Muslim Tribes and the War on Terror
Dr. Mozammel Haque
There was a lecture on Muslim Tribes and the War on Terror by Professor Akbar Ahmed at Chatham House, London, on Tuesday, the 25th of June, 2013. It was chaired by Professor Lord Tony Giddens.
Professor Akbar Ahmed first spoke on the issues of religion, ethnicity, war on terror and involvement of all tribal societies.
Professor Ahmed said I will be talking about the tribal issue of the world, but the biggest issue for me emerging from the study is the philosophic one looking at the very nature of the world that we are living in at this part of the 21st century. How do we deal with the other, the other in the most profound sense that is tribal society?
He looked at these tribal societies anthropologically. Professor Ahmed mentioned how the modern nation emerged out of this tribal society. He said Afghanistan is land of Afghan people; Baluchistan is the land of Baluch people. You can see how territories have been created by tribe.
Professor Ahmed also mentioned, “After 9/11, the notion of Clash of Civilization dominated the world in term of analysis. Any commentator what is happening, why do they hate us; why do they do this, the dreadful deed on 9/11. The answers came very quickly and I think very superficially is the clash of civilization.”
He argued, “The clash of civilization has already had a basis; it’s over a thousand years. It is conflict between Greece and Persia; West and East; Christianity and Islam. It fed into already existing psychological basis of how we look at it.”
“And of course the arrival of drones after 9/11 allows to see and analyse the impact of drones on tribal societies. Ask yourself where are the drones most used? And they are really segmentary lineage system: the Pashtuns, Afghanistan, Pakistan; mainly in Waziristan. Among the Somalis, the Segmentary Lineage system; Eastern Turkey, Segmentary Lineage system. So there is some connection we can identify,” argued Professor Akbar Ahmed. .
Professor Akbar Ahmed has looked at 40 case studies. He not only looked at them in the contemporary frame but goes back in history. So last thousand years the period of the Emirates very loose control over the tribes; the tribes able to perpetuate themselves and can create some kind of stability for themselves.
Professor Ahmed argued, “These tribes for 40 case studies that the book looks at from societies in Morocco right across North African to East African, Middle East societies and nations and into the Caucasus. Then also into the societies of south-eastern part of Asia, the Philippines, for example. Look at the first stage of Emirates; you had some kind of loose economic rule or administration, very very loose.”
He argued, “So tribal Islam, Emirates Islam or orthodox Islam co-existence in a very comfortable manner. Tribal Islam often dominating the behaviour of this tribe. Then came the colonial era, starting in the 18th 19th centuries. It immediately creates the tension between the periphery and the centre. Here we have the first change of the dynamic of this tribe:The notion of the centre and the periphery. This involves massive dislocation, killing and all kinds of terrible things.”
Then comes the third phase which is the post-colonial modern state and the people on the periphery felt we are now part of a nation state. These are fellow Muslims fellow tribes; people who recognise us and therefore there is an assumption that there will be more sympathy, more understanding from the new centre. But in fact, this did not happen. If you look at history, Iraq of Saddam Hussein, its main victims are the Kurds, mentioned Professor Akbar Ahmed.
He said, “Now it is although a very different dynamic; Muslim rulers looking at Muslim tribes. So the notion of Jihad is completely changed and scrambled in; shifted.”
Then the fourth era analysing the society is really the 9/11 and the present era. This is an era of uncertainty, the era of confusion; no one knows who is doing what to whom; we are not sure who is fighting this war and what kinds of robot and technology you create to fighting it. The development of science fiction; mentioned Professor Ahmed.
He argued, “For the tribe man, the drone is the final crossing of every line of kinds of warfare. They have no way of combating. Comes out of blue, buzzes over head; terrorise the population; the bad guys the militants were killed, the entire population women, children particularly, cannot sleep at night; because it is buzzing over head. As a result many many thousands of these people trying to escape the violence. Terrible stories.”
About the book
The Thistle and the Drone
This is the third and final part of a trilogy of books in which Professor Akbar Ahmed examined the relations between the United States and the Muslim world. The first of these focused on Muslim societies in the Muslim world and their perceptions of the United States and its allies in the West. The second examined Muslim communities in the United States and American views of Islam. While conducting these studies, Professor Akbar Ahmed discovered that the numerous and influential Muslim groups with a tribal background that live on borders between states and form the periphery of their nation were often overlooked by many in the discussion about U.S. and Muslim relations. Hence this work is concerned with precisely those interstics between borders where tribal Islam is found.
