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SWJED
01-07-2007, 11:45 AM
7 January LA Times commentary - Arab Nationalism's Last Gasp (http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-op-kaplan7jan07,0,588732.story?coll=la-opinion-rightrail) by Robert Kaplan.


Just as the demise of Slobodan Milosevic in Yugoslavia closed the lid on national communist parties in Eastern Europe, the demise of Saddam Hussein in Iraq appears likely to do the same for secular Arab nationalism across the Middle East.

And just as communism exited the European stage exposed for what it always truly was -- fascism without fascism's ability to make the trains run on time -- secular Arab nationalism will exit the stage revealed for what it always was: a despotic perversion of the western nation-state that lasted as long as it did mainly because of secret-police techniques imported from the former Soviet Union.

Arab nationalism's roots go back to the revolt against European colonialism in the early decades of the 20th century. But as it developed, it faced a serious problem: Because it was organized around the artificial national borders that these same colonialists had drawn -- which generally ignored ethnic and sectarian lines -- the result, in too many cases, was multiethnic rivalry and the subjugation of one part of the population by another.

In Iraq, for instance, the national borders created a state in which the majority Shiites were subjugated by the minority Sunnis (as we all now know). In Syria, the majority Sunnis came to be subjugated by the minority Alawites, who constitute a branch of Shiism (and who had been favored in the armed forces by the French). In Lebanon, it was the Shiites who ended up subjugated by both Christians and Sunnis.

No sooner were these independent new states created than the ties of faith and tribe were undermining them. A fragile unity of sorts could only be achieved by recourse to secular nationalism, which, on paper at least, aimed to transcend those bitter rivalries...

Bill Moore
01-07-2007, 04:50 PM
Those who proclaim today that the only real solution to the Arab dilemma is political freedom are correct. The problem is that they are describing a process that could encompass several bloody decades. After all, it took centuries for stable democracy as we know it to evolve in Europe. In this Darwinian shaking-out process, the new forms of political legitimacy may more closely resemble militarized social welfare organizations such as Hezbollah and the Al Mahdi army than the ramshackle contrivances of the European model that we saw in the post-colonial era.

Right before the trap door was opened, Hussein's executioners chanted "Muqtada, Muqtada, Muqtada," referring to Shiite militia leader Muqtada Sadr because what was supposed to have been retribution for crimes against humanity had, despite all of our efforts, turned into another sectarian killing. Such is the abyss that follows secular Arab nationalism.


We opened Pandora's box, one that probably would have burst open eventually, but now we have to take responsibility for it. I agree with the parallel that I read elsewhere that the current conflict in the ME is very similiar to the hundred year war in Europe. The political legitmacy that Kaplan refers to it will probably look similiar to city states (tribal states in some cases), and gradually evolve into larger entities. We can't establish politcial legitmacy, so instead of sending more soldiers, we probably need to work our way back to the periphery of this fight.

marct
01-07-2007, 05:26 PM
Hi Bill,


We opened Pandora's box, one that probably would have burst open eventually, but now we have to take responsibility for it.

Honestly, I don't think that that is quite true. Keeping withing the Pandora's Box analogy, we may have tipped the lid, but it wasn't locked or even firmly closed to begin with.


I agree with the parallel that I read elsewhere that the current conflict in the ME is very similar to the hundred year war in Europe. The political legitimacy that Kaplan refers to it will probably look similiar to city states (tribal states in some cases), and gradually evolve into larger entities. We can't establish political legitimacy, so instead of sending more soldiers, we probably need to work our way back to the periphery of this fight.

Again, I don't disagree in general, but I do i specifics :). I would put the analogy to the Thirty Years War rather than the Hundred Years War (think on 9/11 as the rough analogic equivalent to the Prague Defenestrations). I certainly agree that, in most cases, political legitimacy will be local, rather than "national", but I would also point out that it will also be "trans-national". Nation states, as we in the West use the concept, evolved from ethnic or tribal states with moderately homogeneous cultures and they are really a pretty useless concept in the current global reality - as E.B. Tylor would say, they are a "survival".

Marc

Merv Benson
01-07-2007, 06:29 PM
How long did it take South Korea and Taiwan to develop stable democracies? Certainly much longer than it took Japan. Japan has always been more adaptive to accepting outside ideas. Certainly all three have been more adaptive to some of the good ideas of western culture than have the Muslim "states." We are pushing the Iraqis awfully fast. It is somewhat ironic that the more "backward" Afghanistan is at this point more accepting of the cultural change.

Bill Moore
01-07-2007, 06:56 PM
I would also point out that it will also be "trans-national". Nation states, as we in the West use the concept, evolved from ethnic or tribal states with moderately homogeneous cultures and they are really a pretty useless concept in the current global reality - as E.B. Tylor would say, they are a "survival".

Marc,

I think we already have transnational states that not only include tribes (throughout Africa), but not multinational corporations. What is a nation? That is the key question, and in many cases the national leaders, Iraq as an example, are not the true powers. I haven't developed this thought yet, but I think a nation may eventually be defined as to what group a person directs his or her primary loyalty towards. Globalism has weakened the state. I can invest all my money in China and there is nothing the U.S. government can do about it. I can communicate with anyone worldwide that has a computer or phone. In another threat we discussed gangs, and while it is a stretch to call MS 13 a nation, it is a sub-national, transnational organization that challenges state authority on what it considers to be its turf. Is this the beginning of the end of the nation state concept? Are we evolving into something similiar to the era of the Middle Ages? What emerges after the next Dark Age, a Star Track society? One can only hope.

marct
01-07-2007, 06:58 PM
Hi Merv,


How long did it take South Korea and Taiwan to develop stable democracies? Certainly much longer than it took Japan. Japan has always been more adaptive to accepting outside ideas. Certainly all three have been more adaptive to some of the good ideas of western culture than have the Muslim "states." We are pushing the Iraqis awfully fast. It is somewhat ironic that the more "backward" Afghanistan is at this point more accepting of the cultural change.

