Symposium: Clan on the FOB, part two

Piggy backing off Mark’s admonitions about preventing the return of the clan (part four of RULE), I’d like address the issue of ousting the Rule of the Clan from Afghanistan. How do we replace a union of feelings (clan) with a union of words (constitution)?

Mark notes, “to prevent the return of the rule of the clan in its various guises, liberal states not only need to possess democratic legitimacy and be effective in advancing individual autonomy—they also need to find ways of meeting the genuine goods the rule of the clan provides, especially solidarity and a measure of social justice, lest liberalism collapse into a hollow core.” From my Afghan tent-mates, I learned some disconcerting lessons about how difficult it is to de-clan a clan-entrenched society.

Take the example of the “colonizing invader” meme as it now circulates among Afghans. That meme is promoted, by various means, in tribally generated masternarratives. Exactly how many Afghans view ISAF, NATO as colonial INVADERS we do not know, though we do know that, somewhat paradoxically, that number increased in 2004 when Bush pulled 70,000 US security forces out of Afghanistan and sent them to Iraq. Upon their withdrawl, Taliban attacks spiked throughout those areas where US Troops had been patrolling and where they’d established peace and security for populations that had been longing for both. In the wake of that withdraw, Afghans felt abandoned. Much longed-for peace had been won—and then lost, because of a war in Iraq, a war perceived to be against Islam. Nor do we know exactly how relevant the meme of COLONIAL OCCUPIER is to the personal stories that Afghans tell themselves to explain why ISAF/NATO is in their Country but I heard that theme in many different forms often in the stories of Afghans.

If we envision ISAF’s mission to be one of helping Afghans establish democratic law in place of clan law (making tribes into a nation), then we really should understand in detail how Afghan master-narratives mobilize the meme of invader colonist and reinforce clannism. Afghan masternarratives typically de-legitimise Western ideas of law. From what sources does jurisprudential legitimacy emerge? I direct that question to other Symposium members who are far more knowledgable than I about the ancient, primal sources of law. However, I do know that one of those sources is what Mark calls the imaginative sensibility of a society—masternarratives, or myth.

But here’s the stumbling block in Afghanistan: From whom do ideas of democratic of law emerge? To what extent are the ideals of individual freedom and democratic, principle-based law made guilty by association with ISAF/NATO invader infidels?

My Afghan tentmates made it absolutely clear to me that what we’re really talking about when we’re talking about clan or tribal identity among Afghans is the feasibility of democratic law gaining true jurisprudential power in Afghanistan. From the perspective of the current battlespace, the issue remains one of cultural incompatibility. From the perspective of my students fighting a Counter Insurgency War, that issue came down to this question: “What are we really fighting for?” “Operation Enduring Freedom”—my ISAF students often playfully shifted the emphasis of that phrase, sometimes heavily intoning Freedom, sometimes ENDURING. Freedom is a word that Mark asks us to take seriously. I often asked my Afghan tentmates to tell me the word for individual freedom in their tribal tongue. They had no such concept. I asked them to translate Operation Enduring Freedom into their tribal tongue. They usually laughed and said, verbatim, “Operation Enduring Freedom.”

Few places on earth present more intractable “Clan” obstacles to the establishment of the rule of democratic law and individual freedom than Afghanistan. Mark’s attention to the “imaginative sensibility that lies at the core of the liberal rule of law (page 183)” points me to the imaginative sensibility that lies at the core of clan law.

We can see the failure of imagination in Afghan Army leadership. The Afghan National Army has largely failed to create the imaginative mechanisms that should enable its members to transcend clan loyalty and its honor-compulsions. A large part of that failure lies in ANA inability to form a masternarrative (or myth) that can offer, to use Mark’s phrasing, a powerful image of “the genuine goods the rule of the clan provides, especially solidarity and a measure of social justice.” Where the US military is extraordinarily effective at creating fictive kinship in new recruits, the Afghan Army is extraordinarily ineffective at making its fiction as compelling as the facts of the Afghan clan.

The Taliban have ruthlessly exploited that “narrative” gap. All species of Taliban have successfully mobilized the meme of invader and, thus, have largely won the masternarrative (IO) war. ISAF and NATO have been predictably framed by the Taliban as NON-ISLAMIC (infidel) invaders who’ve brought great damage to the honor (NANG) of all Afghans, especially Pashtuns. As the Taliban tell the story of a decade of ISAF occupation, only the Taliban have been successful at removing dishonor (BENANGA) from Afghanistan.

Why do so many different groups of Afghans buy into the Taliban masternarrative? Because the Taliban can point to SOCIAL PROOF: Afghan women and children killed by drone strikes; night raids; burned Korans; pissed-on dead bodies of Islamic fighters; US Special Forces running amok and killing dozens of civilians. Plus, they can point at any moment to Karzai’s unending corruption. And they can readily point to ISAF forces as INFIDELS—non-Islamic invaders.

Notably, of all the many Afghans I lived and worked among, the Afghan Army Soldiers were the most difficult to understand. My feeling is that they’ve been recruited from the nastiest dregs of Afghan society, the bottom of the barrel, the utterly outcast, Ghandi’s untouchables. They’re the men not even the heroin druglords want on their payrolls. To put this in economic metaphors, these are men who are DEEP in BENANGA debt. By working for the ANA or for ASF, these men dig themselves even deeper into BENANGA.

