We have wondered, will any democracy taken up by Arab Muslims inevitably become authoritarian?
One might well ask it of Russians. Twenty years after the wall crumbled with a whimper and the West's Democracy 101 knights rode in, where are they?
[International observers of the 2008] elections concluded that they were "not fair and failed to meet many OSCE and Council of Europe commitments and standards for democratic elections." [...] Frequent abuses of administrative resources, media coverage strongly in favor of United Russia, and the revised election code combined to hinder political pluralism.
[...] A law enacted in December 2004 eliminated the direct election of the country's regional leaders. Governors are now nominated by the president [...] The judiciary is not independent, is often subject to manipulation by political authorities,...
... The government uses direct ownership or ownership by large private companies with links to the government to control or influence the major media outlets, especially television, [...] Unsolved murders of journalists have increased the reluctance of journalists to cover controversial subjects...
The Economist Intelligence Unit's World Democracy Index (1 - 10, 10 being 'most democratic') lists four categories--'Full democracy,' 'Flawed democracy,' 'Hybrid regime,' and 'Authoritarian regime.' Cut-off for this fourth category is a score of 4.00 or lower; Russia misses it by a hair at 4.26.
Perhaps not exactly what Francis Fukuyama had in mind.
But little matter.
Moscow street protests seen round the world (thank you Facebook) have roused the true believers from their slumber. English Liberal Democracy is coming to Russia, for real this time, after twenty years of Some Other Kind of Democracy. Just as it has come to the Middle East in 2011, after sixty years of Some Other Kind of Democracy.
Or is it.
In 1915 Nikolai Berdyaev wrote,
The Russian people does not want to be a masculine builder, its nature defines itself as feminine, passive and submissive in matters of state, it always awaits a bridegroom, a man, a ruler. ... The state ruling authority always was an external, and not an inward principle for the non-statist Russian people; it was not created by her, but the rather came as it were from the outside, like a bridegroom to the bride.
And so often therefore the ruling power has provided the impression of being foreign, ... the state -- is "they" and not "we".
'They' and not 'we.'
Whither the demos?
. . .
David S. Reher (among others) has argued that the English's passion for forming clubs and associations of all kinds comes from their strangely weak family system. English Liberal Democracy is supposed to have sprouted from this same root. The sense of belonging which other peoples drew from their family circle, the lonely English got by fraternizing with perfect strangers. Among the earliest and most vigorous out-breeders in Europe, whose children married late and rarely stayed on the family land, the English early on formed a type of corporate life unknown and unthinkable in the 'strong-family' parts of the world. It so happens that before the 20th century, the 'strong-family' parts of the world were the world. English were the odd men out.
Emmanuel Todd has argued that our government systems are nothing but our family systems writ large. Perhaps, perhaps not. But if we indulge him, then the question becomes: If the English family is conducive to English-style liberal democracy, then to what type of government is the Arab family conducive?
In 1929 Salvador De Madarigara said the following about his country:
Spanish collective life counts thus on two forces which give it a certain amount of external, superimposed cohesion, such as the shell gives the tortoise: one is the Army, the other, the Church. ...
These institutions are the two best organized communities in a country in which most collective life is lax, and therefore weak--and, moreover, they owe their better organization to the fact that they possess a collective life of their own based on passions which appeal strongly to the Spanish soul: honour, the fundamental passion in the Army; and religion, the fundamental passion in the Church. While the rest of the nation lacks cohesion, the Army and the Church hold together. Hence their power.
One may be forgiven for replacing 'Spanish' with 'Arab' and 'Church' with 'Mosque' and feeling sure the text is describing the Middle East in 2012.
The Army and the Mosque: Tunisia and Egypt are both home to a conflict playing out in slow motion between just these two parties.
To what type of government is the Arab family conducive?
Anthropologists Robert F. Murphy and Leonard Kasdan:
Patrilateral parallel cousin marriage is, we maintain, an essential factor in the structuring of Arab society.
Cousin-marriage, it must be admitted, was the norm in human history and is still practiced by many.
What makes Arab cousin marriage special, even for cousin-marriers, is that 'ego' usually marries his father's brother's daughter (FBD). This is considered 'incestuous' by other consanguineous groups, who practice MBD (mother's brother's daughter) marriage. MBD, over time, looks like this (Images by HBD Chick):
FBD, the Arabs' preferred system, looks like this:
Murphy / Kasdan:
Parallel cousin marriage may well contribute to the temporary unity of minimal segments, but it is also effective in inhibiting the formation of corporate groups on higher levels of segmentation. It follows then that parallel cousin marriage [FBD] has the opposite effect of cross-cousin marriage [MBD], which is generally considered to be a means by which kin groups interrelate and thus become integrated into the larger society.
