This is America’s Enslaver Culture

It’s no surprise that, even though chattel slavery was formally abolished throughout the Americas over 100 years ago, enslaver culture is still very much alive.

From Mirna Wabi-Sabi

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There are about 30 million pets abandoned in the streets of Brazil. Cats in particular are treated as a plague, killed and tortured indiscriminately.

Helping take care of street cats has been my way of dealing with the occasional helplessness many of us activists feel. I can’t always stop an armed policeman from telling a Candomblé worshiper dressed in white to lay on the floor with hands on the head for no reason. I can’t always stop a pack of drunk men desperate to prove their masculinity to each other from violating a trans woman on the street. But one thing I can do is clean the eyes of motherless kitties so they can see for the first time.

This coping mechanism recently lost its effectiveness when the dynamic at the cat shelter revealed a serious political issue: Enslaver culture.

It’s no surprise, even though chattel slavery was formally abolished throughout the Americas over 100 years ago, that enslaver culture is still very much alive. One example of this is the donor/volunteer relationship.

When I go to the shelter, once a week, I clean, feed and give medicine to cats. I’m a light skinned Latina, with a job and a house, so I’m considered a volunteer. People with means in the group donate a little money to buy whatever is needed, and there is also lunch for whoever is working.

For years, one young homeless black man goes there everyday, twice a day, to clean, feed, medicate, and build little houses for the cats. He even monitors who is coming to abandon and who is coming to adopt. In my eyes, he is the boss of the operation. To the donors, however, he’s a lazy employee.

When I receive lunch, it’s a donation. When he receives lunch, it’s a salary.

One of the donors had an abandoned house, and decided to allow the homeless young man to stay there. This gesture turns out not to be as generous as it sounds. He has the responsibility to renovate and maintain the home (which is in poor condition), and he takes dozens of the most vulnerable cats home with him to care for overnight. Now that donors offer him food and shelter, they feel even more entitled to demand more labor, and the laborer is dependent while earning no wages.

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Land demarcation efforts by Quilombo Quingoma

It’s hard not to see the connection between this situation and our colonial history. Salvador, as the world’s capital of the African diaspora, is the land on which to witness, not the demise but, the development of colonialism and its deeply rooted white supremacy. Here, much of what is now urban residence used to be Quilombos.

Quilombos were communities formed by enslaved Africans who ran away. They were highly organized, militant, autonomous, and posed great threat to the Portuguese and Dutch authorities of the time. Today, there are much more than a million Quilombolas still fighting for their right to territory throughout the country.

Records show that there were compliant enslaved people who had stable relationships with their owners and did not want to join Quilombos. Some claim that abolishing slavery left the “freed” in worse conditions: “jobless”, homeless, and helpless (as some may say about my friend at the cat shelter). How reliable are these accounts? Not very, since those who kept records were the ones interested in using them for their advantage.

Arguments on the subject in literature in general have little empirical basis and tend to focus on the interplay of interests that would be associated with the diffusion of that interpretation. Several authors have considered the thesis of benignity a mere expression of the ideology of the ruling classes in the nineteenth century; its dissemination, especially abroad, would be part of the imperial government’s efforts to disseminate an amicable image of slavery and thereby oppose the abolitionist movement.

Flávio Rabelo Versiani (Economist, Brasilia) comparing enslavement in the U.S. and in Brazil.

On the other hand, in economic terms, not using “coercive force” (meaning, here we didn’t have as many lynchings) was a matter of efficiency, as was eventually abolishing slavery altogether. So, using words like “amicable” and “benign” to describe displacement, dehumanization, forced labor, murder and torture of black people is only considered empirical when described in economic terms. This, to me, is one good example of the rotten core of Academia.

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Today, some academics use this shaky empiricism to argue that the resistance against slavery was hypocritical. José de Souza Martins, one of Brazil’s most famous sociologists, claims there was slavery in the Quilombos. Dissociating the term “slavery” from “race” became his professional mission; white supremacy wasn’t the problem, according to him, rigidly stratified societies were.

His broad use of the term “slavery” can be compared to the broad use of the term “Nazi” when describing a feminist. José Martins says that because of the spread of “Islamism” in Africa, Africans enslaved themselves at a much higher rate than the Slave trade to the Americas, and that Islamic polygamy is also a form of slavery. The fact that he uses the term “Islamist” as synonymous with “Islamic” speaks volumes to the racial insensitivity of his rhetoric. But his use of biased (white) “empirical” evidence to delegitimize an organized resistance movement of the African Diaspora speaks even louder.

There is little denying that hierarchy existed in Quilombos, and that they used violence against enslaved people who chose to stay with their white masters. We have to understand that they were at war, and the decision to be compliant turned them into an enemy. So much so, that those compliant Africans were sent to the Quilombos as an army to defeat Quilombists. This practice hasn’t stopped, and is perpetuated by the military police force to this day.

Zumbi‘s opposition to Ganga Zumba, and the consequent shift of leadership at Quilombo dos Palmares, is symbolic of all anti-colonial resistance because it was a refusal to submit to Colonial authorities, and a declaration that no enslaved African would be free until all would be free. This fight is not over yet. There is still enslavement, displacement, incarceration, genocide, and struggle for land demarcation. We must acknowledge that, because not picking a side, being compliant, is in fact siding with white supremacist forces.


Mirna Wabi-Sabi

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is co-editor of Gods&Radicals, and writes about decoloniality and anti-capitalism.


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The Striptease That Was Blamed on Abū Bakr’s Naughty Son

“In an age where all our movements and words are tracked, and in which internet call-out culture and aggressive trolls make it difficult for any would-be dissident to express viewpoints that fall outside of party lines, it seems timely to be reminded of the poetry of Al-Andalus and in particular that of arguably its most saucey knave.”

