Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Nationalism vs Tribalism vis-à-vis Iraq

I've taken some commentators apart over their ignorant and arrogant misuse of "tribalism" to describe what is really Nationalism. It's a fairly easy task given that one of the justifications they use for their mischaracterization of tribalism is George Orwell's "Notes on Nationalism." Orwell doesn't mention "tribalism" but he describes Nationalism in starkly specific detail, pointing out that many, many "isms" of the modern era are all versions of Nationalism. That is apparently a difficult concept for some folks to grasp. They seem to need to believe that nationalism and tribalism are the same thing. They're not.

The difference is that of scale, most obviously. But there is also the difference between "mindlessness" and "mindfulness." Tribalists are for the most part "mindful" of their loyalties and their sense of place and purpose. It's really quite remarkable. Nationalists, on the other hand, are deliberately made "mindless." De-tribalization is a necessary step in the process of creating a Nationalist enterprise because it is necessary to replace the mindfulness of the tribe with the mindlessness of the Nation.

I'm reminded of all this again because of the hooey over the "End of Combat Operations" in Iraq, once again, supposedly, solidifying the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iraq as an Independent Nation.

Well. Hold on. This "sovereignty" thing has been something of a bête noire with regards to Iraq throughout the last 20 years or so, since the end of Combat Operations in the first Gulf War. Shortly thereafter, Northern Iraqi Kurdistan was calved off as an Autonomous Region under an American protectorate. A "no fly zone" was established over the southern and largely Shia part of Iraq which was lethally enforced by American military might. At that point, Iraq as a "sovereign nation" ceased to exist in any sensible form.

But then, as a Nation, Iraq was created by Winston Churchill drawing some lines on a map of Mesopotamia in the British Colonial Office after WWI and the break up of the Ottoman Empire.

Mesopotamia was never a Nation. It is not in any viable sense a Nation now. There is no national government to speak of, and despite all the stresses and strains they have been under during the Saddamist years and under the Occupation, city-states, tribes and tribalism endure as the fundamental units of society and such governance as there is.

This is not necessarily a bad thing.

Much as Tito in Yugoslavia tried to form a Nation out of the disparate afterthoughts of Ottoman and Austrian Empires in Europe, Saddam tried to make Iraq into a Nation in Mesopotamia. Both temporarily succeeded, ultimately failed. Such failure was almost foregone.

In the Former Yugoslavia, after an intense period of domestic upheaval and civil war -- and international intervention -- a series of independent states were established based on essentially ethnic and to some extent tribal lines. Czechoslovakia was broken up, too. The smaller states that have taken the place of these former Nations are more comprehensible and appropriate to the will and interests of their citizens, whereas the more or less artificial amalgamations of ethnic, religious, and tribal affiliations that had been assembled into Nation-States by the Great Powers after World Wars I & II never really made any local sense.

So it is in Iraq.

It seems that Iraq has been trying to come apart into its constituent parts since the invasion, but the occupiers, not knowing what to do, fought shadows and demons, while the peoples of Iraq attempted to sort out a future for themselves -- and were thwarted at every turn.

Autonomous Kurdistan was the exception to the rule of constant interference with and destruction of everything the Iraqis tried to do to govern themselves. They were trying to do it almost from the moment Saddam was overthrown, and every step they took toward their own forms of self-government was thwarted, often quite brutally.

They were to submit, first, to the occupation forces, subsequently to the puppet regime installed by the occupiers, thence, they were to be subjected to a "managed democracy" that had some of the forms of democratic institutions but was in essence a sham.

What the Iraqis have been saying to the occupiers is that they are capable of governing themselves. They've been doing it for thousands of years, even under the many harsh (and/or benign) occupations of the past. They don't have to have a strong central government, they don't even need the trappings of Nationalism. Tribal structure is still very strong. And from their tribal base, Iraqis can assemble a functioning self-government. They know how to do it.

If only they were left alone.

The struggle comes when one group tries to oppress another or steal their means of living or survival.

Some months back, most of the ministries in Baghdad were blown up -- apparently by the Insurgency (that amorphous assembly of resisters.) More than likely the deed was done -- as so many similar instances in Baghdad and elsewhere have been done -- by Sunni resisters who hold a grudge and a grievance against the ruling Shia majority. The Sunnis largely stopped their resistance during the relatively brief period of the so-called Surge when they were being paid by the Americans not to fight. When those payments stopped, the resistance resumed with great violence and bloodshed.

What seems clear is that the Sunni Arabs are intent on making Iraq ungovernable -- unless their demands are met. They were the ruling minority under Saddam, and before that under the British and before that under the Ottomans. They seem willing to give up rule so long as they receive fair compensation on negotiated terms. Which the ruling Shia majority won't countenance. In fact, the ministries were blown up soon after the so-called Government in Baghdad decided not to resume payments to the Sunnis. It was obvious the one led to the other.

This whole No-Negotiation regime was part and parcel of the early stages of the occupation, and it was soon obvious where that path was leading. It was years into the occupation before it dawned on the real rulers of Iraq -- the military -- that it was a simple matter to stop the insurgency, something they might have realized the day they took over the Republican Palace.

But their neo-con ideology, utopianism, and deep contempt for "Sand Niggers" forbade it.

Tribalism is actually the solution to the Nationalist problem in Iraq.

But how many more years must go by before that is figured out?

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