How does it work?
The father’s brother’s son is considered to possess marital rights over his cousin, and, in cases in which he does not take her as his bride, his permission is nonetheless necessary for her marriage to another.
As patrilineal sections segment, the preference for the closest female relative (barring sisters) in the line deepens the gulf between collateral branches by turning affinal bonds inward. Since Bedouin society is based largely upon ties of kinship, each minimal-sized agnatic unit becomes virtually self contained and encysted.
Whence this marriage system? Anthropologist Brian Schwimmer:
This practice is usually associated with the need to maintain property within the family line and avoids dissipation of assets through affinal exchanges or female inheritance. Lineage endogamy is most frequently found in pastoral communities, in which the continuity of domestic herds forms a primary concern.
The Bible offers an extensive demonstration of lineage endogamy among the generations of the Hebrew patriarchs. [...] It also stresses the need for parallel cousin marriage to preserve the patrilineal inheritance of property in general situations in which a man has only daughters. If they marry their father's brother's sons, their family property can be transmitted to their sons and remain within the patrilineal group (Numbers 36).
Bedouin camel herding is like no other. Far from transhumance herding in the luxuriant Alps, where the shepherd only moves once a year from winter lowland to summer upland, the desert herder is in constant motion. Anthropologist Louise Sweet:
But camels mature slowly and reproduce slowly as compared with ... sheep and goats. A female camel produces only once in two years a single offspring. ... The female gives milk for 11 to 15 months .... the yield per animal, however, is small, varying from 1 to 7 litres per day. [...] The capacity of camels to tolerate extremes of heat and lack of water, to thrive on desert plants beyond the capacities of other domesticated animals, and to cover great distances in the course of nomadic grazing supports Bedouin life in the outer ranges of the ecological niche of desert pastoralism.
A pastoral society of atomistically fissioning lineages, uncommitted to any scale of corporate organization or structure other than the tribe, accords well with the mobility required under desert conditions.
Eking out a living from camel's milk in one of the most hostile environments on Earth, where one's wealth (herds) is both self-multiplying and can walk off at any moment, lent itself to this peculiar agnatic system. Sweet:
Everywhere, however, in accounts of the society or in contact with the people themselves, the 'individualism' of the Bedouin is noted. When a man has acquired camels, a tent, and a wife, he is not obliged to remain with his father's or brother's or uncle's cluster--an attitude which he expresses assertively--but may independently move with others.
Murphy / Kasdan:
There cannot be a greater mistake than to suppose that Arab society is based on the patriarchal authority of the father over his sons; on the contrary there is no part of the world where parental authority is weaker than in the desert. . . .
The peasant lays his head where his farm is. The desert herder lays his head wherever his grazing may take him:
The above described lack of solidarity in the Bedouin family is abetted by the inheritance system, according to which the estate is divided among the sons in equal parts, daughters being commonly disinherited. [Pre-Islam, which did impose female inheritance.] In its ideal form this should not be a source of conflict, but special provisions for the eldest son and for sons who remain under the paternal roof until the father’s death frequently cloud issues and result in dispute within the family.
The harmony of the family is further disturbed by the efforts of the sons to claim their share of the inheritance--and, consequently, independence--from the father before his death. Jaussen (1908:22) notes of the Arab family in general: “Among the nomads, as among civilized peoples, discord occasionally bursts out within the family.” Thus, in a system where every male sibling is a potential point of segmentation, and therefore a significant political role player, even the interests of brothers or of sons and fathers are not necessarily convergent.
So what of cooperation and trust, the precursors of Liberal Democracy? Military trainer Norvell de Atkine:
First, the well-known lack of trust among Arabs in anyone outside their own families adversely affects offensive [military] operations.
When they had an influence on certain Arab military establishments, the Soviets strongly reinforced their clients’ own cultural traits. Like that of the Arabs, the Soviets’ military culture was driven by political fears bordering on paranoia. The steps taken to control the sources (real or imagined) of these fears, such as a rigidly centralized command structure, were readily understood by Arab political and military elites. The Arabs, too, felt an affinity for the Soviet officer class’s contempt for ordinary soldiers and its distrust of a well-developed, well-appreciated, well-rewarded NCO corps.
... Arab officers do not see any value in sharing information among themselves, let alone with their men. In this they follow the example of their political leaders, who not only withhold information from their own allies, but routinely deceive them.