From Slippery Elm

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When the young prince arrived perched atop his thoroughbred steed, with his mouth of ambergris and his teeth a string of pearls curled into a smile, and began to unbutton his fine linen sūsīya shirt just so, and to expose the moon coloured upper reaches of his shank, just above where it was bronzed by sunbeams or henna—the poet Ibn Quzmān had fallen in love. Oh, if it wasn’t for fear of the lad’s father, the powerful noble, Abū Bakr!

The images with which I open this piece are drawn directly from a poem by the notorious andalusī poet Ibn Quzmān (d. 1160). It is a curious poem, this. Formally a zajal, yet with some features that make it closer to a muwashshah, it is a mock panegyric which becomes a mock satire which becomes a mock panegyric and on and on, allowing the poet to satirize his ‘patron’ and subvert his authority right under his nose, and still end up getting paid for it.

Ibn Quzmān is famous for his expertise at composing poems in the zajal form, a type of sung strophic poem written in a ‘popular’ or colloquial vernacular of Arabic that often included loan words from Romance, and whose content frequently dealt with the taboo themes of wine, love, and sex. He is also famous for seeming to take delight in subverting the authorities of his day at every chance he could get, for his intense love of wine and for gleefully boasting of his sexual adventures with all manner of women and men, regardless of their class, ethnic, or religious background. While scholars have their theories, exactly how he was able to go about his drunken weaving way through the streets of Córdoba and Sevilla singing his wine-soaked songs on corners and in the marketplace during the reign of the Almoravids without getting his head lopped off continues to amaze us.

As many contributors to Gods and Radicals are poets not only dedicated to the multiplication of beauty in the world, but to employing the satirical register to curse our enemies—the high priests of capitalism and their pseudo-religious puppets—we can learn a lot from Ibn Quzmān, a true master of the subtleties of satire. In an age where all our movements and words are tracked, and in which internet call-out culture and aggressive trolls make it difficult for any would-be dissident to express viewpoints that fall outside of party lines, it seems timely to be reminded of the poetry of Al-Andalus and in particular that of arguably its most saucey knave.

In addition to a discussion of some of Ibn Quzmān’s poetry, this piece is intended to be a work of banishing, to dispel some of the misconceptions that have been sold to us about Al-Andalus in particular and classical Islamic civilization in general. A further intention will be revealed toward the end of this inanna-dance of rent illusions, as the misconceptions finish their fall to the ground around us garment by garment.

Ibn Quzmān has been referred to by some researchers as ‘a prince of disorder’. He often boasted of his great appetites for love and wine, his masterful poetic prowess, his blond hair and dashing good looks. His literary idol was that other great saucey knave of Arabic literature, a poet both simultaneously hated and loved—Abū Nuwās. It would certainly be reasonable to award Ibn Quzmān the title of ‘Abū Nuwās of the West’.

Citing a few verses from the poem which the anthologists title “Zajal no. 90” would be a fitting way to introduce this colourful character to a pagan and pagan friendly audience.

For me to repent would indeed be absurd,
And my survival without a wee drink would be a mistake.
Wine! Wine! Ignore what others say.
In my view, it would be folly to give up depravity!

Hey, let us clink glasses together in a toast!
Drunkenness! Drunkenness! What is soberness to us?
And, whenever you wish to take a morning drink,
Wake me up at dawn’s early light.

Take my cash, and spend it on wine,
And my clothes, and divide them up among whores,
And assure me that my approach is correct;
I have never gone wrong in doing this!

And when I die, my style of burial
Will be to lie neath a vine in the vineyard,
While you gather grape-leaves over me as a shroud,
And on my head let there be a turban of tendrils.

Let the Evil One summon all my dear friends there.
Commend me to Him at all moments,
And whoever eats a bunch of grapes,
Let him plant the stem on my grave!

I’ll pour Your [i.e. the Evil One’s] great gift of joy from the krater itself:
Take Your glass, raise it high, and empty it.
How good is that gift of joy with which You favoured us!
Whatever You command, will be done by me!

After the request is made to his companions to perform this rather devilish, bacchic ritual on the poet’s grave after he dies, he then goes on to describe a night of rollicking sex he had with a Berber lass, and the food fight and brawl with her husband and family that ensues the morning after. Here I will spare the reader the graphic descriptions the poet gives of their genitals when aroused, or the precise ‘honey-sweet’ manner in which he claims they fucked. Interested readers can look for this poem themselves in Arabic or in Spanish (trans. by F. Corriente) or the English version I’ve drawn upon here, translated by Monroe. Any pursuer of Ibn Quzmān’s dīwān however will discover that he wrote plenty more poems similar to this one.

The astonishing thing is that what at first seems a tasteless macho boast about his night of love, if we scratch below the surface, with the help of Monroe’s detailed analysis of all the poem’s contradictions and ins and outs, we see how while ostensibly trying to poke fun at the Berbers, the aims of the poet are actually to subtly criticize the anti-Berber sentiments and prejudices commonplace among his andalusī contemporaries. The poem is a ruse, and though it might have been based on some real events, in this case the poet’s misadventure likely never took place, at least in the way he relates it. It was crafted with a political purpose in mind.

