March 29, 2011

Tribes and Violence

Two years ago I spent a day with an Afghani woman. During our time together, I asked about her perspective on the Taliban. Her tone was derisive as she said that they're all Pashtun. Her tribe is Uzbek. The whole conflict was a tribal war. The Pashtun have always been more conservative and less educated (in her opinion...) The Pashtun tribe extends from eastern Afghanistan into Pakistan (there's a reason the border is 'porous'. Tribe trumps a line drawn by some Brits).

I've thought alot about that ever since. Why does the news here rarely mention the tribal element? Instead we hear about Pakistan not having control of it's borders.

A couple weeks ago, I heard something in passing about the fact that Quaddafi is part of the Qudhadhfa tribe. Close to a third of the country (maybe less?) is from that tribe. So the reason there are so many 'Quaddafi loyalists' is tribal. He's taken good care of his tribe, so why would they turn on him. The defectors to the rebels are people who were in his government but who aren't part of the same tribe.

I don't have a huge conclusion, but I'm intrigued and saddened by the tribal lens on world events. It somehow makes the conflicts seem more difficult to fully resolve. The solution seems to be what happened in Sudan recently, let countries reshape around tribal lines rather than continue to carry the burden of colonial borders (that were DESIGNED to thwart tribes).


Anonymous said...

Yes. Tribal history matters so much in understanding current events.

Thanks so much for the info on Libya and the Qudhadhfa tribe. That's the most insightful info I've found yet on the situation there.

It was Louis l'Amour who first pointed out to me that our involvement the War in Viet Nam was the continuation of an 1800 year-old civil war between northern and southern tribes.

And of course, there's Israel -- which itself is a synthetic tribe. But I also remember my shock when I discovered that the Arabic word for Palestinian is "Filisteen". So, we have the continuation of a 3,500 year-old fight. And our diplomats flatter themselves that they should be able to get it settled this year.

Anonymous said...

It's so true. Tribal matters are way more complicated than "us against them." There are often family ties involved and the cultural paradigm of shame and honor as well. It's next to impossible to try to overlay external and opposing values in a tribal society. What is needed is not an external solution, but a change within the hearts of people.

Anonymous said...

That's the other Anonymous who made that comment above. Of course, "a change within the hearts of people" solves all problems -- including the problem of U.S. imperialism.

However, a more proximate solution may be to let the tribes alone and let them fight it out, as they have been doing for centuries and millennia.

And we in the United States would be pleased to let them do just that -- if it weren't for the oil.