Some very good points here. Let me toss out a few observations as context for later comments.


Japan is a fairly homogeneous culture that has had a long history of being a "nation". Honestly, I wouldn't agree with you that they have "always been more adaptive to accepting outside ideas." - think of Admiral Perry, although I certainly will agree that, as a culture, once they have been forced to shift their environmental perceptions they are very god at adaptation :).
Korea was, originally, three separate states (kingdoms) with, roughly, the same culture. Again, you have a situation of a fairly culturally homogeneous group.
Taiwan - Kuomintang anyone? Need I say more?


"Democracy", as we know it, officially comes from the Greek city States - Athens in particular, via Rome into Britain. In reality, "we", and by that I mean the Anglo culture complex (The UK, Canada, the US, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, etc.), derive most of our concepts of "democracy" from the old Saxon concept of the Folk Moot - it's where our concept of Common Law derives from and, if you trace it back far enough, where or concept of Human Rights comes from.

The closest parallel within Islam is the Ulama, and that isn't a direct parallel at all. Historically, the Middle East has spawned God Kings as their primary form of organization, while the Indo-Aryans, Amerind and Siberian tribes have spawned rough "democracies" based on tribal feud. The central component of these varying ideologies has always been how the cultures answer the question of "What is truth and how do we discover it?". It is a question of basic epistemology.

Let me go back to your comment for a minute and ask you a simple question - Why is "democracy" a "good thing"? Is it a "good thing" in and of itself? As an Anthropologist, I would have to say "no - democracy is only good in certain environmental conditions". Any culture can take on the outward trappings of a "democracy". Consider, by way of example, the Bill of Rights in the old Soviet Union - it was the most comprehensive in the world, until you factored in the minor fact that what was not listed as permissible was forbidden.

The form of democracy is, to my mind, less important than the lived, everyday reality of individual.

Marc

120mm
01-08-2007, 06:16 AM
Actually, I see as many parallels in the current conflict between West and Islamic East in the 300 years war between Europeans and the "native" Americans.

Two cultures clashing, with the technologically stronger culture alternatively treating the weaker as evil and subject to extermination and as "noble savages" to be treated with honor and respect. Of course, the technologically weaker culture is driven to attack the stronger due to cultural mores and "young bloods" and the technologically stronger is then driven to respond.

One would hope that outcomes and means of conflict differ in this one.

marct
01-08-2007, 02:00 PM
Hi Bill,


I think we already have transnational states that not only include tribes (throughout Africa), but not multinational corporations. What is a nation? That is the key question, and in many cases the national leaders, Iraq as an example, are not the true powers. I haven't developed this thought yet, but I think a nation may eventually be defined as to what group a person directs his or her primary loyalty towards.

No question about it that we already have transnational "states". On the MNC question, I would certainly argue that we had them in the past, the Hudson's Bay Company, the British east India Company being older examples. Personally, I think we still have them.

Actually, I really like your definition / thought about what a "nation" may become.


Globalism has weakened the state. I can invest all my money in China and there is nothing the U.S. government can do about it. I can communicate with anyone worldwide that has a computer or phone. In another threat we discussed gangs, and while it is a stretch to call MS 13 a nation, it is a sub-national, transnational organization that challenges state authority on what it considers to be its turf. Is this the beginning of the end of the nation state concept? Are we evolving into something similiar to the era of the Middle Ages? What emerges after the next Dark Age, a Star Track society? One can only hope.

Personally, I think the "beginning of the end" was the American Revolution. Modern nation states evolved out of ethnic monarchies, and the idea of a volitional "state" which doesn't have a monarch put the first nail in the coffin: nails 2, 3 and 4 came from the French Revolution :D

As to what comes next, I really don't know. Honestly, I don't think that we have to go through a Dark Ages, although if the Islamists have their way that will certainly become one. A Star Trek society is certainly one option, but there are a whole host of other possibilities.

Marc

Steve Blair
01-08-2007, 08:35 PM
Actually, I see as many parallels in the current conflict between West and Islamic East in the 300 years war between Europeans and the "native" Americans.

Two cultures clashing, with the technologically stronger culture alternatively treating the weaker as evil and subject to extermination and as "noble savages" to be treated with honor and respect. Of course, the technologically weaker culture is driven to attack the stronger due to cultural mores and "young bloods" and the technologically stronger is then driven to respond.

One would hope that outcomes and means of conflict differ in this one.

I don't know that I'd go that far, for a number of reasons. Interesting thoughts, though.

I'd actually say that Bill's definition of a nation is a point that we're already close to. The transnational state, as Marc points out, has been a constant fixture in human society for many years (I'd even go back to some of the Spanish and Portuguese colonial efforts as early examples of it), and they will continue to be with us. People point out gangs, but I would also argue that the more successful terrorist groups (IRA, ETA, PLO, and the Red Brigades and RAF) have also functioned in this role. They even negotiated, trading services and training, like "normal" nations (for some time in the 1970s and 1980s the RAF was setting up safe houses for IRA members in Europe, and in turn the IRA provided IED-type training to just about all comers).

I don't know if we'll hit a Star Trek society simply because the trend seems to be fragmentation rather than groupthink these days.