Posted tagged ‘Arabs’

Tribalism

October 1, 2010

Less than two hundred years ago, an adorable concept called romantic nationalism emerged. It was based on having a feeling of shared brotherhood with people in your close proximity. People got all worked up, started making national flags, collecting national songs, folk stories, dishes. It’s amazing how powerful something that started as a hippie fad got when it got the right forces to back it.

The concept of nation is…. fluffy (I’m not saying that’s bad, I mean I’m a cosmopolitanist, I’m the king of fluff). It also resulted in a truckload of complicated problems, whether in the Balkans, the Caucasus, or even in our own backyard. It does have a lot of unappreciated positives: it makes some shared basics familiar to any confused outsider, it gives you one authority you can then comfortably tweak, it’s also very good for personal freedom. In a nation, as long as you’re not hurting citizens or jeopardizing national security, you’re free to live life as you see fit, theoretically speaking.

That happens because in the pure romantic definition of nation, you are a brother whatever you do. You are part of this beautiful ecology all freedom fighters love, and just by being there, you are special. This mentality is an escape from a much more powerful and primal sense of identity… Tribalism

“Oh you mean the 3asha2er… yeah they’re bad”. Bullshit! We’re all tribes in denial and we know it.

Let’s observe for a minute how tribes function:

– A common set of morals, guidelines and traditions passed on from generation to generation. You accept all this baggage since birth.

– Just belonging to a tribe gives you numerous advantages correlated with your tribe’s power and ranking, as long as you stick to the morals

-Practicing one of the tribe’s taboos will strip you of all advantages and result in your disowning and banishment

Yup, I just described any of the over dozen sects we have :).

It’s cute to watch, especially in a multi-sectarian background. People you know are militant atheists go berserk when a family member dares to think about crossing a line. We might think we’re progressive, free thinkers, our own masters. Truth is, we’re all slaves to the perks of belonging to our tribes.

Break one of the golden rules, and it’s banishment! To you and your family till the fiftieth generation! Nobody will give you their women anymore, you can’t attend the tribal ceremonies. You are officially uprooted.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my tribe. I think we’re steadfast people who have been through so many hardships, and survived with our heads high. I’m connected with them. But when you start thinking about how to make your tribe more powerful, how to get them into higher positions, to support tribe restaurants and stores… I mean seriously?

This is why the region has no hope. From the ignorant to the most educated, we understand tribes and tribes only. Just look around you, examples are abundant. Any war or tension in the region, it’s not about ideologies, people lost interest in that long ago, tribalism is the only driving factor.

It’s like everyone is still waiting for the other to snap out of this. Judge yourself, how much of your lifestyle is dictated by your affiliation? And the boogie man they wave over us, is it really that scary? If there are more out than in, the punishments will get less severe, and you’ll have a community whatever you do. We just need enough people to have the guts.

Things like this, we should have gotten over them in the late sixties you know…

Why democracy?

August 5, 2010

First things first. There is not one democracy in the Arab region. It’s a fact that we have accepted as a given, a fact that makes most foreigners scratch their heads in confusion.

If you listen to the talk on the street, most Arabs don’t even want democracy. They find current governments more powerful, more stable. So I started asking myself what are the benefits of democracy in the region?

– Better representation for minorities: Your rights are recognized by law, you are a human and a citizen of the country.

-Less opacity in government transactions: You know your rights, which forms to use, what is ok, what is not.

-Better business: mainly because of the above. Corporations are stronger, they can take more risks.

-Less wars: In the history of the world, only twice have democracies fought. There’s just too many disincentives

-A more secular government: Here’s where most people get it wrong. They think voting will result in a politically Islamic government taking control, hence democracy=political Islam, like what happened in Gaza. But you see, what happened in Gaza hardly was democracy, it was just Bush inspired voting. Democracy, ladies and gentlemen has pillars, central of which is…

1- The Constitution: The central authority, more powerful than votes, judges, anything. You see if the constitution is secular, then even if Hamas gets to power, it can’t do anything. Ban male barbers? Overruled. Ban scantily clad mannequins? Unconstitutional. The most powerful government can’t do anything in a democracy because it just doesn’t have enough power. It has to share it with…

2-The rule of law: If something is against the law, you can’t do it. If the law is bothering you so much, you have to rally to change it, and in a constitutional way too. The law is a thorn in the back of the powerful, and gives the weak a good card to play when cornered. But law is abstract, and can be inhumane and ridiculous. That’s when you go to…

3-Free media: Depending on how shocking it is, your story can go to the press, blogs, tv, you can have your own facebook group, maybe a documentary. Your story becomes popular, with many people working for you to get your rights back. But these concerned people won’t be the poor, who barely get through with life, or the really rich who are sheltered from your troubles. The real vanguards of democracy are the…

4-Middle Class: When there’s enough of them, they have ultimate power, and they take the country anywhere their heart desires. You find them in every democracy, usually disappointed with the way the country is going. Their purchasing power is what matters, their votes and attention are paramount.

Democracy hasn’t come to the ME because we don’t even know what a nation is, let alone a democratic one. As Azmi Bshara said, we need an oppressive government just to remind us that we are one nation and distract us from our tribal mindset. Never mind the religion nations: whenever a group in this region has tried to built a religion nation, whether Christian, Jewish or Islamic, it has always resulted in a truckload of stupid.

But I’m proud of efforts made to build democracy foundations everywhere in the Arab world. Whether it is a rise in middle class, a regional free media, building a national identity. Our formal constitutions and laws were put by occupiers, we don’t relate to them. Tear them down, write a 21st century constitution, share power (you may like your current president/king, but remember, you wouldn’t want so much power to fall in the wrong hands), separate religion from power, so that one interpretation isn’t forced on everybody, and religion is free to thrive and grow.

I know we took our time, but the Arab renaissance is coming soon. It has to be, and it has to be from within.