Written in an age when the Christian crowns to the North were becoming increasingly aggressive, our poet is making a plea to the diverse ethnicities and followers of different religions that made up andalusī society to put aside their differences and unite against the advances of what at this point in the history of Al-Andalus was mostly a common enemy. It’s true the Almoravids in some ways did not do good service to the cultural achievements and ‘religious tolerance’ of the Umayyad and taifa sovereigns that reigned in Al-Andalus before them (i.e. by burning books, destroying ornate palaces, and massacring groups of people who weren’t like them) but in painting a more nuanced picture of these veiled invaders (the Almoravid men were famous for covering their faces with veils) the poet is actually way ahead of his time. Arabic philology is still to some extent plagued by the prejudices of last century and earlier. That Arab culture is the high and the exquisite, and that andalusī arabized culture especially is tolerant and more ‘Western’ compared to the ‘barbaric’ ways of the African Berbers. Naturally there is much more complexity to this and as the new generation of philologists starts to come into its own I predict there will be more studies that come out challenging this overly simplified dialectic.

While for those who are dedicated to studying these things it’s become normal, our daily bread and olive oil per se, some readers are likely surprised to hear about so much wine and illicit sex (illicit from a hardline religious perspective) in a primarily Muslim society, or to hear that this society had a very diverse ethnic make up.

Our enemies have sold us an imaginary line in the sand with ‘light-skinned’ Christians to the North and ‘dark’ Muslims to the South, as if both of these societies were totally homogenous, when nothing could be farther from the truth. In Al-Andalus, while culturally and politically dominant, ethnic Arabs who had come from the East were a minority (and even within this minority alone there were tribal differences and different regions of origin and so on). The majority of the population were the same old mix of Iberian peoples (with all the influences from all the various peoples and civilizations that had come through the Iberian peninsula and left their mark, Iberian, Ibero-Celtic, Phoenician, Jewish, Roman, Visigoth, Byzantine, Berber, Arab etc) who had at this point in history become arabized in culture, customs, and language. Some were muwalladūn (s. muwallad), arabized Iberians (often Goths or Hispano-Romans) who had converted to Islam. Others were what has come to be called mozarabs, arabized Christians. Others were arabized Jews or arabized Berbers (or non-arabized Berbers in the case of the Almoravids). Others still were sub-saharan Africans or arabized Nordic or Slavic peoples.

These last three groups mainly came to be in Al-Andalus due to the slave trade (reminder, the English word ‘slave’ comes from Slav). Many were kept as eunuchs but the arabized Slavs did come to power for a time in the taifa of Almería. It has even been postulated that Ibn Quzmān’s name is an arabization of the germanic surname Guttman (which might explain his alleged blond hair, although I’m not entirely convinced by this theory).

Even in the Christian crowns to the North that were not arabized, various kings and popes at different times tried to enforce members of each religion to wear special clothing to distinguish them from one another (people didn’t always go along with this). The idea was that rather than there being clear dividing lines between light and dark, everyone pretty much looked, dressed, and acted the same, hence the need for other items of clothing to enable the political and religious authorities to detect those differences between people and in so doing, profit off of them.

Some apologist researchers today (usually with right-wing orientations or orthodox religious affiliations) claim that all of the erotic poetry and especially the homoerotic poetry that was written in Al-Andalus, and indeed the wider Islamic world, was all just make believe, or just jokes, or that the male pronouns are masks for lovers who were actually female. It is true in some cases that male pronouns were used to disguise a female beloved, but in other cases this argument becomes futile when descriptions of the beloveds are made that include explicitly male attributes like beards or phalluses, or when the beloveds are compared to well known male cultural figures like Moses or David.

It is true that we should be cautious about taking every poem as autobiographical reality (as we noted in the case above) but the existence of wine parties, homoerotic relationships and other types of taboo sex in Al-Andalus (and classical Islamic civilization in general) are thoroughly documented in a wealth of sources besides the poetry, such as in anecdotes, and works by the historians of the day among others (i.e. al-Maqqari). I do not mean to insinuate that Al-Andalus was a drunken fuck fest, but to dispel the common misconception about classical Islamic societies being strictly puritanical and/or ‘homophobic’.

When islamophobic (and often right-wing) historians draw on the widespread homoerotic motifs in Arabic literature as a way to degrade Islamic civilization, they ought to take a closer look at the Greeks and Romans whom they idolize, with their famous love for ephebes and ganymedes…

The same goes for when islamophobes and ‘anti-arab’ writers insist that all of the cultural and scientific advances of classical Islamic civilization were made by thinkers who weren’t ‘ethnically’ Arab (for example, Persians). It is true that many ‘non-ethnic’ Arabs produced great works of science and philosophy, but just because they were born outside of the Arabian peninsula or were of a different ‘ethnicity’ is irrelevant. For better or for worse they were arabized, Arabic speaking, and belonged to the same cultural milieu. How many luminaries of Greek or Roman civilization were actually from Anatolia, Syria or Northern Africa? Plenty! Or even, as in the case of Seneca, from places as far afield as Córdoba? The same place, strangely, where Ibn Quzmān would be born centuries later… No one who fetishizes ‘Western’ civilization would ever question the ‘romanness’ of their idols. And for good reason, while from disparate places, they were all romanized, and part of the greater Roman world.

Some left-oriented writers could also benefit from getting over a few too-often touted exaggerations of their own. For example, that Al-Andalus was a cultural and ethnic utopia and a place where women were ‘liberated’ more so than they were in the East. This is simply untrue. We are talking about a period of about 800 years. Different regimes came and went. Under some, different ethnic groups got along better; under others, less so.

Similar to other Mediterranean societies of the time, at least “officially” the society of Al-Andalus was undoubtably a ‘man’s world’ in which sexual hierarchies rotated around an axis of ‘politics of penetration’. However, there are of course many nuances to this, plenty of exceptions, and a noteworthy number of women (many of them poets) who defied these norms. It might be untrue to say that women were better off in Al-Andalus compared to the eastern regions of the Islamic world at the time (not to mention we’d have to define what ‘better off’ means in the first place), but the relatively high number of woman poets and women in positions of power in Al-Andalus compared to other Islamic societies contemporary to it should at least give us reason for pause.

