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Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Explaining Iraq

An American explain Iraqis

The tribes were convinced that they had made a free and Arab Government, and that each of them was It," Lawrence wrote in "Seven Pillars of Wisdom" in 1926. "They were independent and would enjoy themselves a conviction and resolution which might have led to anarchy, if they had not made more stringent the family tie, and the bonds of kin-responsibility. But this entailed a negation of central power."

That dichotomy remains today, said Ihsan M. al-Hassan, a sociologist at the University of Baghdad. At the local level, the clan traditions provide more support and stability than Western institutions, he said, noting that the divorce rate among married cousins is only 2 percent in Iraq, versus 30 percent for other Iraqi couples. But the local ties create national complications.

"The traditional Iraqis who marry their cousins are very suspicious of outsiders," Dr. Hassan said. "In a modern state a citizen's allegiance is to the state, but theirs is to their clan and their tribe. If one person in your clan does something wrong, you favor him anyway, and you expect others to treat their relatives the same way."

The more educated and urbanized Iraqis have become, Dr. Hassan said, the more they are likely to marry outsiders and adopt Western values. But the clan traditions have hardly disappeared in the cities, as is evident by the just-married cousins who parade Thursday evenings into the Babylon Hotel in Baghdad. Surveys in Baghdad and other Arab cities in the past two decades have found that close to half of marriages are between first or second cousins.

The prevalence of cousin marriage did not get much attention before the war from Republicans in the United States who expected a quick, orderly transition to democracy in Iraq. But one writer who investigated the practice warned fellow conservatives to stop expecting postwar Iraq to resemble postwar Germany or Japan.

"The deep social structure of Iraq is the complete opposite of those two true nation-states, with their highly patriotic, cooperative, and (not surprisingly) outbred peoples," Steve Sailer wrote in The American Conservative magazine in January. "The Iraqis, in contrast, more closely resemble the Hatfields and the McCoys."


An Iraqi explains Iraqis

When people hear the word "tribe" or "sheikh", they instantly imagine, I"m sure, Bedouins on camels and scenes from Lawrence of Arabia. Many modern-day Sheikhs in Iraq have college degrees. Many have lived abroad and own property in London, Beirut and various other glamorous capitals… they ride around in Mercedes" and live in sprawling villas fully furnished with Victorian furniture, Persian carpets, oil paintings, and air conditioners. Some of them have British, German or American wives. A Sheikh is respected highly both by his clan members and by the members of other clans or tribes. He is usually considered the wisest or most influential member of the family. He is often also the wealthiest.

Sheikhs also have many duties. The modern Sheikh acts as a sort of family judge for the larger family disputes. He may have to give verdicts on anything from a land dispute to a marital spat. His word isn"t necessarily law, but any family member who decides to go against it is considered on his own, i.e. without the support and influence of the tribe. They are also responsible for the well-being of many of the poorer members of the tribe who come to them for help. We had relatively few orphans in orphanages in Iraq because the tribe takes in children without parents and they are often under the care of the sheikh"s direct family. The sheikh"s wife is sort of the "First Lady" of the family and has a lot of influence with family members.

Shortly after the occupation, Jay Garner began meeting with the prominent members of Iraqi society- businessmen, religious leaders, academicians and sheikhs. The sheikhs were important because each sheikh basically had influence over hundreds, if not thousands, of "family". The prominent sheikhs from all over Iraq were brought together in a huge conference of sorts. They sat gathered, staring at the representative of the occupation forces who, I think, was British and sat speaking in broken, awkward Arabic. He told the sheikhs that Garner and friends really needed their help to build a democratic Iraq. They were powerful, influential people- they could contribute a lot to society.

Some of them also wanted to contribute politically. They had influence, power and connections… they wanted to be useful in some way. The representative frowned, fumbled and told them that there was no way he was going to promise a withdrawal of occupation forces. They would be in Iraq "as long as they were needed"… that might be two years, that might be five years and it might be ten years. There were going to be no promises… there certainly was no "timetable" and the sheikhs had no say in what was going on- they could simply consent.

The whole group, in a storm of indignation and helplessness, rose to leave the meeting. They left the representative looking frustrated and foolish, frowning at the diminishing mass in front of him. When asked to comment on how the meeting went, he smiled, waved a hand and replied, 'No comment.' When one of the prominent sheikhs was asked how the meeting went, he angrily said that it wasn"t a conference- they had gathered up the sheikhs to "give them orders" without a willingness to listen to the other side of the story or even to compromise… the representative thought he was talking to his own private army- not the pillars of tribal society in Iraq.

Apparently, the sheikhs were blacklisted because, of late, their houses are being targeted. They are raided in the middle of the night with armored cars, troops and helicopters. The sheikh and his immediate family members are pushed to the ground with a booted foot and held there at gunpoint. The house is searched and often looted and the sheikh and his sons are dragged off with hands behind their backs and bags covering their heads. The whole family is left outraged and incredulous: the most respected member of the tribe is being imprisoned for no particular reason except that they may need him for questioning. In many cases, the sheikh is returned a few days later with an "apology", only to be raided and detained once more!

I would think that publicly humiliating and detaining respected members of society like sheikhs and religious leaders would contribute more to throttling democracy than "cousins marrying cousins". Many of the attacks against the occupying forces are acts of revenge for assaulted family members, or people who were killed during raids, demonstrations or checkpoints. But the author fails to mention that, of course


You mean Iraqis aren't savages who live like it was 1850? Wow. I thought that only Americans, you know, could read and have social instutitions.

The condescention towards Iraqis, many of whom seem to be fairly well educated, is absolutely stunning. Just stunning. Little brown monkeys who need our guidance to become human beings seems to be the theme. When they videotape middle class Iraqi homes, they seem to look like anyone living in Dearborn or on Atlantic Avenue. They have computers and sattelite TV's and the women have modern haircuts and modern clothes and wear makeup and the men have suits and shirts and pants. They look no different than the Yemenis who run the local newsstand. But our racism and contempt for these people is simply amazing. The idea that we treat these people as if they're mindless children is insane and deadly.

posted by Steve @ 12:46:00 PM

12:46:00 PM

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