This blog entry was originally written on August 5, 2006.
But with the appearance of ISIS/IS, I feel that a revision and expansion is in order.
In response to a friend, I wrote:
“I assume you are speaking about Haim Harari’s Undeclared WWIII.”
Yes, it might sound like that, but in fact, he is claiming that there is a war going on, and then he explains how this is. I agree that he is drawing it to its extremes, when he claims that it is the Islamic world against the rest of the World. However, I do think he has a point about the method, structure and underlying reasons for terror actions as such. Instruments of terror used to be assassinations, revolutions, and up-risings – they were traditionally aimed at governments. Even the IRA did not target the public, although they used modern methods of Terrorism (bombings, hostage taking etc.) – the Islamic militants have changed the targeting and execution of Terrorism. I agree that not all Islamists are Terrorists – I suspect, but it is only a suspicion, that it has to do with culture. The Muslims of Indonesia are Peaceful, but it seems to me that Muslims in the Middle East are not, and even that is a generalization, because not all Muslims in the Middle East are non-Peaceful…so it is a specific group, not necessarily tied to their Islamic Faith. Then what is it? I think Haim Harari gives a pretty good picture.[a side note:]I am now going to say something that might sound like I am saying that Islam is a Barbaric Religion – it’s hard for me to explain this, mostly because English is not my native tongue, so please keep this in mind.
Put Islam into a historical/cultural perspective and it becomes pretty clear that the Middle East is a Tribal Society, based in Tribal Religion – Yes, Judaism is a Tribal Religion too – the only real difference between Judaism and Islam in this context is TIME. Judaism has been around for some 2000 years longer than Islam, which means that if you give Islam in the Middle East and its adherents another 1500 years (at most) it will have “evolved” beyond explicit Tribal culture. This is not intended as an expression value or judgment. Let us not forget that Saladin the Great founded one of the most advanced and enlightened civilizations the world has ever seen. I do not intend to insult Islam or Muslims, and if I have done so, I apologize.
I think that what Haim Harari is aiming at is not Islam or even Muslims, but this Tribal Culture that is using Islam as a pretext for its craziness. It could just as well have been Xianism or Shintoism or for that matter Judaism, the Religion is just a coat in which these militants are covering themselves. Trying to force Nations to adopt Political Systems that they have not yet acquired the readiness for, through political evolution, such as is now being done in Iraq, is only going to make matters worse. Each nation has to arrive at their own brand of democracy – unfortunately, we in the West are trying to force OUR brand of democracy on the Nations of the Middle/Near East, and like it or not but that is not going to work, because, fast or slow, they have to work out what democracy is within their context.
Some often point to the fact that Israel is a functioning democratic State, yet it is situated in the Middle and Near east. They forget that Israel was founded by Jews raised within the European Sphere, for at least the last 1000 years, and Jews from out-side the Middle/Near East are constantly immigrating to Israel – this gives Israel a different angle of approach.
And again, if I have said anything that is offending or insulting to Muslims or Islam – please tell me, because that was never my intention, and I did so unwittingly.”
Another Friend then commented:
“How does the tribal religion context mix in with violence? I do not see the absolute connection.”
Not Tribal RELIGION – Tribal CULTURE. I pointed out that Islam and Judaism are both Tribal Religions, because it was in Religion that TRIBE originated once upon a time. Most Societies have managed to transition from Tribal to National Culture often through significant adaptations of Religious Belief – the appearance of Islam is one such adaptation – not of the Quran, Torah or the Bible, but of Tribal Religion(s) indigenous to the Near and Middle East. If we “clean out” the religious aspect from the Prophet Muhammad, what we have is a political leader with a vision. A vision of all Arab tribes UNITED into ONE PEOPLE. The best way to unite and solidify a Society is through Religion – The Jews did it, The Egyptians did it…That is why I say that if we give Islam another 1500 years (at most) we will most likely see another Ottoman Empire as it was when it was at its high. Political evolution.
Tribal Culture and violence mix if you think of yourself as part of a Tribe that has to defend the tribal territory from competing tribes. If you look at any terror organization, you will see that they are all individually operating “cells.”
What holds the tribe together is either a common cause or a strong emotional common bond, if there are no such direct causes or emotional bonds, religion is a very strong replacement/connector.
The best analogy I can give is the gang-culture in most larger cities or the example of religious/political cults – William Golding actually describes this very well in Lord of the Flies – what is it that drive the boys in Lord of the Flies? Fear. Fear that is being used/manipulated by the one with either the most resources or the most genial ways of inflicting pain. Haim Harari suggests that the terror organizations’ low-rank members are being manipulated and used by leaders with genial ways of inflicting pain – what greater pain can there be than being ostracized from the only community you are being told you belong in? Or from G-d Himself?