Does it make our arguments any less strong if we are realistic, say, about the number of books in al-Hakam II’s library? (The previously oft-cited 60,000 is probably closer to 600). Doing the best we can to get our history right can only make our arguments stronger. Even if it was only 600 books, it still likely would have been one of the biggest (if not the biggest) and most important libraries on the European continent at that time.

Another misconception is that, although there might have been ethnic diversity in Al-Andalus, the different ethnicities did not mix or interact with one another. This is utter nonsense. How many right wing or orthodox Jews and Christians, for example, continue to paint the illustrious andalusī Hebrew poet Yehuda Ha-Levi as some sort of ‘proto-zionist’ and yet totally ignore, censure, or deny the great wealth of wine and love poetry (in which figure both male and female beloveds) that he dedicated to his fellow Muslim courtly courtiers at court? Does this make him any less of a Jew? Does this mean he loved Zion less?

These things continue to be denied at all costs by some because it would in many ways nullify their political rhetoric and rattle their religious and ethnic identities. Even Isabel the Catholic, who, with Ferdinand, is famous for finally taking control of the last remaining corner of Al-Andalus—The Nasrid Kingdom of Granada—and for eventually expelling the Jews from the Iberian peninsula, had a Jewish gynaecologist in her personal employ.

Furthermore, the numerous normative texts left behind by the religious and political authorities from each of the three Abrahamic religions are proof that romantic relations across ethnic and religious divides were a widespread and significant problem (in their eyes, of course), such that they were kept busy writing laws and making decrees to try and keep it under control. Strangely, these same authorities were fine with their male coreligionists keeping concubines belonging to one of the other two religions (from which many an ‘illegitimate’ child was born), while attempting to guard their female coreligionists from contact with men of the other two religions at all costs.

Having now been acquainted with Ibn Quzmān and (hopefully) having dispelled a few misconceptions regarding Al-Andalus let us return to the striptease with which we began.

In premodern Islamic civilization there was no word for ‘homosexual’ hence my choice to use homoerotic here. Although it was religiously proscribed and could be punishable by death, desire from a man toward another man was not considered psychopathic (as in Christianity) but natural, derivative of or comparable to the same desire a man might feel toward a woman. However, the permissibility (or not) of sexual relations rotated around an axis of a politics of penetration. This is to say that in male-male sex, the penetratee would have been more severely punished than the penetrator. Likewise in female-female sex, the penetrator (if any) would have been punished more than the penetratee for upsetting gender norms. Furthermore, men of higher class could usually get away with penetrating younger men or men of lower classes without it being frowned upon.

In saying that Abū Bakr’s son is a flirt and a dandy with whom he wants to romance (not to mention one of a higher class), Ibn Quzmān is indirectly satirizing his father. Yet he is also turning the politics of penetration on its head by offering himself as sex object to the whims of this younger man.

In his excellent essay “The Striptease That Was Blamed on Abū Bakr’s Naughty Son: Was Father Being Shamed or Was the Poet Having Fun?” Monroe gives the following commentary:

By couching his rebellion in the form of a pseudo-panegyric that is, in reality, a satire against a member of the ruling class, the voice speaking in Ibn Quzmān’s poem carries its rebellion one step closer to total anarchy, attempting through subversion of the genre to disrupt the entire social order. However, the speaker’s program is presented from the very outset as unsuccessful. He is doomed to failure in his attempt to win the boy’s favours because of his prudent, pusillanimous, and decidedly unheroic fear of Abū Bakr, if for no other reason. Thus it may be concluded that the speaker’s anarchic program is being presented ironically, as one of which the implied author heartily disapproves. In this sense, Ibn Quzmān’s Zajal No. 133 seems to validate the eternal truth contained in the Qur’ān, to be far less licentious than a preliminary reading might suggest. Paradoxically, licentiousness, insofar as it is presented as being unsuccessful, may in certain cases have the ritual function of reaffirming the very values it seems to flout.

And yet, this is all part of the plan. Monroe continues:

A mock panegyric, such as Zajal No. 133, has the potential to become a satire…But if, as in this case, the satire is also undercut, what does it become?—a mock satire with the potential to become a true panegyric? Since that panegyric is also undercut, the poem becomes a satire that is a panegyric that is a satire that is a panegyric that is a satire that is a panegyric, with no amen. Thus the poet has found a unique way to circumscribe his patron with a vicious circle from which he cannot escape and within which he is rendered utterly neutral and helpless. The poem is therefore an instrument for patronly entrapment: having been roundly insulted, the patron must now graciously pay the poet for his efforts while secretly remaining thankful that matters have gone no further. In this sense, the poem illustrates the poet’s superiority over the patron, based upon the poet’s unique mastery of words. But when a superior poet praises an inferior patron, the genre of panegyric has been totally inverted.

Ibn Quzmān has cast a binding spell. And like any good magician, he has also used his wits and a dash of trickery to neutralize his adversary. By the time Abū Bakr realizes what’s going on, it’s too late. Our poet has effectively snared his ‘patron’ in a lyric brocade and has him at his mercy.

In proposing we can learn from Ibn Quzmān, I don’t mean to imply we have to go out and peddle our poetry to this ‘patron’ or that, although studying his work would of course be helpful to any recalcitrant poet who ekes out a living with her craft yet at the same time will never compromise her poetic principles.

More so, what I want to draw our attention to are some of the techniques he uses. Ring composition, unsaying away his satire and his panegyric ad infinitum, and the potent mix of inversion, wine, and taboo sex to undermine authority. This is beginning to sound a lot like witchcraft.

