Saturday, September 01, 2007

Making mistakes in Iraq

The Americans have made plenty. And people have been plenty quick to point them out, especially those relating to a certain parochialism of viewpoint. General Sir Mike Jackson's criticisms are the latest to attract a swarm of other bees eager to sip the sweet nectar of Schadenfreude. And is there nectar sweeter than the substantiated charge that 'your whole worldview is warped, man'?

For Mr Rumsfeld and his neo-conservative supporters "it was an ideological article of faith that the coalition forces would be accepted as a liberating army.

The American mistake in assuming their own mentality to be universal is, thankfully, not unique to them. Al-Queda Iraq (or more correctly, tanzim qaidat al-jihad fil bilad al-Rafidayn, which evidently means "the qai’da organization for jihad in the land of the two rivers") sought to gain influence among the tribes there by leaning on the tribal leaders for their daughters hand in marriage. A tried and trusted method, no? It backfired.

Islam, of course, is a key identity marker when dealing with non-Muslim outsiders, but when all involved are Muslim, kinship trumps religion. And in fact, most tribal Iraqis I have spoken with consider AQ’s brand of “Islam” utterly foreign to their traditional and syncretic version of the faith. One key difference is marriage custom, the tribes only giving their women within the tribe or (on rare occasions to cement a bond or resolve a grievance, as part of a process known as sulha) to other tribes or clans in their confederation (qabila). Marrying women to strangers, let alone foreigners, is just not done. AQ, with their hyper-reductionist version of “Islam” stripped of cultural content, discounted the tribes’ view as ignorant, stupid and sinful.

This is from David Kilcullen's analysis of the tribal revolt against the Islamists. There's a lot more, but I'm going to have to come back to it.

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