We all know that Islam doesn’t prescribe FGM [Female Genital Mutilation] Yet it is basically only known to Islamic Countries in North and North Central Africa – and it is being enforced/taught to people using distortions of Islam, – why do you think that is? Because of Islam? No, because of a strong tribal culture. Women/girls who manage to escape undergoing FGM are without exception expelled/shunned in some way or other – because they, through no conforming to the customs of the “tribe,” have, in the eyes of the “tribe,” denounced the “tribe.” Humans are social beings, we will do pretty much anything to avoid being alone and on the out-side.
In most tribal societies, the one with the most resources, thankfully, is the one that acts as the Leader, so violence does not come into play unless there’s a competing tribe moving in on the territory.
Two small tribes may even work together for a short period to vanquish a larger tribe. When the goal is achieved the two small tribes will go their separate ways, only to next day be fighting each other again for the disputed hill-top or fishing water – or simply to achieve honor, either for the Tribe or for Head of the Tribe.
If the head of the tribe is G-d or something that replaces G-d, like strong emotions, such as anger, joy or grief, then you have a good incentive. This is true, especially if leaders of the tribe tell you that G-d expects you to die for the Tribe, preferably taking a couple of people from the other tribe with you as you exit from this world. Add to this, fiery rallies, giant meetings, demonstrations – those are nothing but replacements for spiritual experiences.
Just look at Germany during the Third Reich – ordinary, good, moral and ethical Germans were gathering en masse for the privilege to chant “Heil H-tler” and “Sieg Heil” and sing “Horst Wessel” – even those who did not believe in Nazism, who went to one or two of those rallies would find themselves chanting along, salute and all. What was Nazi Germany’s basic chant?
“Us, we the tribe, against them, the other Tribe”.
What was it Hitler used to drive that home? The Versailles Peace Treaty, a moment in history that most Germans thought of with feelings of being humiliated.
Guess what – the Arabs of the Near/Middle East have their own Versailles Peace treaty, only it was signed at Sevres 1920. Most came from that Peace Treaty feeling screwed, royally screwed. The anger many Arab Nations have towards the West is actually well based in history. When the Ottoman Empire fell, many Arabs felt that they had really, really lost something. They had lost what made them ARABS. Oh, they were still Arabs, and they were still Muslims, but their sense of self had been shattered.
Now, most went on, picking up the pieces, without much ado – but within the fabric of the Arab Nations in the Near and Middle East, there were those for whom there were no pieces to pick up, no alternative other than trying to either get it back or at least get even. Those were easy prey for the power hungry and the unscrupulous. What is it most of these Groups/Nations are saying they want? An Islamic/Muslim IDENTITY. They want to become ARABS again, as they were under Muhammad, and under Saladin the Great – and we are telling them, from their perspective that they can’t ever be allowed to be ARABS. No wonder they hate us.
Therefore, when someone comes along and tell these lost Arabs that he can give them this back, and more even, they grab it. Not all – as I said above, not all Arabs feel this way, but the ones with just a little too much hopelessness do. Along the way, I believe they have lost sense of what is really, really driving them. Now it has just become hatred aimed at the “Other Tribe.”
I wrote this in 2006. Now, eight years later, a radical Islamic group, ISIS/IS has emerged out of the Syrian civil war and the Arab spring, declaring an independent Islamic Caliphate.
“The jihadist insurgent group ISIS, or as it now prefers to be called, the Islamic State, appears well on the road to achieving its stated goal: the restoration of the caliphate. The concept, which refers to an Islamic state, presided over by a leader with both political and religious authority, dates from the various Muslim empires that followed the time of the Prophet Muhammad. From the seventh century onward, the caliph was, literally, his “successor.” (NY Times July 2 2014).
This group is a, as far as I can determine a direct descendant of Al-Qaida. Their purpose is not to wreck general havoc in the West. They are very open about wanting a re-establishment and restoration of what the Arabs lost in the Sevres. They do not want the Ottoman Empire. They want the sense of Arab identity they had under Saladin.
The Ayyubid empire under Saladin in 1188.
You and I can argue that they are crazy; that they have no idea what they have taken on, and so on. We might be right. We might be wrong. In the end, we will find that forcing democracy on others, or dictating to others what they should do, is a bad move. By consistently and relentlessly pushing our Western points of view and ways of doing things on the Arab world, we are not only painting ourselves into a corner that can only lead to more military ‘solutions’, we are forcing the Arab world to defend itself through military offense. We are literally causing the bloodshed we push our ways on others to avoid.
ISIS controlled or claimed territories July 2014