Culture and Conflict in the Middle East
By: Andrew G. Bostom
American Thinker | Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Culture and Conflict in the Middle East,
By Philip Carl Salzman
Prometheus Books, Amherst, N.Y. 224 pp.
Prevailing academic pedagogy on Islam is epitomized, luridly, by Dr. Denise Spellman, the faux scholar whose recent unhinged behavior "persuaded" craven Random House to quash publication of Sherry Jones' "biographic novel" about Muhammad's child-bride Aisha, "The Jewel of Medina" -- this, despite the fact that the book is a celebration of Islamic pedophilia and polygamy (albeit, as excerpts reveal, "The Jewel of Medina" is a distressingly stupid apologetic).
within this warped milieu, McGill University Anthropology Professor
Philip Carl Salzman is a truly intrepid man. With Promethean boldness (pun intended), Salzman's pellucid, remarkably compendious, and brilliantly argued "Culture and Conflict in the Middle East," defies academia's pervasive, stultifying Islamo-sycophantism.
Salzman, the founding chair of the Commission on Nomadic Peoples, who
served in that position for 15 years (1978-1993), previously conducted
fieldwork among nomadic, pastoral tribes in Iranian Baluchistan in
1967-68, 1972-73, and 1976. He is the author of the earlier
anthropological studies, Black Tents of Baluchistan; Pastoralism: Equality, Hierarchy, and the State; and Understanding Culture.
Central to understanding Salzman's conception of Middle Eastern Arab
culture is the form of social control he denotes as "balanced
opposition." His operational definition of this "ingenious" system for
providing security, in particular, is as follows:
argues that Islam serves as the penultimate hierarchy overlaid upon all
these smaller, and subordinate divisions, standing in balanced
opposition against non-Muslim peoples and their nations. And although
Salzman acknowledges certain decentralized, egalitarian aspects of
balanced opposition at the tribal level, he also emphasizes its core
"particularism of loyalties," which engenders anti-democratic
tendencies, inconsistent with a "universalistic" normative." Thus
Salzman concludes that balanced opposition is not conducive to,
is a member of a nested set of kin groups, from very small to very
large. These groups are vested with responsibility for the defense of
each and every one of its members and responsibility for the harm each
and every one of its members do to outsiders. This is called by
anthropologists "collective responsibility," and the actions taken by a
group on its own behalf are called "self-help." If there is
confrontation, small groups face opposing small groups. Middle-sized
groups face opposing middle-sized groups, or large groups face opposing
large groups: family vs. family, lineage vs. lineage, clan vs. clan,
tribe vs. tribe, confederacy vs. confederacy, sect vs. sect, the
Islamic community (umma) vs. the infidels. This is where the
deterrence lies, in the balance between opponents; individuals do not
face groups, and small groups do not face large groups. Any potential
aggressor knows that his target is not solitary or meager, but is
always, in principle, a formidable formation much the same size as his.
Salzman withholds any final professional judgment that might appear disparaging,
rule in which rules apply to all and are upheld by all at all times.
Particularism and contingency, so basic to complementary opposition,
preclude universalistic constitutional frameworks and thus inhibit
social and political integration at broader territorial levels
including larger and diverse populations.
He nevertheless does not shy away from concluding that,
is not the job of anthropologists to laud societies or to criticize
them, or to celebrate or to demean them. So problems and difficulties
are a very delicate matter to address, even more when they appear to be
support of these conclusions, Salzman adduces grim statistics from the
2002 Arab Human Development Report on the Middle Eastern Arab nations:
the lowest freedom scores, reflecting an array of measures of social,
political, and religious freedoms, including a specific "women's
empowerment deficit"; poor educational development which contributes to
abysmal levels of scientific research and development, and sustained
human poverty, despite massive oil wealth.
cultural frame of complementary opposition in the Middle East thus
underlies many of the difficulties in building a civil society,
establishing democracy at the state level, maintaining state support
for state institutions, founding creative educational institutions,
inspiring economic development, and building an inclusive public
culture in the Middle East
provides concrete illustrations of how balanced opposition functions in
the feud and vendetta dynamics among the Baluch (in the border areas
between Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan), "kin groups" in Gaza, or the
Bedouin in Israel. His dispassionate observations convey the terrible
costs incurred by this "ingenious" system's obsession with security,
and intimately related notions of "honor." And these bloody dynamics
persist, unfortunately, at what Salzman refers to as "higher levels of
Salzman's most important and intellectually courageous contribution to
our understanding is his clear delineation that Islam's eternal
institution of jihad war represents the apotheosis of balanced
opposition. He alludes to Evans-Pritchard's characterization of how the
Bedouin of Cyrenaica [Libya] "compensated" for their less than
assiduous fulfillment of the ritual requirements of Islam, by their
zealous commitment to jihad. Here is the full description from the
original (1949) text by Evans-Pritchard:
conflicts...in sophisticated cities far from the deserts: the
Shiite-Sunni conflict for domination [which] destroyed Beirut in the
1980s, just as it undermined Karachi at the turn of the millennium, and
is washing Baghdad in blood at the time of this writing .
devotes an entire chapter to the unapologetic description of the
living, uniquely Islamic institution of jihad war, whose past
historical ravages extended from Iberia to the Indian subcontinent,
north into Poland, and south to sub-Saharan Africa. Following this
outline of jihad war theory, accompanied by salient examples of its
consistent brutal practice, he also elucidates the imposition of
dhimmitude-Islam's sacralized, humiliating governance of those
non-Muslims vanquished by jihad. Along the way, Salzman firmly rejects
the bowdlerized narrative of the jihad conquests espoused by
anthropologist Charles Lindolm, a Professor at Boston University.
