6/22/2004

War on Terror
HAVE WE TAKEN INVESTMENT ADVICE FROM THE BEST PLUMBER IN TOWN?

I'm like a lot of you. I look at this "war on terror" and I am confused. I don't for a second subscribe to all the conspiracy crap put out by the Left and I'm not a blind flag waver of the Right. It is also obvious to anyone honest that the CIA had zero intel about Iraq as well as al Qaeda; I can fully understand their failure to penetrate Islamic Terror orgs for the many reasons I've blogged about, but I cannot understand trusting them to be correct about Iraq after observing their failures regarding 9/11. So what are we into? That's what I'm trying to figure out now and I will share what I am discovering. For today's piece I have used a couple of Indian tribal experts I know personally as well as reading I have done on tribes and customs of Islamists.

It's obvious that all of the 1 billion Muslims do not follow the religion with complete dedication. Many pretend devotion to Islam for appearances in their community. Like the summer soldiers and the springtime patriots of our Revolution and the Easter Sunday Christians, Islam has as many slackers as any religion or movement. I'd be surprised if 30% of "Muslims" really practiced Islam seriously. Therefore a large number of Muslims have varying degrees of true involvement in their religion. Many more will pretend for the sake of society or appearances. And in the Arab world appearances are everything. You cannot afford to be tagged a "bad Muslim". If you bring shame to your family or tribe you must die. Islam is the "big tent" that may or may not rally all Muslims to one single cause.

Arab society is a tribal society where it's family and tribe über alles. Within these groupings the most important things for any Arab (Middle Eastermer) are honor, shame, and respect. It is in their tribal context that the Arab functions and it is the tribal system that is always first in an Arab's mind. The Muslim religion allows for this, because just as the early Catholic Church accommodated to the Pagan Gods of Rome and Greece, Islam had to accommodate to tribal ethos from Pakistan to the Sudan.

In any tribe there is competition for the top spot within the tribe. A chief. A shaman. The competition has no limits. It is expected that you might kill to get there and it is expected that the top dog will kill to stay there. Any duplicity, lie, or criminal act in order to obtain the top of the tribe is expected. Comparisons with the American Mafia are very apt. People at the top try to keep everyone around them "family" which is the tightest unit in any tribe. The leadership is expected to allow all profits drain down to their other tribal friends and freeze the rest out. We need go no further than the Saudi "family", the Hussein "family", The King of Jordan's family, and so on to see this played out. The family is the only thing standing between the top dog and his death. The top dog might be killed by a member of his own family who wants to be top dog. That's the way it is.

Bernard Lewis in his "must read or you don't know nothin' about Islam" book, The Middle East — A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years makes the observation that there isn't one moment in all that time that any Arab state has had any democracy at all. It is a history of one despot after another (read one tribal thug after another, including the colonial powers), who gains rulership through devious means or inheritance and stays there until killed by the next leader, is thrown out by a foreign power, or passes power to family when he dies. Islam failed to overcome the tribal ethic, the despot who rules as he sees fit. This may be why lots of Muslims feel that Islam has gone downhill since the fourth caliph, forgetting that since the last three caliphs were murdered the down part started right after the death of the prophet.

The tribal top dog can also become top dog because of his wealth; success in business. Wealth brings respect. Brings honor. It is OK to lie, short weight, refuse to honor a contract, anything it takes to get ahead. The Iranian mullahs (see here) are an example of grabbing all the wealth in a country and sharing it with whomever they choose while freezing out the rest. A successful Arab will be respected for his clever dealings; his sharp sense of business. A successful Arab will dress for success, surround himself with servants, even allow a few of his fingernails to grow to excessive length to "prove" he doesn't do manual labor. Is this in violation of the Koran rule of equality? Of course it is, but honor and respect are an integral part of Islam and the tribe. Successful Arabs have been known to drive down the center of the road with their private armies and force everyone on each side into the ditch as a show of power and his demand for respect.

But suppose there is another big shot coming at him down the road with his private army who refuses to move? Now we will have a problem. Honor will be at stake on both sides. Each will demand respect. If one of them loses he will be shamed. Shame is the worst thing that can happen to an Arab. Neither will move unless some sort of honorable conclusion can be reached. It may result in a fight to the death on both sides. It may result in an agreement of one to marry the other's daughter. An arranged marriage between their sons and daughters. But somehow one of them must move for the other while at the same time retaining honor. There is no such thing as being humble in this situation. Perhaps both will go back home. Maybe they will make a deal for some future business arrangement and both will retire to the side of the road and discuss it while their armies pass on either side of the road. But it will be settled NOW. The problem for westerners is that the settlement talks may take a week in order for both sides to come out with honor.

This is what we are apparently trying to do in Fallujah and Sadr City. Because shame will always result in revenge. Always. Men kill their own sons and daughters because of some shame or dishonor one or the other have brought on the family. Tribal leaders will dole out harsh punishments including torture or death to anybody in the tribe who brings shame to the tribe. That's the way it is. In the above traffic situation both parties know they must not shame the other while retaining their honor. It's been like this for two thousand years and it has never changed.

This is the situation we stepped into in Iraq. Saddam was one of the worst despots of the 20thcentury and he had a hell of a lot of company. Anyone who stepped out of line was killed, tortured to death in public, or had his wife and daughters raped. Saddam lived to shame an adversary. That is why so many refused to stand up to him. To lose was to be shamed. It looks to me like State, CIA, and the Russian expert Condeleeza Rice knew zilch about the Arab way of life. With all due respect to Ms. Rice, who is a brilliant expert on Russia and the Soviet Union, having her as national security advisor when we face Islamo-fascism is like taking investment advice from the best plumber in town.

That is what we are dealing with in Iraq. We should have gone in there with raw power and stomped them. After that we could have quickly, had we had a plan, quickly installed a new government and got the hell out. But our CIA didn't even know that the infra-structure of the country was basically non-existent. There is nobody to blame for this but Bush. The peso stops inside the White House.

How can we get out of this thing with honor, and hopefully some form of government that is not another Islamic despotism? I think we are now playing the hand dealt. It may play our way or it may not, but whatever the result, Iraqis must not be shamed. They have to emerge with their honor intact. Knowing the reality we now know this is something that we should have not undertaken unless they were a direct threat to this country. A threat we were prepared to destroy.

Hate to admit that, but like you, I knew zippo about the Arabs.

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