Wine, poetry, and ‘illegitimate’ sex are all proscribed in the Qur’ān. Not least of the reasons why being that they are strongly associated with the pagan rituals of the jāhilīya (lit. ignorance: Age of Ignorance; pre-Islamic Arabia). Many of the poetic forms most typical of Arabic poetry—like the qasīda for example—actually arose out of whole ritual frameworks and poetics of gesture and movement. Anyone who’s read the sūra known as al-Shu’arā’ or ‘The Poets’ knows that the Qur’ān makes poets out to be liars and cheats. The common pre-Islamic image of the poet in the Arabian peninsula was that of a wandering sage or magician, sputtering out poems and prophecies, who’s powers of eloquence and strength of vision were said to have been bestowed upon him or her due to undergoing possession by jinn.

Which brings me to the historic moment we’re at now. It appears we’re experiencing a turning point in magic (which of course, therefore, has potent political implications as well!) accentuated by the forthcoming publication of Rain al-Alim’s Jinn Sorcery slated for release on Scarlet Imprint sometime this Spring.

I imagine many ‘Western’ readers will discover that something that has been made out to be so foreign is really much more familiar than we think. For truly, the jinn are all around us. Whether in the form of stray dogs, hot eddies of wind, or waiting in line right next to you to buy goods at a market stall. For I have heard say in the Maghreb that at every market 2/3 people that are there are actually jinn in disguise.

To illustrate this further I will make a somewhat picaresque confession: I have watched a significant portion of The Fellowship of the Ring in Arabic. It was fascinating to note that the word the translators used in this particular version to denote ‘elf’ (i.e. Legolas) was jinn. The idea that the elves and fairies of the ‘West’ are the same as, or are at least related to, the jinn is not some fantastical orientalist cut-and-paste job, but something affirmed by the very cultures to which the jinn belong. I am not saying that a jinn is identical to a fairy. However, the parallels are too striking to overlook and are certainly worthy of prolonged reflection.

I hope this present piece, and other installments of my little rasā’il (s. risāla) series lend a wind toward the conjuration of the coming sandstorm. And may that storm erode the outworn bars that have kept us prisoner from each other for far too long, that have kept us from seeking intimacy and companionship instead of strife and distraction, while our enemies are free to profit off our fear and hate unopposed; the iron bars and barbed-wire walls that uphold the edifice of empire, greed, and burning disdain for all of life—both human and non-human.

Now that it’s time to part, we will do so in the same way we have met. With a striptease.

In a famous anecdote about al-Mu’taman, one of the Hūdī kings of Zaragoza during the taifa period, the sovereign and his poet-courtiers are out wandering in the meadows looking for an ideal place to have a drinking party. His charming young Cupbearer (who happens to be a Christian in this case) finds the perfect place and in exchange al-Mu’taman orders all of the revellers to obey him. He himself declares himself the lad’s slave, and is totally smitten with love for him (another topsy turvy subversion of the pecking order, typical in taifa court culture).

For Ibn Quzmān the employment of taboo topoi in his poems was about political subversion, and yet at the same time about something more. However, for these taifa poet-courtiers, these borderline-heretic devotees of the cult of pleasure and religion of love, these topoi were also about political subversion, and yet at the same time about something more. While the Qur’ān proscribes wine and beautiful virgins (both male and female) in this world, both wine and virgins are available in bountiful supply in the world to come, where wine flows in a river and ephebes dressed in emerald gowns are available to attend to the delights of the faithful who have made it in to Heaven. Therefore, the taifa drinking party also had a subversive mystical element: it was about invoking paradise in the here and now, which through the magic of poetry, is transformed into the nowhere and always.

On with the anecdote. The Cupbearer, now revealed to be a bestower of immortality, begins to remove his armour and garments.

The authors of this anecdote use a curious string of religious symbolism when referring to him, not least of which using the word zāhir (exterior) to refer to his clothes, and bātin (interior) to refer to his body. You might recognize these words as also referring to two schools of Qur’anic exegesis, the zāhirī (or exoteric) which takes things at face value, and the bātinī (or esoteric) which searches for hidden meanings beyond the veil of the text.

This anecdote touches on something that witches will no doubt find familiar. Wine, that red spirit of sex and war captured in a goblet, effects the soul, not the body. Like those of sex, the pleasures of wine are primarily spiritual, not physical. For if wine were to solely effect the flesh and not the spirit, it would be contradicting its own raison d’etre.

The striptease in the sense of shedding exoteric religious identity in search of a deeper truth is something common to mystics the world over. Particularly in those who employ an apophatic discourse. In keeping with our andalusī theme, we will turn to Ibn ‘Arabī, who seems to ask:

When the fetters and trappings of religious identities and customs fall away, if only temporarily, what’s left? What are the common jewels that shine there at the heart, often obscured by so many layers of cultural and political filigree?

May his immortal words ring out in the olive groves:

Marvel, a garden among the flames.
My heart has become receptive of every form.
It is a meadow for gazelles, a monastery for monks,
An abode of idols, the Ka’ba of the pilgrim
The tables of the Torah, the book of the Qur’ān
My religion is love. Wherever its camel mounts turn
That is my belief, my faith.
We have a model in Bishr, Hind, and her sister,
In Qays [aka Majnūn] and Layla, Mayya and Ghaylan.

So let us be like wild eyed Majnūn (whose name is often translated as ‘crazy’; but literally means be-jinned; bewitched), and ever be consumed by the spirit of love; oh cooling flood, oh black fistful of loam, oh fire that casts no smoke!


