Libya: News and Views      LibyaNet.Com      Libyan music      Libya: Our Home


previous letter                next letter                list of all letters

A Case Of Arrested Development

In an article in the Hayat, appeared on January 30, 2004, titled, grosso modo, "A Model Was Given by Saddam Hussein: The Tribe over the State," Faraj Abu al-'Asha waded his way through a long and complicated history of human development, or one can say, through the history of civilization. The hasty scramble was due perhaps in part to the nature of journalism in general and to its role as a collecting and disseminating information agency rather than a moon gazing ponderer nuzzling after the truth regardless of where it leads. The habit of skimming over complex issues by simplifying their contents perhaps has other motivations as, for example, not to challenge the reading ability of the targeted users! Otherwise to straddle such disparate and thematic issues as tribe, city, state, and the nature and locus of power in somewhere around 350-words article would be quite a task verging on the impossible. The author seems to perpetuate a tradition which was bent on simplifying the world and on reducing regimes, not only Saddam's, to a single cause, and in that he fell in the same trap of his stated targets: those people who substitute doctrine for knowledge and anger for concern.

In chronological and developmental order the tribal stage preceded the rise of the state, or better to say, of the polis. However, due to the progressive nature of development (barring the occasional regressions), i.e., its advancing trend towards always "higher" forms of human regrouping and organizations -what the positivist school of development assumes to be the sine non qua of civilization in general and the modern one in particular: The force driving the dynamics of civilization, or more precisely what the philosophers have called the dialectics in human intercourse is the forward movement of history, that's each stage comes at the end of the preceding one. Some of these stages were closer to each other and some others were quite apart. If the transition from the hunting stage to the tribal phase seemed to have involved no more than perhaps mere growth in numbers, the transformation to bridge the distance separating the polis or city-state from the tribal meanderings was father than the distance separating earth from Mars! How that happened it's a bone of contention between the various schools that populate the philosophy of history debate. Between those who maintain human development is an accumulative and slow process, that's continuous, and those who counter this view by maintaining the discrete nature of civilizational process, of long dormancy, or stasis and sudden leaps.

If relations in the tribe were along the lines made possible by the natural bonds of blood ties and lineages, that's of the organic or gemeinschaft, those of the polis were of the gesellschaft type, i.e, a result of deliberate human invention. Far beyond the coming together of families and kin, as in the tribe, relations in the polis were among individuals who have no other bonds except those regulated by Laws and enshrined in Institutions. And, while relations in the tribe don't go beyond guaranteeing a minimum modicum of functioning, relations in the polis were built on the synergetic principle which says the whole must be more than the sum of its parts. For the polis was not a mere collections of simple units, be those of residence or production, but rather of a vast agglomeration of institutions. The Parthenon, the Agora, the Stadium, The Gymnasium, the Theater, the Academy, etc., not to forget about the processes of governing; assembly, courts, etc., were the physical and intellectual manifestations of the process of what the Greeks called politeia, from which the derivation of polity; and later their Latin inheritors re-named civitas which constituted the stem root of city and of civi-lization.

After a somewhat blurred beginnings, in retrospect, the stages that followed were relatively less difficult to identify and define. The stages rolled one after another more like rungs on Jacob's ladder to heaven. Thus slavery gave way to feudalism, and this later to mercantilism, capitalism and industrialism. If the means for survival and the relations among the groups producing them were of determinant, the position and role of the individual within the overall scheme of things were nonetheless of paramount importance. From Solon's Athens to the today's post-industrial metropolis, a distance of less than 3,000 years separates them, the individual, citizen, and the state was -and still is- the subject of contention as well as the main agent that drove the engine of those societies that him/her be the subject of history and paralyzed those who shackled him/her.

