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."
I cannot agree with the author's title, but the article is very interesting nonetheless.
They've already got democracy in the Middle East. I guess this guy doesn't read the paper.
Europe was tribal, then it went to Monarchies, then it went to Democracy.
Much of the Middle East has already been in the Monarchy state for hundreds of years.
This is pure bs.
Nonsense as usual. All ready have it in Iraq and Afgainistan. More hysteria from rabid know nothings
Someone needs to show this clown where Israel and Turkey are located.
Tribalism may work well enough in areas of low population density and little travel/trade. Definitely not the stuff of civilization or high civilization. Send those that want it out into the desert with their camels, otherwise thwey should expect a different form of social organization.
Nazism reverted Europe to tribalism on a grand scale -- and we reverted it back. Tribalism is endemic to human society -- e.g., the Mafia, the Mexifornian gangs -- but it should have a minor role. Another world for tribalism is racism, and it's destructive no matter where it appears.
Bring Them Freedom, Or They Destroy Us
Real Clear Politics ^ | September 20, 2006 | Bernard Lewis
Posted on 10/06/2006 11:54:57 PM CDT by neverdem
The following is adapted from a lecture delivered by Bernard Lewis on July 16, 2006, on board the Crystal Serenity, during a Hillsdale College cruise in the British Isles.
By common consent among historians, the modern history of the Middle East begins in the year 1798, when the French Revolution arrived in Egypt in the form of a small expeditionary force led by a young general called Napoleon Bonaparte--who conquered and then ruled it for a while with appalling ease. General Bonaparte--he wasn't yet Emperor--proclaimed to the Egyptians that he had come to them on behalf of a French Republic built on the principles of liberty and equality. We know something about the reactions to this proclamation from the extensive literature of the Middle Eastern Arab world. The idea of equality posed no great problem. Equality is very basic in Islamic belief: All true believers are equal. Of course, that still leaves three "inferior" categories of people--slaves, unbelievers and women. But in general, the concept of equality was understood. Islam never developed anything like the caste system of India to the east or the privileged aristocracies of Christian Europe to the west. Equality was something they knew, respected, and in large measure practiced. But liberty was something else.
As used in Arabic at that time, liberty was not a political but a legal term: You were free if you were not a slave. The word liberty was not used as we use it in the Western world, as a metaphor for good government. So the idea of a republic founded on principles of freedom caused some puzzlement. Some years later an Egyptian sheikh--Sheikh Rifa'a Rafi' al-Tahtawi, who went to Paris as chaplain to the first group of Egyptian students sent to Europe--wrote a book about his adventures and explained his discovery of the meaning of freedom. He wrote that when the French talk about freedom they mean what Muslims mean when they talk about justice. By equating freedom with justice, he opened a whole new phase in the political and public discourse of the Arab world, and then, more broadly, the Islamic world.
Is Western-Style Freedom Transferable?
What is the possibility of freedom in the Islamic world, in the Western sense of the word? If you look at the current literature, you will find two views common in the United States and Europe. One of them holds that Islamic peoples are incapable of decent, civilized government. Whatever the West does, Muslims will be ruled by corrupt tyrants. Therefore the aim of our foreign policy should be to insure that they are our tyrants rather than someone else's--friendly rather than hostile tyrants. This point of view is very much favored in departments of state and foreign offices and is generally known, rather surprisingly, as the "pro-Arab" view. It is, of course, in no sense pro-Arab. It shows ignorance of the Arab past, contempt for the Arab present, and unconcern for the Arab future. The second common view is that Arab ways are different from our ways. They must be allowed to develop in accordance with their cultural principles, but it is possible for them--as for anyone else, anywhere in the world, with discreet help from outside and most specifically from the United States--to develop democratic institutions of a kind. This view is known as the "imperialist" view and has been vigorously denounced and condemned as such.