Slippery Elm

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Slippery Elm’s poetry and prose in English and Spanish have appeared in dozens of journals and anthologies in both Europe and North America. He has performed as a part of flamenco groups in Europe, Africa, and North America, in courtly settings, as well as in the streets, by hearth corner, and under leaf. He is the editor and translator of the poetry anthology Your Death Full of Flowers and the author of two pocket poetry books. He compliments his poetry and dance by studying Arabic and Hebrew philologies.


 

Child Soldier

From Sable Aradia


 

A boy’s father has spent his life fighting for a cause he believes in.  Despite the fact that he lives far away in another country, he sends aid in the form of money to the cause overseas.  Eventually the father packs up the whole family and moves back to his homeland to fight for that cause.

The boy, eight years old, has never once seen that homeland, though he’s been told about it his whole life.  Once he gets there he is forced to live a life in hiding, moving from place to place.  At one point he is required to disguise himself as a girl in a culture that is repressive to women.  He sees his father intermittently, if at all, but is desperate to make a connection with him.

In the meantime his father, who is in prison for suspected activities with fringe radical groups, is hospitalized for a hunger strike.  Later he is released due to lack of evidence of wrongdoing.

Eventually the boy is old enough to join the cause.  Desperate to be noticed by his father, he is taken along by a militant group as a translator.  During that time he starts training in the use of firearms and other weaponry.  He is fourteen years old.

While he is in a house with several full-grown men, and at least one woman and a child, soldiers from a foreign country set up a perimeter.  It is part of a series of huts with a granary and a stone wall in the desert.  There are weapons on the property.  Is it a militant’s complex?  Perhaps it is.  The foreign soldiers seem to think so.

The soldiers bang on the door of the gate.  The men inside tell the soldiers that they are villagers, but the soldiers demand to search the house regardless of their affiliation.  They tell them to go away.

45 minutes later the support arrives.  Now the house is surrounded by fifty foreign soldiers and a hundred locals.  One goes to demand their surrender and is stopped by gunfire.  One of the men in the group that the boy is with opens fire.

The woman and the small child flee while the firestorm is going on.  The foreign soldiers are shooting at the people in the complex.  The people in the complex are shooting at the soldiers.  Now the boy, age fifteen, is caught in this conflict, and he knows that regardless of what the men he was with were doing or why they were there, now they are shooting at him.

The bloodbath is catastrophic.  The militants in the compound manage to wound some of the foreign soldiers with grenades, but the soldiers call for medevac.  Apaches show up and strafe the area, then take their wounded away.  Then a pair of Warthogs arrive and blast everything into glass with several 500 lb bombs.

More troops arrive.  Now there are a hundred foreign soldiers on the ground.  Everything is burning.  All the people the boy knows are screaming.  Some are on fire.  Some are watching their blood pour out onto the ground.  Some are missing limbs.  Some have no face left.  He is one of two survivors of the air strike.

The foreign soldiers come in.  A grenade is thrown.  Most duck, but it lands near the rear of the group and goes off.  A Special Operations soldier serving that day as an (armed) combat medic is fatally wounded in the explosion.

The troops move across the field and see a man with two chest wounds and a holstered pistol reaching for an AK-47.  A special forces soldier with a classified identity shoots him in the head and kills him.  When the dust clears, the special forces soldier sees the boy crouched, facing away from the action, and shoots him twice in the back.

He lives, and this is confirmed by the soldiers when they do their sweep.  He is given on site medical attention and flown out, though he begs the soldiers to finish the job.

The boy is allowed to recover.  They learn his identity, and that despite being attached to this militant group, he is a citizen of one of the foreign country’s most important allies.

In the meantime a garbled version of events begins to erupt.  Another soldier on the scene has a different story about shooting the boy three times in the chest, while he was reaching for a grenade.

This is almost certainly not an intentional falsehood.  Those who have been in a life-threatening situation know that under those conditions it is easy to make a mistake.  It is almost impossible to remember all the specific details when people are screaming and dying around you, especially if you have caused any of those wounds!  Humans are not designed to kill each other.  It messes us up.

But people are angry because a soldier died.  And so they believe one soldier’s version of events over the other’s, though medical evidence suggests otherwise.

The boy is denied important surgery for damage to his eyes in order to force him to confess information.  The allied government begins to get involved in his case.  They are put off, denied, and not informed of the information they request, because the foreign government has reason to believe that the boy knows quite a lot about the force they are fighting, and they mean to get that information by whatever means necessary.

Then members of his own government collude in the interrogation!  Theoretically there to defend him, his own government betrays him.  They work to coerce a confession. that he has murdered a soldier unlawfully, by promising to bring him home.

And when he has recovered in part from his wounds, they send him to a prison for terrorists that is notorious for torture and abuse of its prisoners, despite his government’s requests, first, that they not do so, and then, that they are told when it happens.  He is fifteen.

What happens to him there?  I have no urge to repeat it because it is horrific by anyone’s standards.  We can say three things for a fact:

One is that evidence is indeed found that show that the boy was actively involved in terrorist acts.  He wired a detonator cord.  He says at one point during his captivity that he intended to fight because he was told that the soldier were making a war to kill all the people of his faith.

The second is that the boy is tortured, repeatedly, and by a lot of different people.  The worst of them, the one that everyone claims he is lying about, is convicted of abusing detainees to extract confessions when another of his charges dies from the abuse.  I have no desire to repeat it, but because this, sadly, is a true story, you can read about it here.

The third thing we know is that he is told that if he confesses to throwing the grenade that killed the (armed) combat medic, he will get to go home.  Back to his original home, the allied nation of the foreign soldiers who have him, the place where he was born.  A place that by now must seem like a myth, or a distant dream.

