When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

20 April 2008

Tribal logic

Via Chap, a review of a book that looks well worth reading:
Arab tribesmen are preoccupied with maintaining deterrence and prepared to use force preemptively, if necessary--rather like ├╝ber neocons. The ironic but very real parallel is a function of the de facto stateless anarchy in which Arab Bedouin live--and the de facto global anarchy that hawkish conservatives rightly believe to be the underlying reality of the international system. Saddam Hussein's interest in being taken to possess WMDs, whether or not he actually had them, makes sense in light of the link between deterrence and reputation. The emboldening effects of America's pre-9/11 retreats in Somalia, Lebanon, and elsewhere show the reverse of the medal. Although this is a familiar litany, I'd argue that the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, the rage against the Muhammad cartoons, the killing of Theo van Gogh, and a host of related acts of intimidation ought to be placed under the heading of pro-active deterrence as well.

The swift and seemingly disproportionate resort to retaliatory force against apparently trivial offenses is an effective technique for suppressing future challenges. Most of the feuds Salzman describes, however weighty and enduring, break out over seemingly petty and inconsequential matters, like the mistaken appropriation of some palm trunks. Rifle shots, intentionally off the mark, are used to intimidate, as are calculated threats of murder. The careful use of targeted force and credible threats against Western critics of Islamism shows genuine mastery of the technique of deterrent intimidation. Here as elsewhere, an overtly religious action is actually shaped by a hidden tribal template.

Knowingly or unknowingly, American liberals and conservatives highlight sections of the tribal template, though for their own preferred uses. The implicit dovish take on tribalism notes that our own use of force actually serves to unite the foe. By hitting back at terrorist-harboring states, doves remind us, we create the impression of an infidel war against Muslims, thus figuratively recruiting every Muslim lineage into bin Laden's civilizational war party. This danger is real, yet the doves omit the rest. Failure to strike back creates an impression of weakness that invites further attacks.

"I and My Brother Against My Cousin" - Stanley Kurtz reviews Philip Carl Salzman's Culture and Conflict in the Middle East in The Weekly Standard


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