Friday, June 10, 2016

Existential Wars of Blood and Faith

By Michael Kaplan

I and my brother against my cousin. Middle Eastern tribalism: A Bedouin camp in the Transjordan in the 1890s. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The conflicts of the twenty-first century are shaping up, as strategic analyst Lieutenant-Colonel Ralph Peters predicted, to be “wars of blood and faith.” This is true of the civil war in Syria, where an estimated 470,000 people have been killed, and similar conflicts across the developing world, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and even America’s post-9/11 war with radical Islam. Jacksonian America is after all a folk community that embodies the blood and faith element of American life (just listen to Toby Keith). These wars are driven by the existential issues of tribal and religious identity: Who am I and who is God? Is God a kind, loving, and merciful father, or is he a harsh, hate-filled, and punitive tyrant? “Will the god of love and mercy triumph over the god of battles?” Colonel Peters asks. Millions will die in the coming years trying to answer these questions.

These conflicts are made even more savage by the pressures of globalization. A recent study by Hebrew University political scientist Pazit Ben-Nun Bloom asserts that while globalization “has increased interpersonal contact between individuals from culturally diverse backgrounds,” it has not promoted greater tolerance or acceptance of difference. Nor has it promoted religious liberty and protection of minority groups. Just look at the Muslim Brotherhood’s bloody jihad against Coptic Christians in Egypt and ISIS’s even bloodier jihad against Christians, Yazidis, and all minorities in the Middle East. Instead globalization’s freewheeling cultural diversity and upheaval “induces perceived threat to a hegemonic religion, which leads to more restrictions on religious freedom.”

People really don’t like having cultural and religious differences shoved in their faces. Shadi Hamid makes the less than inspiring observation, “that the more people interact, the more they dislike each other.” This is just as true of subgroups – smaller tribal, family, and cult identities – within an ethno-religious society, as for example the intensifying conflict between ultra-Orthodox Haredim and the Israeli mainstream over issues of female sexuality and military service. Or the conflict over LGBTQ rights and transgender bathrooms in the United States. Such subcultures can live together peacefully in the same nation if they are given enough autonomy and breathing space to follow their own customs and mores and develop their own communal institutions, and eschew the urge to impose their will on the rest of the nation. Dutch political scientist Arend Lijphart wrote that “subcultures with widely divergent outlooks and interests may coexist without necessarily being in conflict. Conflict arises only when they are in contact with each other.” We need to accept that some differences, especially those of blood and faith, are simply too intractable to be bridged. Contrary to the liberal ideal of all people coming together to sing Kumbaya and celebrate their diversity, the best we can hope for in many ethnically and religiously divided societies is a sort of “voluntary apartheid” where the different groups try to keep out of each others faces.

The clash of civilizations. Charles Martel stops the Islamic invasion of Francia at the Battle of Poitiers, October 10, 732. Wikipedia.

Ben-Nun Bloom and her co-authors conclude:
that increasing awareness of diverse cultures, ideas and traditions as a result of globalization increases the perception of threat to religious, cultural and national integrity and results in a backlash that manifests itself in distrust of and even aggressive attitudes towards alien cultures and lifestyles. Globalization thus creates a threat to the sense of group integrity, which in turn leads to fears of loss of identity and the sense of a disintegrating community and generates strong resistance towards other value systems, such as other religions.
In fact globalization is provoking its opposite: a re-tribalization of much of the world. Faced with moral chaos through the overthrow of age-old customs and values by globalization, people are falling back on their primal tribal identities. Or to borrow Tom Friedman’s metaphor, people are rejecting the Lexus for the Olive Tree. Ethnic street gangs, usually linked to the drug trade, are the new tribes of urban America’s economic and spiritual wastelands. God Himself, Ralph Peters writes, is being re-tribalized. “Far from monolithic, both the Muslim and Christian faiths are splintering, with radical strains emerging that reject the globalization of God and insist that His love is narrow, specific, and highly conditional.” This is not a recipe for peaceful coexistence.

Political scientist Pazit Ben-Nun Bloom, Hebrew University

Ethnonationalist conflicts—wars of blood and faithare prime examples of a central paradox of human nature: the connection between violence and sociality. Human nature is tribal and people divide the world into “us” and “them”; and while the boundaries of what constitutes “us” and “them” changes over time, “them” are by definition the enemy who must be defeated and annihilated. Sociability, kindness, and empathy are reserved exclusively for those who are within the group. Those outside the group are treated as less than human. These traits have deep roots in our evolutionary past; we share them with our closest relatives, the chimps. Conflict and violence between groups (such as rival bands of chimps, Jacksonian America and the Indians, or Israel and the Palestinians) actually fosters social cooperation, altruism, and even self-sacrifice within the group or tribe. Those groups that are more cohesive and organized are in a better position to defend their existence and triumph over less cohesive enemies. (For an interesting study of tribalism in nineteenth-century Palestine and Transjordan, click here.)