This book is divided into six chapters. The first chapter “Thistle and the Drone” provides an outline of the main arguments. Chapter 2 is a study of Waziristan built on sound information and research, confirming that the Wazir and Mahsud tribes living there closely approximated to the segmentary lineage system.
The next three chapters are structurally linked, and the findings in one have bearing on the other. Chapter 3 is about the dilemma an individual in tribal society faces in balancing the compulsions of religion and those of tribal customs. Chapter 4 turns to tribal relations with the centre, and the need for it to accommodate the periphery while maintaining the writ of the state. It is the longest chapter because it depicts the historical sweep of the case studies and puts them in the context of the book’s conceptual frame; without this background, it is well-nigh impossible, according to Professor Akbar Ahmed, to fully understand relations between the centre and periphery.
Chapter 5 continues the narrative in the context of the United States struggling to balance its security concerns and the imperative to preserve human rights and civil liberties. Together, the three chapters illustrate the tribal, national, and international levels of conflict since 9/11. Chapter 6 shows why the United States – despite its resolve, resources, and sophisticated techniques in information gathering – has failed to understand the nature of tribal societies and the consequences of this failure.
Professor Akbar Ahmed said, “It calls for a realignment of the paradigm propelling the war on terror thus far and presents our findings and concrete recommendations for shifting from a confrontational approach to one aimed at peace and stability. Otherwise, death and destruction will continue their rampage across the world, bringing entire communities to the brink of cultural, economic, and even physical disaster. This volume’s journey into tribal societies begins in Waziristan, the epicentre of the war on terror.”
PRAISE FOR THE BOOK: The Thistle and the Drone
How the great scholars, academician, religious leaders of different communities have found the book The Thistle and the Drone. Followings are the opinions, views and comments of some of the great leaders and scholars:
Dr. Rowan Williams
Former Archbishop of Canterbury
“This is a book of genuinely global importance; by offering a fresh and entirely persuasive analysis of what the West habitually and superficially treats as ‘religiously motivated’ violence or terror, it demands an urgent rethinking of the disastrous strategies that have been used in the last decade to combat the threat of terrorist activity. Professor Ahmed combines a clear professional anthropological expertise with an equally clear, critical and humane moral perspective. This is an unusual and groundbreaking book, which should be compulsory reading for Western governments.”
Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson,
former chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell and Professor of Government and Public Policy at the College of William and Mary
“In the end, I was close to tears. Lagrimas caudales or ‘flowing tears’ to use the apposite phrase of Blas de Otero, seems to be what the book’s conclusions lead to…Thus lagrimas for the tribes, for the soldiers, and for the United States…If one extrapolates from Professor Ahmed’s findings and from the history of torture as well, ‘bug splat’, as the victims of drone strikes are called, and torture live in the same house. Ahmed makes clear that, like torture, the creation of such profound fear wounds the creators as well – destroying their liberties, polluting their democracy, and devouring their souls. Professor Ahmed gives us the only way out of this dangerous dilemma, a way to coexist with this thistle without the drone.”
William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Anthropology, Princeton University
“…Akbar Ahmed shows us how vital are the world’s tribes to our understanding of and interactions with the Muslim world. This highly original combination of firsthand experience and insightful synthesis is an indispensable guide to policymakers and concerned readers who want to comprehend just how astonishing is the world when seen through the eyes of a brilliant and dedicated guide.”
Dr. James Shera, MBE,
Sitara-e-Pakistan (Star of Pakistan), former mayor of Rugby and prominent Christian Pakistani leader in the UK.
“The contribution of Professor Akbar Ahmed to peace and harmony and broader understanding among the human race is beyond any imagination. I believe he is the most humble, inspirational and highly respected scholar amongst all faiths and communities today. I support wholeheartedly what he has done in this book – pleading for compassion and rejecting violence of any kind against fellow humans. May God help and support his Mission!”
Dr. Edward Kessler, MBE,
Founder and Director, The Woolfe Institute, and Fellow of St. Edmunds College, University of Cambridge, UK
“Akbar Ahmed is one of the few scholars intimately familiar with East and West as well as Judaism, Christianity, and especially Islam. He provides the reader with a treasure trove of wisdom and knowledge. By applying different fields of learning, notably anthropology, to explore cross-cultural and even cross-civilizational encounters, Ahmed has produced a profound and significant book. The 20th century witnessed mass destruction and genocide. The 21st century is going the same way. The Thistle and the Drone is a wake-up call to all of us before it is too late. This is a must-read book.”
