy.
3 steps forward, 2 steps back. Repeat.
You really don't understand us do you. We are 100% American, we put Americans into space, we refine the Gas that Americans ride to work using, and we answer the call of our Nation in far greater numbers than any other geographic area. That flag is not tribal, but a statement in contrast to the dbm and their forced interpretation of it.
American Tribalism was cemented with the destruction of the Twin Towers on 9/11. You are either with us, or against us... an American, or an anti-American... that's my only "tribe"! That's my only creed!
A Representative Republic will do.
No problem. Simple answer: Reservations.
Followed by Casinos and cheap smokes.
I think they are more into the 10th amendment, actually.
Who cares about Arab democracy? I just want them pacified and removed from the equation. When they are ready to join the 19th Century, let alone the 21st, they can let us know.
I am not an expert on this but tribalism is the most basic form of organization known to man. If you look at these areas, typically they are low density , low level socio economic agrarian based systems. They have not yet had a need to evolve away from their "proven" methods of education, capital organization, tecnological advancement, government and government practices such as taxation. Sure you can give backwards people the ability to vote, but without the evolution in infrastructure this "democracy" to our standards will fail. It will tend to regress to what they understand and know. The thing that works for them.
If on the other hand they can see the need and benefits of education and deliver it to the masses, then socio-political advancement can occur. Then the necessary infrastrucrue will develope.
As long as they think tribal- as opposed to "national", they will be in the same rut
There is a Darwinism to ideas. The good idea will invariably push out the bad one, no matter how much the believers in the bad idea fervently pray that it dominate.
Socialism is an excellent example of a Darwinistic loser.
Fortunately, successful systems of organization are pretty rare, and for the time being, we can see most of them coexisting on Earth at the same time.
To begin with is familial organization, never complete chaos. But families soon expand and have to interbreed. From that point on, they must exist in a tribal organization, the lowest order of real organization.
This is because tribes perform the essential role of government, by the definition of Adam Smith, providing for external security and internal order.
However, tribes have structural limitations as to how many members they may have, so you are faced with the need for a multi-tribal authority.
Enter codified legal systems like Sharia law. When they are needed to act as a government of different tribes, they are very useful and very popular. This is because they are so much more efficient than tribal custom.
But this is overcome with urbanization, and the loss of tribal affiliation. Sharia works when your organization is based on tribal leaders meeting in jurga. But when tribes wither away, it is overcome by the best system of government ever devised.
I will note that many of the wiser tribal leaders in Iraq see the superiority of democracy over tribal custom, and even Sharia law. It is so obvious to them, as leaders, that they have expressed a willingness to cede their tribal authority to the democratically elected government.
In doing so, they are doing the best they can for their tribe, because in democracy, they see their tribe benefitting far more in all ways than they as tribal leaders could bring about.
I distictly omitted another phase of organization that happened in the western world, feudalism, because it parallels Sharia law as another system by which diverse tribes can cooperate to mutual advantage. But both feudalism and Sharia law are outmoded; neither have a place in a modern country anymore.
In those few nations that try to have both a secular law and Sharia, it is a disaster, and cannot survive. Because a nation, like a man, cannot have two masters. So either elements of Sharia will become part of that nations secular law, as interpreted by secular judges, or Sharia will fade away.