This kind of analysis have been done by Westerners and extended to those parts and stages that collectively made up the history of the Western World.. Is this analysis valid? Again, for the Western World appears to work. Is it universal, as some of its adherents contend? Here one has to take a deep breath before answering one way or the other. It's tempting to say yes as many have done and continue to do to such a method of apparently clear and lucid analysis.. However, when it comes to its application on non-Western societies, notwithstanding the good efforts made, the record to date of such endeavors have been, to say it bluntly, dismal! The failure could be attributed to multiple causes among which the complicated reality of the non-western world, its muddled and tormented history, and to no less than to the deceptive nature of the borrowed tools themselves, with which such failures were determined and assessed, in general. A special care has to be taken when applying borrowed tools to verify whether such tools meet the tasks at hand. Especially so, when the borrowed tools, approaches and methods, were themselves abstracted results or in any case based on conclusions reached at the end by way of a simple yet non-the-less convoluted analyses to the historical cycles of specific societies.

It's becoming further clearer the non-Western World had followed a different path to development, and, thus had also a different course of history, and, therefore, needs different approach(s) to come to terms with its development or lack of it. The so-called "Asiatic despotism" was -and still is- not a far off hypothesis responsible for the distorted course those societies followed! Otherwise, how in the world one can come to terms with the fact that even in those areas known as "the cradle of civilization" the apparent dominant traits are still those of the earliest stages of history, not to say, to explain why the only relations are still those of blood ties, tribal loyalties, and religious affiliation? Are these societies, for some mysterious reasons, got stuck once and for all, in those stages? Or, those earlier stages are still chugging along with the rest of the stages? And why and what happened that only in some societies there's no clear-cut to what appears had been a clear interruption in others? Why the Eastern, that's the "Oriental," city had not developed its own personality, character, and polity? Many of such fundamental questions are in need of answers before one can venture even a tentative correlation between what caused the effect of which.

There's a strong urge to say that Mr. Abu al-'Asha got it upside down - to use a Marx's description to Hegel's method.. Rather than Saddam's extending the tribe to the state, one can say:
1- The state was never there, most acutely, in its modern version.
2- The tribe never disappeared completely, actually played the dominant role.
For thousands of years tribes in what is known today as the Middle East as well as their counterparts in central Asia, Africa, and Oceania had roamed the deserts, steppes, and jungles of their respective habitats without much control by outside forces, not to say centralized powers such as governments; nor apparently any ideals or a new idea of human association. These tribes felt no need or the urge to a more settled and organized form of life. As to their relations with the dominant powers of the day: The various chieftains, elderly, and so-called notables entered, from time to time, in an informal compact with the power(s) to be, the center of which, leave us alone we leave you alone. Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, and Ottomans' Empires, and even modern colonial empires of the 19-th and 20th- centuries had elaborated this formula further and conducted themselves according to what became a tradition. These pacts worked their magic. Only on rare occasions had a pact been broken by one side or the other. On those rare occasions prolonged and bloody wars did occur. Since accommodation and convenience were the main motive for both sides, at the end of each disturbance relations reverted back to where they were before. The result each of them -tribes and dominating powers- persisted in its own world. One can say they lived in two parallel worlds and followed separate but divergent paths. One aggressive, thoughtful, and exploitative which led to civilization and further progress and the other defensive, conservative, and parasitic which eventually gave way to a stagnated rut of a self imposed isolationism.

Such an analysis will lead by necessity to a conclusion in the form of a hypothesis:
The tribe in Iraq, or for that matter Libya and the rest of the Middle East, has never left nor the modern has ever been tried -notwithstanding the nonsense that has been wasted on the so-called "Arab Awakening". Saddam and Qaddafi were actual products of the tribe and ruled according to the tribal codes and traditions. However abhorrent to our senses, those of us who live in the West, to accept the fact that the Eastern world is still ruled, grosso modo, by the Hammurabi Code, the stronger rules, eye for an eye, and the loser and his tribe are a fair game! As to the modern state, its resemblances, or better its chimera, the neo-colonial state, has been grafted, in the later half of the 20th-century, on unprepared soil to receive it, and on a heterogenous fabric that was alien to it, without much ado as to its justification in the eyes of those subjected to it. This "illegitimate birth" was probably responsible for exhausting the energy the state had mainly in holding itself together! If truth needs to be told in the dominant climate of the last century, and with the total absence of visionaries such as those who led Japan, Russia, China, and India, etc., a better set-up had never a chance. A culture of tribalism, religious fanaticism, and subsistence economy were further from being inducive to a project that takes secularism, equal rights, and individual accountability as its building blocks.

