“Good” Tribalism and “Bad” Tribalism
I would define “bad” tribalism as that practiced by the Taliban and al-Qaeda. I know, I know . . . critics will say that both those groups are pan-Islamic, ideology-driven, supra-national, propelled more by Salafism and Deobandism than pure tribalism. I would not argue with that.
But if we probe beneath the surface, we recognize virulent tribalism at the heart of the belief systems of both the Taliban and al-Qaeda. I would cite the following “bad” tribal characteristics: hostility to all outsiders; perpetual warfare; codes of silence; duplicity and bad faith in all negotiations with non-insiders; suppression of women; intolerance of dissent; a fierce, patriarchal code of warrior honor; a ready and even eager willingness to give up one’s life for the group; super-conservatism, politically and culturally; reverence for the past and, in fact, a desire to return to the past.
Defined in relation to its opposites, “bad” tribalism takes its stand against everything open, inclusive, modern, progressive, secular, individualistic, Western, female-empowering.
What about “good” tribalism? “Good” tribalism is the ancient, proud, communal system of family- and clan-based local governance that has been practiced in Afghanistan and many parts of Central Asia for millennia. Tribal jirgas resolve disputes and give a voice to all members; tribal militias protect the land and the people. “Good” tribalism wants to be left alone to live its own life. In a way it’s democracy in its purest and most natural “town hall” form. It has worked for thousands of years and it’s working today….
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