Author of A History of God and creator of the Charter for Compassion
“In this groundbreaking and startling book, Akbar Ahmed bravely uncovers an inconvenient truth, a fearful reality which endangers us all and in which we are all implicated. It should be required reading for those working in the media, policymaking, and education – and, indeed, for anybody who wishes to understand our tragically polarized world.”
Former political agent, North Waziristan Agency and Chief Secretary, North-West Frontier Pakistan, Pakistan, and Chairman, Regional Institute of Policy Research and Training, Peshwar, Pakistan
“The author has examined drone operations in the Tribal Areas of Pakistan and elsewhere in Muslim tribal societies from a rare combination of perspectives. Firstly those of a political agent managing tribes in Pakistan’s lawless Tribal Areas, then as a top notch anthropologist, and finally as a diplomat and a teacher of comparative religion. It is a wonder how one could encompass so many diverse careers in one lifetime. Policymakers need to pay heed to Akbar Ahmed’s message. This writing is a tour de force on the subject and replete with practical wisdom.”
Professor of Government, and Director, Berkeley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, Georgetown University, Washington, DC.
“The Thistle and the Drone provides a trenchant and original critique of the conduct of the U.S. government’s declared war on global terrorism. Ambassador Akbar Ahmed brilliantly illuminates the complex and little understood world of Islamic tribal societies. Policymakers should take heed.”
Professor Marilyn Strathern, O.B.E
Former William Wyse Professor of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge
“I am moved, horrified, and encouraged all at once. Above all, Professor Ahmed makes me proud to be an anthropologist.”
His Imperial Highness Ermias Sahle Selassie of Ethiopia
“While our technology is advancing at such an unprecedented pace, our cultural and human intelligence seems not only not to have kept pace but is increasingly being marginalized where fast but far-reaching decisions are being made every day. Professor Ahmed’s excellent book is a must-read for policymakers and students of international affairs as it opens our eyes to the complexities faced by governments and societies around the world.”
Fellow of the British Academy and Professor of Hinduism and the Comparative Study of Religion, University of Cambridge, UK
“This powerfully written and deeply researched book will revolutionize our understanding of one of the most consequential controversies of our age – the so-called war on terror, symbolized by the deployment of that most deadly of modern weapons, the drone, especially against its Muslim tribal victims, and the political fallout this engenders. This book will stand as one of the most influential of our times.”
Lord Meghnad Desai
Founder and former director of the Centre for the study of Global Governance, London School of Economics, UK
“America is fighting the wrong war with the wrong methods against the wrong people. This is Akbar Ahmed’s stark message. An anthropologist, a diplomat, and a public servant of distinction who is familiar with the battle terrain where the war of the drones on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border is being waged, Ahmed analyzes tribal culture in depth and traces their relationships with their own analyzes .metropolitan governments as well as the hegemonic metropolitan power – the U.S.A. Read this book and it will open your eyes to a fascinating world of tribal cultures which date back to the time of Alexander the Great and beyond and their struggle against modern war machines. Its message is for all of us.”
Presenter Channel4/ITN News
“From Akbar Ahmed, one of the wisest Muslim heads I know, a brilliant deconstruction of America’s drone attacks on targets in Pakistan and other Muslim societies cross the world. His cogent account of how each attack detonates tribal threads, alienating and radicalizing whole communities still further, is a must-read.”
About the Author
Professor Akbar Ahmed
Akbar Ahmed is a visiting professor and was first distinguished chair of Middle East and Islamic Studies at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. He has taught at Princeton, Harvard, and Cambridge Universities and has been called “the world’s leading authority on contemporary Islam” by the BBC. Regularly interviewed by CNN, NPR, BBC, and Al-Jazeera, he has appeared several times on Oprah, and has also been a guest of The Daily Show. For the autumn term 2012, Ambassador Ahmed was the Diane Middlebrook and Carl Djerassi visiting professor at Cambridge University and visiting fellow of Jesus College.
Ahmed was the Pakistan High Commissioner to the UK and Ireland. He is the author of over a dozen award-winning books, including Discovering Islam, which was the basis of a six-part BBC TV series Living Islam; the critically acclaimed Journey into Islam: The Crisis of Globalization; Suspended Somewhere Between, a book of verse; and Journey into America: The Challenge of Islam, which culminated in the full length documentary, Journey into America, and won the American Book Award for 2011.