Author David Pryce-Jones:
[Arab politics is] a reality which defies all but the greatest novelists: a lifelong questing for power, the gradual sensing and probing for potential allies of similar ambition, the conspiracy into which crucial friends are admitted and from which others have to be excluded, and ever-present awareness that the trusted friend is best placed as a mortal traitor, double-crossings and feints and denunciations, calculations over the smallest matters of promotion and demotion, the scrutiny for those imperceptible details of manner of facial cast which may reveal someone's inner purpose,...
Murphy / Kasdan:
“Authority is distributed at every point of the tribal structure and political leadership is limited to situations in which a tribe or segment of it acts corporately.” In its underlying principle, the process of segmentary opposition between patrilineal sections corresponds closely to the Arab proverb: “Myself against my brother; my brother and I against my cousin; my cousin, my brother and I against the outsider.” In this system, it is almost impossible to isolate a solidary ingroup, and groupings are continually being activated or redefined through struggles that may even pit members of the nuclear family against each other.
The English are famously individualist and atomized. Yet their individualism seems to have led to a strong commonweal-orientation, corporate life, and representative democracy.
The English are also, it must be noted, famously out-bred. From at least the 16th century, they routinely sent out their children to work as domestic servants in far-away villages, where the youngsters saved up their wages until they could afford to marry and set up a home. These formative years spent far outside the family circle, as well as marrying distant villagers instead of close relatives, seems to have broken the clan bonds and led to famously atomized England.
Bedouin Arabs, however, did just the opposite, preferring to marry the closest relative possible who wasn't a sister.
What behaviors related to democracy could be affected by such a state of affairs? Genetics blogger HBD Chick:
It seems to me to be the father-of-the-bride ["C" in chart below] who really wins out here genetically speaking (which is all that matters, right?). the father-of-the-bride gets to “reunite” his y-chromosome (that he shares with his nephew, his brother’s son) with a quarter of his autosomal dna (his daughter carries half of his autosomal dna) in any male grandkids that he has. What other grandfather gets to do that?:
I also think it’s not a coincidence that, in these societies where FBD marriage exists, you also get these extremely paternalistic societies where women are shrouded in burkas or aren’t allowed to drive or whatever. Also, the whole honor killing thing. like RS said here, the males in such societies become “super homies” with each other. Exactly! Why? ’Cause they are really closely related genetically.
The 'super-homies', also known as the 'band-of-brothers' phenomenon. For English Liberal Democracy to work, a certain balance between the feminine and the masculine is needed. Cooperation, consensus-seeking, compromise--typically female pursuits--must have their place. And among Arab Muslims? Nicolai Sennels, Danish prison psychologist, on the country's Muslim immigrants (Arabs and others):
My own experience is that Muslims don’t understand our Western way of trying to handle conflicts through dialogue. They are raised in a culture with very clear outer authorities and consequences. Western tradition using compromise and inner reflection as primary means of handling outer and inner conflicts is seen as weak in the Muslim culture. To a great extent they simply don’t understand this softer and more humanistic way of handling social affairs.
Expressions of anger and threats are probably the quickest way to lose one's face in Western culture. In discussions, those who lose their temper have automatically lost, ... In the Muslim culture, aggressive behavior, especially threats, are generally seen to be accepted, and even expected as a way of handling conflicts and social discrepancies. If a Muslim does not respond in a threatening way to insults or social irritation, he is seen as weak, as someone who cannot be depended upon and loses face.
And what of that self-starting, self-ruling spirit that drove, for example, the U.S.'s English founders? Psychologists Helen A. Klein and Gilber Kuperman:
In the Middle East, planning discussions are regularly punctuated by Inshallah—“if Allah wills it.” The status of a person’s health, wealth, and safety are believed to be inevitable. Arabs tend to invoke luck and conspiracy theories instead of expecting human actions to make a difference. Interviewees reported, “We don’t plan ahead,” “We only act when a catastrophe happens,” and “If it’s going to come, then it will come.”
The locus of control is central to our understanding of problems and their solutions. If we are raised in a culture where we learn that "…I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul," as William Ernest Henley wrote in his famous poem Invictus in 1875; we will, in case of personal problems, look at ourselves and ask: "…What did I do wrong?" and "…What can I do to change the situation?" People who have been taught throughout their entire lives that outer rules and traditions are more important than individual freedom and self reflection, will ask: "Who did this to me?" and "Who has to do something for me?"