He is lied to.  He does not get to go home.  When one member of the allied nation’s diplomatic efforts fail to return the boy, that member resigns in disgust.

A long saga begins.  More torture and deprivation in prison.  Legal challenges, lawsuits, demands for the right of habeas corpus.  There are even sham tribunals to rival the darkest horror story you’ve ever heard of a fascist dictatorship.  Nothing moves the foreign nation who has him, and nothing moves his home nation to intervene for him; not even Amnesty International and the UN Council on Human Rights.

At last he is sent back to a prison in his home country when he finally pleads guilty, after another year in this horrible prison.  There he is locked up in a maximum security prison.  It is a distinct improvement.

Pleas to treat him as a child soldier, or as a juvenile offender, fall on deaf ears, and he is forced to serve the totality of an adult’s sentence, though he was fifteen years old at the time of the battle, when he may (or may not have) thrown a grenade at a man trying to kill him who had just firebombed everyone and everything around him.

His case comes up for bail.  It is denied.  When it is granted two years later, the government of his own country appeals it.  Only an election, and a change of governmental party, prevents the second appeal from going through, because they drop it.  At last, though under tight supervision, a very damaged young man is finally free.

It has been thirteen years since the battle.  He is 31 years old.

This, my friends, is the true story of Omar Khadr.  This is not a leftist spin on the story; these are the absolute facts, as far as I was able to check, filtered through human decency and empathy.

You’re probably heard his name again in the news recently.  Canada’s Supreme Court found that the Canadian government, on helping to obtain his confession and being a party to the horrific events that befell this poor man, had violated his rights according to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which we hold as sacred as America holds its Constitution.  They found that Canada had acted against the Geneva Convention and international law.  They granted a sum of money to Mr. Khadr for his suffering.

He has lost his eye and his childhood and gained decades of nightmares.  It is not enough.  It is not enough.

But even after all that, there are those who would deny him even this.  People are now trying to demand that they be allowed to sue him for that money that he was awarded as a (lame) apology for taking away the rights that EVERY HUMAN BEING is guaranteed in international law.

To those people I say: Shame on you!  Whether he was an “enemy combatant” or not, Omar Khadr has paid more than enough for the crime of throwing a grenade at someone who was trying to kill him.  And you conveniently forget, HE WAS FIFTEEN YEARS OLD.  He was a CHILD SOLDIER.

We rehabilitate child soldiers.  We don’t go on torturing them.  And because we have all so terribly failed this Canadian boy, who has become a man in a prison camp because of our callousness and neglect, I believe that anyone who wanted a piece of anything of his has absolutely forfeited the right.

Regardless of what he’s done, he’s one of ours.  What he was involved in was horrible; what happened to him proved that the other side wasn’t the “good guys” either.

He says he’s sorry.  I believe him.

The Canadian government has said that it is sorry in the only way it can.

Now the rest of you: if you can’t say you’re sorry, as you would if you had even a shred of human decency, then leave him alone and let him get on with what’s left of his life, as best he can.


Sable Aradia

I’m a Pagan and speculative fiction author, a professional blogger, and a musician. I’m proudly Canadian and proudly LGBTQ. My politics are decidedly left and if you ask for my opinion, expect an honest answer. I own a dog and am owned by a cat. I used to work part time at a bookstore and I love to read, especially about faith, philosophy, science, and sci-fi and fantasy.

 


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The Reawakening of Tribal Consciousness: The Spread of Ecological Wisdom and Confronting the Artifice of Capitalism

 

By William Hawes

“When
we learn to come together we are whole
when we learn to recognize the enemy
we will know what we need to know
to learn to come together
to learn to weave and mend.”

Anne Cameron, Daughters of Copper Woman

“I am the guardian of life
and death
all my children come back to me
I call you
conjure you
hide you in my breast
you nourish me with your bones
and live again.
I am your Mother Earth
your dark Mother Earth.
If you insist on destroying me
you will destroy yourselves.
Wake up
my children
listen to my cry.”

-Claribel Alegría, “Gaia’s Cry”

Recent world events are playing out a drama unseen since the mid-17th century. When the Treaty of Westphalia was signed in 1648, European borders were drawn so that sovereign states would establish the sole rule of law within their own respective territories. Today, transnational capitalism, huge waves of immigrants from war-torn and poverty-stricken regions, instant globe-spanning internet communication, and the threat of fundamentalist terrorism are dissolving borders at a rapid pace. In its wake, the notions of duty, respect for environmental rights, citizenship, and nations are being reformed to shape this rapidly forming interconnected global culture.

Leaders of modern nation-states are proving less and less adept at handling crises and managing world affairs: they turn to various technocrats within the maze of various government ministries, powerful businesspeople whose lobbyists write the laws for the legislature, non-profits and NGOs who carry out needed health and infrastructure projects, and community leaders from civil society who are able to wade through ethnic and tribal antagonisms with ease.

As nations falter due to weak links of shared identity between citizens, new ecologically and culturally conscious groups of people are linking together, as globe-spanning tribes based on tradition, ritual, spirituality, reciprocity, and love of the environment are gathering to create the most important movement of the 21st century. As refugees from the Middle East flee warfare, as Latin Americans leave their homelands due to little or no job security, and as highly educated East and South Asians emigrate to pursue advanced careers in engineering, science, and more, global tribes are forming that transcend the modern nation-state. Millions of people now have dual citizenships, and conflicting allegiances between their nation of birth and their new homes.