Often, the only way out of BENANGA/honor debt, the only way for these deeply SHAMED men to restore their NANG, is to kill ISAF troops in one Samsonic moment of liberation. They empty their AK into their US counterparts or blow themselves up at on a FOB.

The only Afghan men who were lower in the social Afghan order were essentially slaves or indentured servants of local Afghan strongmen whom the US government contracts to perform menial services on its bases, such as laundry, janitorial services, and construction. Lower even than these men were the now-adult victims of “Bacha Bazi,” still un-bearded and untreated for the years of sexual abuse to which they were subjected. These poor men are still, as one US Soldier put it, “looking for daddy.” They did not enjoy, so far as I could tell, full membership in a tribe or clan.

Every ANA/ASF to whom I talked admitted to having a brother (or two) who belonged to an insurgent group, either to a species of Taliban or to one of the criminal insurgent networks. In any case, they were all compromised if not downright confused in their loyalties because of their family and kinship ties—a classic double-bind predicament. If an ANA has killed his own brother (or cousin) during an insurgent attack or on patrol, how does he restore his NANG? Such a killing would bring immediate BENANGA to the ANA soldier and to his extended kin.

As for our own ignorance of Afghan masternarratives (which are structured upon themes of honor and shame), I met no one in ISAF who had any idea how important Mirwais Hotak is to Pashtuns. They did not understand how contested he is today amongst Afghans. Yet, every Afghan to whom I spoke could recite his biography in detail. And they could tell me a good deal about the Hotak Dynasty. Why? Because Mirwais Hotak drove “Iranian” invaders/colonial occupiers out of Afghanistan and back to Isfahan where he then set up a powerful dynasty in the capital of the invaders. In the Afghan minds of my tentmates, Mirwais is a common TROPE. He is THE CLASSIC symbol of the LIBERATOR of Afghanistan. And yet, our COIN efforts have done NOTHING with this figure. NOBODY I talked to in ISAF/NATO even knew the name MIRWAIS HOTAK. Only one student of mine, an avid fan of the poetry of Rudyard Kipling, had ever heard of Mirwais the Hotak Pashtun.

What astonished me about the ANA I met is that they have not constructed their own MASTERNARRATIVE. The ANA cannot develop their own master-narrative, so I suspect, because they are composed of too many DIFFERENT inter-conflicting tribes who live by criss-crossing, cross-conflicting master-narratives. Often, the tribe/ethnic group from which an ANA member was recruited is BROKEN. The tribal sense of honor remains compelling and even compulsive, but tribal forms of mediating an individual’s identity are unavailable.

Tribal/ethnic discombobulation gives rise to EXTREME INSTABILITY IN IDENTITY in individual ANA members. That instability struck me as typical of ANA members. I eventually understood that the identity structure of the average member of the ANA might implode at any moment, due to his CONFLICTING LOYALTIES and honor-compulsions. The ANA who aimed his AK at my head had arrived, in all likelihood, at the verge of implosion.

The double-bind in which many ANA members find themselves while working alongside US troops can potentially give rise — too often does give rise — to VIOLENT PSYCHOSIS. When the psychosis erupts, an ANA trooper typically takes his rage out on US troops—by shooting them in the back.

In addition to original studies by the anthropologist Gregory Bateson (see Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology. University Of Chicago Press, 1972), some of the best, most intelligently useful studies we have about the tortured psychology that emerges in colonized/subalterns who find themselves in a DOUBLBIND predicament (conflicting loyalties imposed by an occupying force) come from the Anthropology of Native American Indians. See Native American Postcolonial Psychology by Eduardo Duran and Bonnie Duran. See also Gerald Sider’s “When Parrots Learn to Talk, and Why They Can’t: Domination, Deception, and Self-Deception in Indian-White Relations.” And, James Clifford’s “Identity in Mashpee. In The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art.” See also, Richard Drinnon’s White Savage: The Case of John Dunn Hunter.

Of course, we have the standard, classic study of the “So-Called Dependency Complex of Colonized Peoples” by Franz Fanon in which he responds to M. Mannoni’s PROSPERO AND CALIBAN: PSYCHOLOGY of COLONIZATION. Again, AMBIVALENCE is a key psychic condition. Ambivalence, as I witnessed it in Afghanistan, is a dangerous psychic condition. (See also, Fanon’s “Colonial Wars and Mental Disorders” in WRETCHED of THE EARTH.)

Studies of the ANA that fully recognize and explain an ANA member’s double-bind predicament and how the conflicting loyalties in which he lives as a Soldier give rise to violent psychosis have been few and far between.

