Wednesday, May 16, 2007

I Pledge Allegiance to ...

Iraqis today, when looking for security, will often turn to those groups with which they identify and to whom they align themselves, whether that is their religious sect or their clan and tribal affiliations. Shaqawa has been one of the few Iraqi bloggers, believe it or not, who talks directly about this issue.
Sectarianism is natural and makes sense. Being for your family and your community is the way things work everywhere in the world. When you are facing a huge threat (mass murderers in the case of Iraq) then you are of course going to protect yourself, your family, your community. I think only in Iraq it is automatically a bad word because people hate to see the Shi’a having power after the Shi’ite majority was oppressed for so long. Still, I think that sectarianism, if it means that you support your group against all others, and support your group in a way to harm others, then it is a crime and such people should be shown as criminals and condemned. It is a fine line, isn’t it? Never black and white and never good and bad!
Shaqawa argues that it is natural for people to turn to one's family and community in times of trouble, which is clear enough. But it is another thing, he says, when one uses violence against those people in your neighborhood or area who may belong to another sect or clan or tribe. Iraqis are killing Iraqis, it appears, for reasons that are both ancient and completely contemporary.

Over the last four years I've learned a lot about Iraq and Iraqis. What stands out the most for me is how alien the societal composition of Iraq is in comparison to American culture. Iraq is a tribal culture. From the family, the circle of identity widens to the clan, and from the clan to one's tribe. To understand Iraqi society, one needs to acknowledge the degree of power wielded by the sheikhs, the leaders of the tribes. Eli Lake, on a recent video call from Baghdad for Blogginheads TV, offers a fairly complete view of how sheikhs and their tribes function in Iraq.

America, in contrast, is a self-selected country of immigrants from all over the world where one rubs shoulders daily with people of different national origins. For us, the idea of a sheikh is an empty category. There is no one in the United States who even remotely functions as a sheikh does in Iraqi society. While both Zeyad and Riverbend (see links at bottom) have written in the past about the tribal nature of Iraqi society, I am waiting for other Iraqi bloggers to tackle this subject. Are tribal power relations as strong in Baghdad as outside Baghdad? With the rise in sectarianism, what has happened to those tribes whose members are both Shia and Sunni? Can any Iraqi bloggers answer these and similar questions?

And, finally, here's the million-dollar question. Can a tribal culture become democratic? Is it at all possible that an Iraqi would vote for someone from a different sect if he believed that he or she were the candidate with better ideas? Would an Iraqi ever vote against the wishes of his or her sheikh? Or is Iraqi society best run under another "strongman"? Is another dictator in Iraq inevitable given that intertribal conflicts, more often than not, produce the survival of the most lethal bastard?


Zeyad Kasim, "Iraq's Tribal Society: a state within a state"; my blog entry "Tribe or Party?" has links to Zeyad's four-part series.

Riverbend, "Sheikhs and Tribes."


MOST AWKWARD AND FARCICAL TWO-STEP AWARD goes to Sunni cleric Harith Al-Dari.
Al-Dhari confirms with TIME the ongoing divorce of the al-Qa'ida project in Iraq from other armed Sunni resistance movements, and the increasing withdrawal of end tacit support by other Sunni groups for the al-Qa'ida organization in Iraq.

While the Association of Muslim Scholars may have given “tacit backing” to the al-Qa'ida-linked organizations in Iraq, because of its enmity to the US occupation and the new Iraqi government, al-Dhari says that his views about al-Qa'ida have changed, TIME writes.
Ongoing divorce? Huh, jeez, TAI told us that there was absolutely NO CONNECTION between the "brave resistance" and the foreign jihadis?!

Hey, we were never married but now are definitely divorced.



By the way, "tacit support" is one of the more laughable evasions of truth I've read in a while. That piece of cloth may cover one's genitals -- if you're a gnat.


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