In thinking about these two views, it is helpful to step back and consider what Arab and Islamic society was like once and how it has been transformed in the modern age. The idea that how that society is now is how it has always been is totally false. The dictatorship of Saddam Hussein in Iraq or the Assad family in Syria or the more friendly dictatorship of Mubarak in Egypt--all of these have no roots whatsoever in the Arab or in the Islamic past. Let me quote to you from a letter written in 1786--three years before the French Revolution--by Mssr. Count de Choiseul-Gouffier, the French ambassador in Istanbul, in which he is trying to explain why he is making rather slow progress with the tasks entrusted to him by his government in dealing with the Ottoman government. "Here," he says, "things are not as in France where the king is sole master and does as he pleases." "Here," he says, "the sultan has to consult." He has to consult with the former holders of high offices, with the leaders of various groups and so on. And this is a slow process. This scenario is something radically different than the common image of Middle Eastern government today. And it is a description that ceased to be true because of a number of changes that occurred.
Let's spend a moment or two defining what we mean by freedom and democracy. There is a view sometimes expressed that "democracy" means the system of government evolved by the English-speaking peoples. Any departure from that is either a crime to be punished or a disease to be cured. I beg to differ from that point of view. Different societies develop different ways of conducting their affairs, and they do not need to resemble ours. And let us remember, after all, that American democracy after the War of Independence was compatible with slavery for three-quarters of a century and with the disenfranchisement of women for longer than that. Democracy is not born like the Phoenix. It comes in stages, and the stages and processes of development will differ from country to country, from society to society. The French cherish the curious illusion that they invented democracy, but since the great revolution of 1789, they have had two monarchies, two empires, two dictatorships, and at the last count, five republics. And I'm not sure that they've got it right yet.
There are, as I've tried to point out, elements in Islamic society which could well be conducive to democracy. And there are encouraging signs at the present moment--what happened in Iraq, for example, with millions of Iraqis willing to stand in line to vote, knowing that they were risking their lives, is a quite extraordinary achievement. It shows great courage, great resolution. Don't be misled by what you read in the media about Iraq. The situation is certainly not good, but there are redeeming features in it. The battle isn't over. It's still very difficult. There are still many major problems to overcome. There is a bitter anti-Western feeling which derives partly and increasingly from our support for what they see as tyrannies ruling over them. It's interesting that pro-American feeling is strongest in countries with anti-American governments. I've been told repeatedly by Iranians that there is no country in the world where pro-American feeling is stronger, deeper and more widespread than Iran. I've heard this from so many different Iranians--including some still living in Iran--that I believe it. When the American planes were flying over Afghanistan, the story was that many Iranians put signs on their roofs in English reading, "This way, please."
So there is a good deal of pro-Western and even specifically pro-American feeling. But the anti-American feeling is strongest in those countries that are ruled by what we are pleased to call "friendly governments." And it is those, of course, that are the most tyrannical and the most resented by their own people. The outlook at the moment is, I would say, very mixed. I think that the cause of developing free institutions--along their lines, not ours--is possible. One can see signs of its beginning in some countries. At the same time, the forces working against it are very powerful and well entrenched. And one of the greatest dangers is that on their side, they are firm and convinced and resolute. Whereas on our side, we are weak and undecided and irresolute. And in such a combat, it is not difficult to see which side will prevail.
I think that the effort is difficult and the outcome uncertain, but I think the effort must be made. Either we bring them freedom, or they destroy us.
Bernard Lewis is the Cleveland E. Dodge Professor Emeritus of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University.
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.
If you believe wars are to be won -- through the defeat of enemies -- then there is a solution.
And yeah, if it works, the rest of the ME should become "Israel". Waiting for lib heads to explode...
Not sure what you mean by "it". If you mean democracy, it's at best a very fragile seed planted in both places and not yet taken root. If / when the U.S. pulls out of either country, I see democracy going out the door in less than a year.
