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."
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.
You hit upon a good point. To extend it: Much of the problem in the middle east is caused by the fact that "islamogovernments" seek to project their brand of rule across political boundaries. Until political boundaries are respected, the middle east democracies will not take hold and establish liberty, because they will be continually challenged from the outside. Leaders like the ayatollah in iran - can't remember his name - who is calling for separation of religion and state could go a long way toward making political boundaries real, which would protect the budding democracies.
The arrogant Lefties made this same old, tired argument during the Vietnam war. Americans fall for it everytime.
I don't see how "little brown people" got inserted into the argument - race baiting is usually a tool of liberals.
In any event, many cultures are just not set up to handle civilized government beyond dictatorships. Africa is a good example, what it the ratio of thriving republics to corrupt regimes?
Like it or not, tribalism and Islam are big deterrents to any sort of democratic government. That is why the Isrealies are thriving and the rest of the middle east is pretty much in the 14th century - even with oil money.
The author is correct, if it had been written by Rush then you'd be praising it and rightly condemning the savageness of Islam.
Acknowledging the accuracy of the article doesn't mean you're a defeatist or want to cut and run. All it means is that trying to turn Iraq into a US-like republic is not the way to go. There are many other alternatives.
"About 66% of the eligible population voted."
And tribalism was thus mortally wounded.
The problem if MidEast tribalism is no secret, but the significance of Islam in this myopic writer's view is misnderstood. Far more than a "mere overlay," it is the glue which keeps the tribes in place as the intermediate source of social control. Without the pre- and pro-scriptions of Islam, the tribes would be easy prey to westernizing influences, and would soon have only nominal, vestigial control. It's one thing to hold out against Alexander's army. To resist the blandishments of materialistic Western affluence is a horse of a different color entirely. Only a super-ordinate set of sanctions such as provided by islam make it possible.
The problem of MidEast tribalism is no secret, but the significance of Islam in this myopic writer's view is misnderstood. Far more than a "mere overlay," it is the glue which keeps the tribes in place as the intermediate source of social control. Without the pre- and pro-scriptions of Islam, the tribes would be easy prey to westernizing influences, and would soon have only nominal, vestigial control. It's one thing to hold out against Alexander's army. To resist the blandishments of materialistic Western affluence is a horse of a different color entirely. Only a super-ordinate set of sanctions such as provided by islam make it possible.
I don't agree and no, I wouldn't give a rat's who wrote the article. I dispute crap like this all the time, regardless of who's spewing it.
But then again, I'm not some bearded intellectual with leather patches on my elbows.
I'm just some red-blooded American who's been working (and observing) in Iraq for nearly three years. What do I know?
I think you are right, that urbanization weakens tribalism by replacing its allegiances with other forms of social organization that work better in non-rural, nonagrarian economic settings.
Exactly! When someone shoots flaming arrows at me as liberals tend to do, I shoot flaming arrows back. Water balloons just won't cut it. I'm a firm believer in fighting the enemy where they want to fight. Taking the "high road" is for sissies and usually will cause you to get your ass whipped. Had this article been written by Limbaugh, the lefties would have been screaming that "Middle East" is "code" for "little brown people." The DemocRATS RIGHT NOW are accusing us of killing "little brown people" with our war on terrorism. Learn a little sarcasm. It comes in handy when fighting the war against liberals.
Values vs blood, ping.