What we have to understand is that we are dealing with people who grew up in cultures with an "outer locus of control." Self reflection and self responsibility have much less importance to them.
In a word, someone else must rule me, because I am incapable of ruling myself. But at the same time, I have an intense desire to not be ruled by anyone else. A seeming paradox.
This uber-masculinized culture can also lead to what Pryce-Jones calls the 'shame-honor reflex', where any perceived slight must be met with violence. The self-effacing English have always delighted in poking fun at themselves and at the powerful. This is one leg of their legendary governing system (no free press can exist without it). Can it sprout among the Arab Muslims? Pryce-Jones:
Shame-honor ranking effectively prohibits the development of wider, more socialized types of human relationship. Status considerations of the kind are impervious to Western concepts of contractual relationships.
To take the everyday matter of wanting to obtain a job, a young man approaches the head of his family or clan, his patron. The head of the family is under obligation to do his very best to make sure that his kinsman is given what he asks for. The honor of the whole family is at stake...In the event of the job going to someone else, the patron becomes the object of shame, and his standing is under threat... Whether or not the young man deserved the job is no kind of consideration. Civic spirit, the good of the community, or mere consideration of who could best perform the job in hand has no part in these proceedings.
Philip Carl Salzman:
In the Middle East, all honor goes to the victor; the vanquished is dishonored. There is no honor in "playing fairly," "doing your best," or "upholding the rules."... Applied to stated governance, this spirit advises monopoly of power, ruthless suppression of opponents, and accumulation of benefits. In short, it is a recipe for despotism, for tyranny.
Unfortunately the Muslim culture tells its men that criticism must be taken completely personally and met with childish reactions.
If you had ever spent time in a Muslim community you experience this very clearly. You would find yourself constantly trying not to offend anyone and you’d treat everybody like a rotten egg. Jokes, irony and, especially, self-irony is as good as non-existent. It creates a superficial social environment where unhealthy hierarchies appear everywhere because nobody dares to, for instance, point out the weaknesses of childish men and make fun of the powerful.
There is an old Danish fairytale about a little boy that points out the nakedness of the King; "He has no clothes on!!” embarrassing the proud King wearing his non-existent magic clothes, which are only visible to "good people" (actually, the King was just naked - because the tailor had cheated him!). Such a story could never have been written in a Muslim culture.
A study in paradox, The Bedouin Arab: Individualistic, like the Englishman, but unlike him, intensely suspicious of all others. Weak paternal authority, like the Englishman, but possessed of a hyper-masculine culture in which cooperation is a fatal weakness. Loathe to submit to a central power, like the Englishman, but unable or unwilling to take responsibility for his own destiny.
But one may argue that after all, the Bedouin Arab Muslims conquered the Middle East centuries ago. Their genetic contribution to many modern 'Arab' countries is minimal. True. But they did export their marriage system wildly successfully:
In the seventh and eighth centuries, an explosive diffusion of this [FBD marriage] pattern took place when Arab tribes, backed by Islam, spread throughout the whole of the Omayyid Khalifate.
How deep has been the Arab penetration of the Middle East, on the level of culture? Of religion? Of genetics? To answer these may be to answer our original question:
To what form of government is the Arab family conducive?
American taxpayers may or may not approve of Arab Democracy Promotion as a legitimate use of their tax dollars. But the least one could do would be to make an honest assessment of the likelihood of English Liberal Democracy taking root in lands where:
Honor is accorded to the man who succeeds in capturing the state because he has truly proved his mastery, he has displayed ruthlessness beyond the imagination and capacity of the ordinary man. [...] Public welfare is a concept without meaningful application; there is no common good. ... Generosity is suspect as a ploy for advantage. Idealism and sincerity are penalized. Self-sacrifice is akin to lunacy or martyrdom.
Contributors to the public purse should demand it.
De Atkine, Norvell B., 'Why Arabs Lose Wars,' Middle East Quarterly, Dec. 1999, Vol. 6, No. 2.
Pryce-Jones, David, A Closed Circle: An Interpretation of the Arabs, New York: Harper and Row, 1989.
Murphy, Robert F. and Kasdan, Leonard, 'The Structure of Parallel Cousin Marriage', American Anthropologist, 61 (February 1959), pp. 17-29.
Salzman, Philip Carl, Culture and Conflict in the Middle East, Amherst: Humanity Books, 2008.
Sweet, Louise E., 'Camel raiding of North Arabian bedouin: a mechanism of ecological adaptation,' American Anthropologist 67 (1965): 1132–50.
Previously: The Voice of the People,