February 05, 2005

The Tribes!

Readers of this site will know that I've been interested for some time in the ways in which Middle Eastern tribal identities—especially those in Iraq—intersect with radical Islam. In general, it's neither very well known nor very well understood, which makes me glad that a recent RAND book, The Muslim World After 9/11, is broaching the topic:
Although the literature on the relationship between tribalism and radicalism is not yet well developed, interviews in the region and anecdotal evidence suggest that extremist tendencies seem to find fertile ground in areas with segmentary lineal tribal societies. Tribal conservatism—a cultural and not a religious feature—and religious extremism can be mutually reinforcing. In the absence of countervailing forces—for instance, a strong central authority—they produce a mix that, in the words of a Kuwaiti interlocutor, "leads to bin Laden."
I'm not sure about that "countervailing forces" bit. One should note that in Iraq, it was Saddam Hussein's 1999 al hamla al-imaniyah (Development of Islamic Faith) campaign that sought to mitigate tribal unrest by allowing them to channel their energies into Salafist Islamic practices. Radical Sunni clerics in Fallujah and Ramadi were allowed to preach their venom, so long as it wasn't directed at Saddam. So radical Islam was supposed to distract from more conventional nationalistic tendencies. Instead, they reinforced each other, as we're seeing in the present Sunni insurgency. Too bad Saddam didn't read this RAND book! Which is really quite good, by the way. I'll try to blog about more of the tribal stuff when it resurfaces. In light of the increasingly dangerous Baluch insurgency in Pakistan, this topic might have global importance.
-- Brad Plumer 6:22 PM || ||