Friday, April 11, 2008

Tribes under the cover of a world religion vs. states with central authority and individual responsibility & rights?

Even though I am not a regular reader of the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard, this long article - "I and My Brother Against My Cousin", about the book Culture and Conflict in the Middle East by Philip Carl Salzman, was interesting. It offers a view point on a few things related to the War on Terror & the ongoing conflict between Islam and the west. Certainly the Standard article is not the final word on this matter, much more research & thought is necessary - but in my rough ideas re: what I think my question is contains the following - in this world we have several very effective nations with centralized governments, law & order nation wide, & individual rights. We also have many nations with a government in name, but without law & order nationwide or prosperity or access to prosperity for many individuals and without individual rights (rights may exist on paper, but not in practice) or means with which to defend such (fair courts, etc.). Perhaps the people in the second type of nations have not fully invested themselves in the idea of nationhood - but rather their safety, identity & well being actually is or is thought to derive from their membership or their good standing in a tribe or a clan or a segment of society - allegiance to a tribe vs. allegiance to the authority of the central government (this maybe with good reason, perhaps the central government ignores their needs but the local tribal leader or warlord or priest takes care of them). So the question is - aside from using force in every single instant - is it possible to move both half-functioning governments in certain countries and citizens of those countries to whom various tribes are their actual nation of most important membership (& not the "nation" with which the government identifies with & represents to the rest of the world) towards creating "real" nations? By real I mean all citizens (or the vast majority) have a strong interest in the existence of the central government & in turn the government has a strong interest in making sure all citizens are protected & supported, regardless of tribal, ethnic or many other sub-allegiances that various citizens may have.

As US based & other western based filmmakers, story-tellers, and people who observe, reflect & analyze human behavior & as people who know that (well, at least we should if we remember high school history lessons :) tribal, ethnic, & religious discord have been overcome in the past in the west to create strong nations were each citizen or resident or visitor has value and a voice (generally) - some of us could end up playing a valuable role in the global discussion that may lead to people choosing individuality and doing the right thing in a comprehensive human sense (vs. the right thing as determined by one tribe or clan) and creating governments that represents the interests of all in a nation - not just of those related to the people in government offices. Tribe (or clan, or race, etc.) vs. underdeveloped government is quite possibly the biggest problem facing many countries in Africa, Middle East, Asia & some parts of Europe. This matters to us because these are the same places where many wars break out & where many recruits to terrorist organizations originate from. So, unless the War on Terror is accompanied by other tools of persuasion (maybe film?) in favor of stability and individual rights, liberties, access to means of making a living - we might be in for a long, long time of wars in many developing countries - specially the ones with Islamic culture and tribal living (although, not exclusively in those places - the war in Sri Lanka (a predominately Buddhist country) - between the LTTE & the government - is now over 20 years old, and there were 2 other incredibly bloody insurrections there - in 1971 & 1988-89, JVP vs. the government - caused partially by citizens being unhappy with the government's perceived lack of interest in aiding with the improving of the quality of the citizens lives).

Anyway, back to the article that got me thinking again about all this (i was thinking some about this subject a few days ago while thinking about the threat western artists such as Salman Rushdie & the ones who drew the Mohammad cartoons face from Islamic death threats); check it out here.

Here is a little bit from the article:

"Nearly a century after Ishi's surrender, the United States finds itself locked in a struggle with fierce jihadi warriors shaped by the pervasively tribal culture of the Islamic Near East. Whether hidden in the mountain sanctuaries of Waziristan or in the fastness of the Iraqi desert, the heart of the jihadi rebellion is tribal. The classic tribal themes of honor and solidarity inspire and draw recruits to the cause--from among lowland peasants and educated urbanites as well. Yet tribalism has been vastly overshadowed by Islam in our attempts to understand the jihadist challenge."

And, much later:

"Since 9/11, we've understood Islam as the fundamental source of the cultural challenge coming from the Middle East. That has given rise to a strategy of direct assault--an almost Voltairean attempt to deflate religious pretensions in hopes of forcing a change. Islam itself may be a complex extension of tribal culture, yet technically, Islam is defined as something different from, and sometimes antagonistic to, pure tribalism. When Muslim immigrants in Europe debate amongst themselves female seclusion, cousin marriage, and honor killings, reformers argue that these are "cultural" rather than strictly "Islamic" practices. There is truth here and also an opening."

The rest here.

- Sujewa

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