The general understanding in Afghanistan is that Karzai is the mayor of Kabul... not the leader of the country. In Iraq, most of Baghdad remains outside of the control purportedly rendered from the Green Zone. Tribalism still dominates both countries. Afghanistan has the Tajik Northern Alliance and most of the rest of the country is Pashtun (Taliban). Even among those groups you have subgroups (i.e., sub tribes) run by warlords / opium growers / smugglers. As for Iraq, where to start? Kurds in the North, Sunnis, Shia. All tribes.
I remember hearing a quote once that illustrates the Arab tribal mindset (and I paraphrase) - "My country against your country, my tribe against your tribe, my town against your town, my family against your family, me against you." The tribe goes all the way down to the man.
Just a little non-tribal dissent for thought.
All it takes to make a tribal society into a "democracy" is a few committed individuals within the tribe to force the issue...and the majority of the rest of the tribe will respond to the offer of freedom.
It is my thought that the movement to cities and growth of cities will overcome the tribal allegiences that are territorial.
Fathers and uncles are tribal, sons and cousins in cities pay lipservice. Grandsons forget about it altogether.
If you really think about this article, there is a lot of truth in it. Sure there are ME democracies, of which only one is remotely civilized, Israel. But the Sunnis are a sort of tribe, as are the Shia, the Kurds, the Turks, the Persians, the Afghan warlords, Somali warlords, Sudani militias etc. They really don't care about the welfare of others outside their groups. They kill and do what is best to put their group in power. The entire West is just the Others, merely pawns to obliterate and eventually take their land.
The Others will eventually have to come together as a supertribe. That will get their respect.
This is the typical leftwing tripe that endangers the West.
First the author states:
"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."
Then his describes:
"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."
Then, in typical anti-west leftwing fashion he concludes that this type of behavior is morally eqivalent to the American/Western form form of democratic government:
"The tribesman isn't 'wrong' or 'evil.' He just doesn't want what we're selling."
The irony here is that while the author is trying to be non-judgmental, he is basically saying mid-easterners are mentally incapable of democratic government. It took Americans nearly 150 years from first setting foot in Jamestown to revolt and start the beginings of a democratic gov't. It took another 10 years after the Revolutionary War to establish a true federal government and a Constitution. Why do we expect Iraqis to do it over night. I think THAT is what is unrealistic.
That's all I needed to see.
Steven needs to take a little tour of the Middle East. He might find a couple of new democracies if he did.
Israel and Iraq prove that abc just can't get any story correct. Do they try to lie, or is it just such a natural act for such low-lifes!?
No racism here...
Sonds more like he's been reading Kipling.
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.
Another arrogant Liberal "intellectual" who thinks "little brown people" are too stupid to understand the benefits of democracy and freedom.
About 66% of the eligible population voted. Most of them did so very enthusiastically.
That's democracy taking hold.
He'd be surprised (as I admit I was) as to how much the "little brown people" are just like us.
They want the same things we do: To prosper, to raise their families and to live in freedom.
This Scottish clansman is here to tell you that this article is a bunch of B.S.!
There has been democracy in the Middle East in spite of this
history. In the 1950's Lebanon was a democracy and could be now. When the Middle Eastern "man in the street" sees this
freedom existing in a neighboring country it certainly affects him.
The "tribalism" of Iraq can disappear in a single generation. Liberals will be forced to accept this truth as it unfolds before their eyes.
And then liberals will pretend they were never opposed to it in the first place.
Thank you, President Bush.
obviously what you cite is work in process.
its difficult to impose something on anyone unless they see the reason/benefit. Then they and their systems have to evolve to create the necessary infrastructure to proceed. You can not just catapult tribalists into the 21st century.
maybe you can.... go to the canadian north to meet the "eskimo"
Ok Ok whatever.
When I see the word democracy in this kind of article I thing freely elected open transparent goverment.
I think you're nitpicking. (and yes i know this will get me flamed, but I'm all growed up and can take it)
Instead of trying to play 'nice' let's just kill the SOBs.