Thursday, January 10, 2008

Tribal DNA

Article on Arab Nomads and Bedouins from Middle East Quarterly linking state and society and conflict to tribalism. I have to say however that I don't know enough political science to be able to offer a decent critique of the article. I'm posting it for the food/livestock production aspects. Read in context with previous post "Baduw".


"Maximizing livestock possession is also important. Livestock generate income of offspring, products, and services. They produce milk and meat. Camels offer hair; sheep supply wool, and goats provide underwool, all of which can be spun into yarn or woven into bags and food covers, and goat hair can also be woven into sheets and used as tent roofs. Camels enable distance travel. Sold at market, they supply money to purchase goods not produced locally, such as firearms, brass household goods, tea, and sugar. Their sale also provides funds to buy agricultural land, peasant villages, and urban villas.[1]

There are also important social reasons to maximize livestock possessions. Upon marriage, the husband's family compensates the wife's kin with livestock. Any man with political aspirations should own animals. Slaughter of sheep or goats enables hospitality for guests.[2] Loan or grant of livestock can establish or reinforce alliances with other families and create useful obligations to be repaid in provision of labor or political support.

Tribal success, though, counted in increasing progeny and livestock, strains pasturage, water, and arable land. To accommodate enlarged populations, it becomes necessary to expand tribal resources through geographical expansion, often at the expense of neighboring populations. Alternatively, some tribes may capture herds and seize pastures and water resources through predatory raiding. Such a strategy often appeals to young tribesmen who see it as a quick way to independence and prominence.[3] Either way, tribesmen are ready to fight. Their tribal structure enhances feelings of unity and normalizes antipathy against outsiders. Challenging neighbors over territory and livestock not only feels natural and justified but is also desirable."

1 comment:

D said...

I don't know enough to respond to Salzman's article with any specificity, but I am deeply suspicious of any argument that derives its conclusions (clash of civilizations) from a presumption of a cultural organization that persists various guises (call it tribal, call it Islamic), fundamentally untouched by history. Culture is not an alternative to race, it's a refurbishment. (Like Islam to tribalism, according to Salzman). 'Cultural dna' has the same epistemological logic and legitimacy as the 'one drop' rule did (does?) in the US ('one drop' of 'black blood' makes a person racially 'black'). It's a political convenience.