Lindolm's absurd hagiography (from The Islamic Middle East
Malden, MA, 2002, p. 79) contends reverently, and without any
qualification, that, "The rise of Islam was both an economic and social
revolution, offering new wealth and freedom to dominions it assimilated
under the banner of a universal brotherhood guided by the message of
the Prophet." Salzman, in his apt reply, observes acidly,
would [also] be a questionable judgment to assert that the Bedouin of
Cyrenaica are not religious because they do not pay the same attention
to outward ritual as do townspeople and peasants, for piety and
holiness, as we have often been admonished, are not the same...
Perhaps the Bedouin make up for their shortcomings by their enthusiasm for the jihad,
holy war against unbelievers. They consider that they have fulfilled
their obligation under this head in ample measure by their long and
courageous fight, formally declared a holy war by the Caliph of Islam,
against the Italians, French, and British. A Bedouin once said to me
when I remarked how rarely I had seen Bedouin at prayer: "nasum wa najhad, (but) we fast and wage holy war."
Salzman completes his frank discussion of the jihad with a synopsis of Samuel Huntington's mid-1990s paradigm of Islam's "bloody borders."
Huntington, Salzman reminds us, adduces convincing data in support of
his contention that, "Wherever one looks along the perimeter of Islam,
Muslims have problems living peaceably with their neighbors." Salzman
cites these germane observations by Huntington, noting how they have
been confirmed (one could argue even amplified), subsequently, in the
wake of the September 11, 20001 attacks on the U.S., and their
no doubt it was the best of all possible worlds; that is if one had not
been one of the multitude slain, the myriads enslaved, or the remainder
expropriated, suppressed, and degraded.
G. H. Bousquet, the great 20th century scholar of Islamic jurisprudence,
observed how the permanent institution of jihad war, and the related
imposition of Islamic Law (Shari'a) upon all of humanity -- both
Muslims and non-Muslims -- reflected the "doubly totalitarian"
quintessence of Islam. Salzman's analysis demonstrates further how
balanced opposition functioning at subordinate levels of organization
(i.e., relative to Islam and the Islamic umma) -- from lineage, clan,
and tribe, through tribal confederacies -- amplifies "particularisms"
that also promote, anti-democratic authoritarianism. The late P.J.
Vatikiotis (d. 1997), a renowned political scientist who focused on the
modern era in the Middle East, and also lived for extended periods in
the region, combined, to an extent, the perspectives of Bousquet and
Salzman in this 1981 analysis (from Le Debat, [Paris], no. 14, July-August, 1981):
overwhelming majority of fault line conflicts,...have taken place along
the boundary looping across Eurasia and Africa that separates Muslims
...Intense antagonisms and violent conflicts are pervasive between local Muslim and non-Muslim peoples.
make up about one-fifth of the world's population, but in the 1990s
they have been far more involved in inter-group violence than the
people of any other civilization. The evidence is overwhelming. There
were, in short, three times as many inter-civilizational conflicts
involving Muslims as there were between non-Muslim civilizations.
states also have had a high propensity to resort to violence in
international crises, employing it to resolve 76 crises out of a total
of 142 in which they were involved between 1928 and 1979...When they
did use violence, Muslim states used high-intensity violence, resorting
to full-scale war in 41 percent of the cases where violence was used
and engaging in major clashes in another 39 percent of the cases. While
Muslim states resorted to violence in 53.5 percent, violence was used
the United Kingdom in only 1.5 percent, by the United States in 17.9
percent, and by the Soviet Union in 28.5 percent of the crises in which
they were involved...Muslim bellicosity and violence are
late-twentieth-century facts which neither Muslims nor non-Muslims can
Salzman concludes his own seminal work with a wistful admonition, in this closing statement,
is significant is that after a tolerably less autocratic/authoritarian
political experience during their apprenticeship for independent
statehood under foreign power tutelage, during the inter-war period,
most of these states once completely free or independent of foreign
control, very quickly moved towards highly autocratic-authoritarian
patterns of rule...One could suggest a hiatus of roughly three years
between the departure or removal of European influence and power and
overthrow of the rickety plural political systems they left behind in
Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and the Sudan by military coups d'etat.
and autocracy in the Middle East may be unstable in the sense that
autocracies follow one another in frequent succession. Yet the ethos of
authoritarianism may be lasting, even permanent...One could venture
into a more ambitious philosophical etiology by pointing out the
absence of a concept of ‘natural law' or ‘law of reason' in the
intellectual-cultural heritage of Middle Eastern societies. After all,
everything before Islam, before God revealed his message to Muhammad,
constitutes jahiliyya, or the dark age of ignorance. Similarly,
anything that deviates from the eternal truth or verities of Islamic
teaching is equally degenerative, and therefore unacceptable. That is
why, by definition, any Islamic movement which seeks to make Islam the
basic principle of the polity does not aim at innovation but at the
restoration of the ideal that has been abandoned or lost. The missing
of an experience similar, or parallel, to the Renaissance, freeing the
Muslim individual from external constraints of, say, religious
authority in order to engage in a creative course measured and judged
by rational and existential human standards, may also be a relevant
consideration. The individual in the Middle East has yet to attain his
independence from the wider collectivity, or to accept the proposition
that he can create a political order.
truly wrenching, foundational reforms to Islam itself, and accompanying
profound changes in tribal dynamics, Middle Eastern Muslim societies
will likely remain unable to liberate themselves from the conundrum
Salzman's concluding words articulate.
To improve the condition of their society, Middle Easterners will have to decide what they are for [emphasis in original] is more important than whom they are against. [emphasis in original]
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