If the picture seems bleak, so it's! But like the swallowing of any bitter bill there's always an implicit however faint hope that the days of despair are on the way out. For it's time to assess the situation vigorously and rigorously before making any false diagnosis or mistaken steps on how best to approach the future. The days of illusions, fed by that perennial Eastern malaise perpetuated in such classics as The Arabian Nights, that somehow out of nowhere a knight or even a genie will eventually come to the rescue and put things in order, must come to an end. Only by discarding myths will the approach to reason lead to what Jurgen Habermas deemed necessary for the rationalization of social processes. For not only democracy and civil institutions are rational processes but they're also home grown. To import them is only to substitute the day of reckoning. Just as the importation of goods and services doesn't include the skills and learning processes embedded in them, the same thing can be said about the importation of formal political, social or cultural models wouldn't guarantee nor presumably include any of the inherent assumptions on which they were based and on which their life and growth depended. Setting aside the thorny issue of whether or not a leap -rather than a transition- from such earlier stages to a full-blown modern society could be attained without traumatic disruptions the kind of which perhaps the wold has yet to witness. Perhaps can be compared to such shattering events as the French in the 18th century and Russian and Chinese upheavals in the 19th century: A violent collision of two worlds apart!

The tribal wold, life, and relations centered, as in an ant community, on life itself with its cyclical turns, and the year ends as it always begins. The life of democratic societies is all vibrancy and time is full of twists, turns, and surprises. Neither Iraqi society nor the Libyan one are apparently in conditions, in this juncture, to "resume" a democratic tradition that was never made part of their cultural repertory. To untangle the fabric on which the old order rested on is to risk undo the weave that kept them together. Because of the fragmentary nature of these societies, their mythological based world views, and the level of defeat and despair reached any misstep could easily make them a more likely candidates for such fates as their similar neighboring societies in Afghanistan and Somalia have had for the past two decades.

The bet which is being waged these days by those groups of the neo-cons in the West to come to the rescue to the children their predecessors had fathered awhile ago Their initiative looks more like the work of reformed deadbeat dads when they see their siblings turned out in bad company to try to do something to help them, risking not to be welcomed or even recognized since they were not there in due time when those kids were in dire need to their help - during the up-bringing years- and that now any help maybe too little and too late. Is it possible to save the Neo-Colonial state from the morass in which it got itself in? And if so how to revive a transplanted organ, with at least an accumulated half-a-century of failures, grafted on a body that apparently keeps rejecting it? Added to these the fact that the attempts to redesign the world to whatever implied in the "New World Order" have ushered on a bad start. Violence preceded the good will. Maybe because it's rather easier to destroy than to build. Especially if one has such a powerful bulldozers as Uncle Sam has shown to possess. But knocking the old shacks down without having designed new buildings to replace them is basically leaving those folks sheltered under "homeless," fending for themselves under the elements. The mantra so heard of "Nation Building" is a promise which so far has failed to realize as a project since premises were based on long term projections and its mental set was a peaceful solutions to chronic problems, and if it ever comes to anything closer to an application, in the present climate, it will be mere cosmetic patching and band-aid type remedies!

A state, a modern state cannot be only an appeal, it has to have a promise. The modern secular state is based on the promise of freedom, equal rights, and the pursuit of happiness. Unless such premises thought about were accepted and enshrined in a Constitution, the tribal world will find no reason for bearing the coercion of a central authority with no benefit accrued to them. For tribes have lived for millennia on their own and they can just continue to do so if only few wrinkles could be solved to their satisfaction, as how to share the revenue of the oil and a few other of such knots.



previous letter                next letter               list of all letters

Libya: News and Views      LibyaNet.Com      Libyan music      Libya: Our Home