Notwithstanding the absence of detailed studies, “Winning the Battle of the Narratives in Afghanistan” by Dean J. Case II and Robert Pawlak acknowledges the need to get inside the FEELING STRUCTURES of ANA. (See also, K Oatley’s “Why Fiction May be Twice as True as Fact: Fiction as Cognitive and Emotional Stimulation.” REVIEW OF GENERAL PSYCHOLOGY (1999))

To get into the “feelings of the general public” (an Afghan public that slots into tribal/ethnic groups, each of which live by a set of overlapping and sometimes cross-conflicting masternarratives), I consulted the work of Benedicta Grima. Her bio: “Benedicte Grima is a trained ethnographer from the University of Pennsylvania who spent over ten years traveling, living and participating in rural life in the border area of Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan as part of her doctoral research. Four years of extensive language training in Pashto and Farsi at the Institut des Langues Orientales in France, and an M.A. from the University of Paris in Iranian Studies, armed her with the linguistic skills to feel at home among Pashtun men and women ranging from farmers to intellectuals. She has published a book, “The Sorrows Which Have Befallen Me”: The Performance of Emotion Among Paxtun Women, and numerous academic articles on various aspects of Pashtun women and culture. ”

In order to provide my own students with the intellectual equipment they needed to deal with their own double-bind predicament and cope with the tremendous psychic stress that comes from living and working alongside deeply instable Afghans, I would, in the future, teach Mark’s book. His review of Maine’s work would help me introduce students to specific, detailed information about Afghan history, culture, worldview (Afghan “clan narratives”) with the aim of showing my students how various Afghan groups construct a sense of dignity and honor, which is markedly different from how we construct a sense of dignity and honor out of the ancient Code of the Warrior.

In sum, most Afghans are compelled by the themes of a master-narrative (episteme) that stems from the 19century. The plot of that narrative has not been altered significantly by ISAF’s best persuasive efforts. If anything, ISAF’s decade-long presence has reinforced that plotline. And the honor-shame (nang/benanga) dynamic that Mark refers to in chapter seven is ruthlessly exploited by the Taliban masternarrative/myth.

As my Afghan neighbours asserted, “You Americans have merely been talking to yourselves.” Our masternarrative (the rhetoric of democratic statehood) about why we’re in Afghanistan plays well with US and NATO audiences who value human rights and democracy, but that story falls on deaf (or missing) Afghan ears. We’ve been caught in our own solipsism for way too long.

Mark’s insights about the “transformation of the clan” should be deployed immediately to get us past our own Afghanistan solipsism. In my next post, I will try to imagine how social networks might be used to replace kinship networks in Afghanistan.

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3 Responses

  1. Arnold Kling says:

    But what if a necessary condition for moving away from clan society is either an autocrat on top or a culture based on the nuclear family at the bottom?

    • Doyle Quiggle Jr. says:

      Many thanks for your tough-minded “what if.” I suspect that BOTH are necessary conditions to spark the abiding, clan-to-constitution cultural transformation for which Mark calls in his book. Think about how clan-embedded the US Founders still were when they posited and constituted a “liberal individual” possessing certain, self-evident inalienable rights. Although they did not have the tools of socio-biology or anthropology by which to examine their own social predicament, they were aware — Jefferson was acutely aware – of the dangers of their own clannism to their entire constitutional project. Republican and Federalist anxieties about how strong the executive office should be point to their even deeper anxieties about the threat of clannism. Madison called clans “damned factions,” and he and Jefferson both used the metaphor of a “witches cauldron” to describe the political threat of clannism.

      The survival of the Early Republic is inconceivable without the spellbinding, faction-soothing charisma of George Washington (the founding FATHER), who was, in a sense, a benevolent autocrat. Miriwais is often referred to by Afghans as the FATHER of Afghanistan, which is why I am perplexed by the Afghan Army’s failure to mobilize that trope in the IO war.

      I suspect you have an even more powerful individual in mind when you use the term “autocrat.”

      This autocrat and the extended family must be able to offer the individual legal protection equal to or greater than what the clan offers. I have in mind here the protection that many Afghan farmers do NOT get from strongmen who force them into opium debt. For a while, ISAF played the role of autocrat pretty well in some regions, effectively protecting farmers from being forced into the opium debt cycle in which many farmers find themselves forced to sell their daughters as child brides in order to pay off the debt. (See F. Nawa’s recent book OPIUM NATION.)

      I have no qualms about admitting the need for autocrats or nuclear families, especially in places like Afghanistan, as long as they really can protect individuals from the likes of heroin druglords and break individuals free from clan-imposed forms of debt, both moral and economic debt. Again, think about Jefferson’s obsession with the inheritability of debt, which he was determined to abolish in the newly founded Republic.

      I need to think more about your question, though. It’s a tough one.

  2. Mark S. Weiner says:

    Regarding your discussion, a friend today passed along the following remarks from a 1968 paper by David Apter regarding the way charisma can bridge the gap between traditional and modern society:

    “Indeed, charisma can arise in part when the increase in modernity is not met by a proportioned decline in ‘traditionalism.’ Then a charismatic leader is part traditional and part modern. This happened in Ghana. Despite important changes in the structure of authority and rule, traditionalism flourished to a surprising degree and continued to provide the normative basis of propriety. Operating through customary beliefs and practices, traditionalism affected the substance and style of Nkrumah during his charismatic period. If it pitted Nkrumah against the chiefs, a kind of charismatic dialectic resulted which combined the two opposing tendencies.”