Anthropologist Scott Atran writes that unlike in modern liberal democracies, “across most of human history and cultures, violence against other groups was considered a moral virtue, a classification necessary for killing masses of people innocent of harming others. Journalist and travel writer Andrew Solomon, after witnessing post-Gaddafi Libya’s descent into violence and anarchy, came to this grim conclusion:
Many people make the mistake of thinking that democracy and justice are the natural default state, and if you remove all of the impediments to those qualities, that is what will rise up. And what I learned, sort of, as a personal lesson in dealing with Libya, having argued that we should support the attacks against Gadhafi, is that the natural state to which people default is not democracy and is not order but is a terrifying, violent, brutal chaos.
Along these lines, the late Judge Robert Bork observed: “Real human beings do not have any unfulfilled capacity for love, or at least not a large one; they simply do not regard men as infinitely precious, whatever the homilist may say on Sunday; and they lack the boundless energy and selflessness required to will themselves to brotherhood.” This is especially true for those outside one’s tribe. These tribal imperatives continue to drive much of human behavior in the globalizing world of the twenty-first century, making it more difficult for communities divided by blood and faith to coexist in peace.

We should also note the sexual and demographic dimension in ethno-religious violence. It’s no coincidence that Islamist terrorists from Al Qaeda to Hamas to ISIS are drawn to martyrdom by the promise of 72 virgins awaiting them in Allah’s paradise. Or in the case of ISIS, sex slaves for jihadis here on earth. The Arab Muslim world has a serious demographic problem: a surplus of young men with little prospect of productive employment or marriage. For these young men joining the jihad is often the most attractive option. Though if Irshad Manji is right, the jihadis are in for a big disappointment. Manji says that the Quran has been misinterpreted, and that martyrs will be getting 72 raisins, not 72 virgins, in paradise.

Ben Shapiro and Victor Davis Hanson write that American politics and society since the 1960s have devolved into tribalism. Assimilation of immigrants into the mainstream Anglo-American culture through education, integration, and intermarriage—the old ideal of the melting pot, or e pluribus unum—required newcomers to give up their old customs and old tribal identities and adopt American values and a new American identity. This ideal has been replaced by a divisive, balkanizing multiculturalism that denigrates American history and traditions. The 2016 presidential election pits the progressive/black/Latino/ethnic minority identity tribal coalition of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton against the Jacksonian populist/white identity tribal coalition of Donald Trump. John Locke has been cast aside for Thomas Hobbes. A multicultural America made up of “unassimilated tribes and competing racial groups” will be an America of discord, violence, chaos, and implosion.” All that made America the great exception to the tragedies and tyrannies of world history will be gone.

People are very resistant to changing their deeply held beliefs or acknowledging the legitimacy of different points of view. Liberal progressives and Jacksonian conservatives in America now embrace such divergent and irreconcilable worldviews that they can no longer agree on the most basic issues of politics, economics, and morality. Twenty-first-century America, Patrick J. Buchanan warns, is trapped in a series of “culture wars without end.Dennis Prager declares that Left is engaged in a non-violent, zero-sum civil war with the rest of America. “The American value system and the leftist value system are irreconcilable.” Well, maybe not so non-violent. The Ferguson and Baltimore riots and the violence by radical Left anti-Trump protesters at Trump rallies, the increasingly bitter take-no-prisoners ideological jousts between liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans, support philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre’s statement that “Modern politics is civil war carried on by other means.

Kim R. Holmes of the Heritage Foundation likewise argues that culture war intolerance, driven largely by the postmodern Left, has fractured American society into tribes organized by political ideology and cultural values. These new value tribes” have embraced Lijphart’s voluntary apartheid as the only way to coexist with those who don’t share their political, social and cultural values, and whom they openly despise. As Holmes writes:
Political polarization is not just political, but social. More and more, people are segmenting themselves culturally into homogeneous value tribes. They are choosing neighborhoods, jobs, and schools for their children that reflect their own values and prejudices. They associate mainly with their own kind, and tend to look down on people outside their own cohort. The impact on the political culture is palpable. Empathy is in short supply. With rising intolerance comes declining community values. People are increasingly impatient with the “otherness” implied by different opinions and lifestyles. Each side battles to control the definition or normalcy and the political middle as a tactic to accuse their opponents of being crazed radicals. Put simply, intolerance is not just ideological but increasingly a cultural norm that cuts across all ideologies. It is becoming more culturally acceptable to demonize someone who thinks and acts outside of one’s own clique, group, or cohort.
This ideological/culture war schism extends to issues of national security and foreign policy. Jacksonians understand that the United States is engaged in an existential war of blood and faith with radical Islam. So does Donald Trump. Liberal progressives do not. Nor does Barack Obama. Sam Harris insists that “liberalism has grown dangerously out of touch with the realities of our world—specifically about what devout Muslims actually believe about the West, about paradise and about the ultimate ascendance of their faith.” He adds: “Unless liberals realize that there are tens of millions of people in the Muslim world who are far scarier than Dick Cheney, they will be unable to protect civilization from its genuine enemies.” Harris is one of the few liberals who does understand the existential threat of radical Islam, as does, of all people, Bill Maher. Both have been denounced as Islamophobes by fellow liberal progressives. Watch Harris and Maher get into a knock-down-drag-out brawl with the oh-so politically correct Ben Affleck over Islam and Islamophobia. (Transcript here. Watch Maher confront Charlie Rose on radical Islam here.)

Note: If Harris and Maher are Islamophobes, could it be because there’s much in the Islamic world to be phobic about?

Abstract principles of justice and morality, the fruit, as the Israeli author Amos Oz says, of the union between the Judeo-Christian tradition and Western liberal humanism, are the hallmark of a civilized society. They are the building blocks for the rule of law, democracy, and the culture of liberty, and should always be fostered in the life of a nation. In the fullness of time the Arab Muslim world may, or may not, come to share these values with America, Israel and the West (assuming the West doesn’t lose them in the meantime). But despite a century of Wilsonian idealism, these principles have little or no place in the Hobbesian world of international relations. For any nation surrounded by immemorial tribal enemies waiting to devour it, the only morality is survival. In the existential war of blood and faith in which America, Israel, and the West are engaged, to quote General MacArthurthere is no substitute for victory.

Update: The June 23 vote by a simple majority of Britons to take Great Britain out of the European Union—Brexit—is another example of the populist ethnonationalist pushback against globalization. Other European populist nationalists may now follow the British example and push to get their nations out of the EU. Kathleen Parker writes:
It was easier to name the manifestations — xenophobia, racism, sexism, “fear of the other” — than it was to recognize the root causes, which, distilled, amount to a looming sense of lost identity. . . .
Their [the British voters’] retreat isn’t only away from the European Union and, inferentially, from globalization, concubine of the New World Order. It is rather a turning back toward home, the idea as well as the place. Home is who we are, the values we share, the traditions we practice and the one flag to which we all pledge allegiance. 
This is the red meat of the matter.
Speaking for the liberal globalist elites, Foreign Policy editor David Rothkopf vented his anger and contempt on the British people: “Voters—even voters in a country with a long and great tradition of democracy informed by a world-class education system and information resources—are capable of tremendous stupidity.” This is precisely the attitude that pushed many ordinary Britons to support Brexit, the same attitude that may lead Americans to elect Donald Trump. See also these articles by James Barholomew, Stephen Bush, Kurt Volker, and Sohrab Ahmari. And these outstanding articles by Joel Kotkin, here, here, and here.

© 2016 Michael Kaplan


  1. Michael,

    So great to see a article from you! You hit it on the head. "Abstract principles of justice and morality", the very principles of what this country was founded on are the answer and of course MacArthur is absolutely correct.

    My question, especially as seeing you are a college professor is can we overcome the indoctrination of our young and worse the entitlement craving minorities?

    AIso, saw a great post yesterday as to the so called"rebellion against the establishment" politicians. IS it real or as seems to usually be the case will a mind dead electorate keep ignoring the truth and stay with "familiarity"?

    One interesting thing I saw was when Trump told the Republican party to "man up" yesterday, yet one only had to watch McConnell as he ripped into Tea Party conservatives again yesterday to realize that is far from happening at this time.

    As the left has tripled down as to their Socialist agenda, one has to wonder if the American voter in general will in fact "man up" or not and do so thinking of our basic tenets.

    Once again, great read.

    1. Joe,

      Yes, I haven't really been able to write for awhile. I spent much of the past few years with post-Hurricane Sandy home renovation.

      A number of my students were Bernie Sanders supporters. Of course they wanted free college. I told them that there's no such thing as free college...somebody has to pay for it!

      Since my school isn't an elite school, there are no safe spaces or other such nonsense. And most of the students work. So it's a much more conservative campus. I also had students who supported Trump or another Republican candidate. So I don't think the electorate is completely brain dead. Not yet.

      This election is too close to call. Until recently I thought Hillary would win. But now I think Trump has a chance. But he has to reach out to conservatives. And he needs to stay on message with his issues and focus his attacks on Hillary, Obama, and the Democrats.

      You're right about The Republican establishment. McConnell, Ryan, Romney, et al. are not going to man up. I think most of them are quite ready to work with Hillary should she win. They'll stab Trump in the back if they think that will preserve their power and perks.

      Great hearing from you Joe.