The Western State is now collapsing under the weight of its own bloated bureaucracies, its satiated, anesthetized, and myopic views of politics, and its inability, its unwillingness, to confront the environmental destruction and social ennui endemic to capitalism. The predatory nature of the State, its capacity for resource extraction and organized violence, is becoming all too clear for globally oriented people, those who adhere to a one-world philosophy and a desire to eliminate borders. Many young people are beginning to consider themselves as world citizens, or at least as member of larger regions, just as people in the EU refer to European citizenship and the European community. In the Islamic world, a similar concept has been used for centuries: Muslims are members of the ummah, the collective community of believers in Islam.

The Vision of Global Tribes

These questions surrounding transnational violence, religious fundamentalism, world citizenship, and social backgrounds are explored in depth in Amin Maaolouf’s In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong.  Maalouf traces his personal background, explains why having numerous tribal and ethnic allegiances does not inevitably have to lead to conflict, how modern Western nations react to “the other”, and most importantly, explains his notion of global tribes. He asserts that in contemporary life we have reached “The Age of Global Tribes”, a new era in which a patchwork of shifting ethnic, religious, and tribal allegiances compete with nation-states for glory, the need for social identity, and power.

Maalouf focuses on the Arab world, due to his dual French-Lebanese background. For Maalouf, fundamentalist Islamism gives disaffected individuals in undemocratic, dictatorial regimes a stable identity, despite the possibility of fomenting hatred and nihilism that fundamentalism can lead to. The corollaries in Western society would be people like Timothy McVeigh, Anders Breivik, the Unabomber, and the odd racist or militia group that advocates violence. While it would be tidy to lay all the blame on a nihilistic outlook, on the death drive (Freud’s Thanatos), this seems an oversimplification. For the young, well-educated, and politically-oriented men in Arab nations, but those not rich enough to emigrate to the West or enjoy the simulacra consumer “”paradise” that Arab nations try to copy, there are few options for social belonging.

Fifty years ago, Marxist groups would have provided an outlet for social belonging; thirty years ago, the examples of Nasser, Sadat, and Khomeini led youths towards pan-Arab or nationalist organizations. Today, with the failure of both, and the covert support of the Gulf monarchies and their Western backers for jihadi terror, Islamist groups provide the need for social belonging in a very small percentage of young Arabs. Maalouf explains:

“In [Islamism] they find satisfaction for their need for identity, for affiliation to a group, for spirituality, for a simple interpretation of too-complex realities and for action and revolt.” (i)

The need to find affiliation for young people is due to the loss of power of the modern nation-state, which has exploited various ideologies to cling to power over the last few centuries. The construct of the nation-state, and its right to exist, has been de-legitimized by the failed ideologies of Marxism in Eastern Europe, Maoism in East Asia, permanent ethnic conflict in Africa, dictatorships in the Mideast, unregulated capitalism in North America and Western Europe, and the machismo populism prevalent in parts of Latin America. Thus it is no surprise to Maalouf and others that religion is what groups will fall back on in the modern era of crony capitalism and ecological disaster. Maalouf’s solution is language: if we all learn to adopt three (or more) languages, cultural differences and tensions will relax, and a true world community where religious belief no longer coincides with group violence and mob rule can flourish.

Neo-Tribal Consciousness and Organization

bus

What is missing from Maalouf’s analysis is the organization of this future society. For author Daniel Quinn, it is the tribe that will become the backbone of our emerging culture. He explores these ideals in his book Beyond Civilization, where he calls for a “New Tribal Revolution”. And in many ways the neo-tribal group seems the best option: tribes which share the work and share the profit of collective endeavors will inevitably have much less inequality and are likely be much more peaceful. As Quinn explains:

“Tribal life is not in fact perfect, idyllic, noble, or wonderful, but wherever it’s found intact, it’s found to be working well – as well as the life of lizards, racoons, geese, or beetles – with the result that the members of the tribe are not generally enraged, rebellious, desperate, stressed-out borderline psychotics being torn apart by crime, hatred, and violence. What anthropologists find is that tribal peoples, far from being nobler, sweeter, or wiser than us, are as capable as we are of being mean, unkind, short-sighted, selfish, insensitive, stubborn, and short-tempered. The tribal life doesn’t turn people into saints; it enables ordinary people to make a living together with a minimum of stress year after year, generation after generation.” (2)

A new form of tribe is emerging, not the suffocating, tyrannical, stereotypical, monotype tribe of the kind we read about in school history books: new groups where tradition does not dictate every action of the individual, where individuals feel free to express their spirituality without the needed to conform to a group religion. An egalitarian tribe, where merit matters, not rigid hierarchy or nepotism. Most importantly, neo-tribal wisdom accepts the idea that ecocentrism is central: the idea that humanity is not center stage in a drama located on planet Earth; the idea that we are all part of a cosmic web, a sacred hoop in Native American terms; that the environment does not derive its worth from human value, but has innate value and should be protected from short-term exploitation. For Quinn, the new tribal revolution is distinctly post-modern: it signifies the end of meta-narratives, the end of the idea that, in his words “There is only one right way to live”: the end of the superficial, spiritually myopic way of the modern techno-capitalist state.

The Delusion of Left vs. Right

trainyard

Viewing the world from the holistic, ecocentrist way, the futile arguments over liberal versus conservative beliefs are unmasked for what they are: a distraction, a carnival. The antagonism of Liberal/Conservative is thus a collective hallucination designed by elites to divide and conquer the people, as well as destroy ecosystems and pillage resources. Capitalist and Marxist-Leninist communist societies controlled by oligarchies have both ravaged environments immensely, and both have had industrial growth at the heart of their belief system. They both constitute, for author Jonathon Porritt, a super-ideology: industrialism. Here’s Porritt:

“[Capitalism and Communism] are dedicated to industrial growth, to the expansion of the means of production, to a materialist ethic as the best means of meeting people’s needs, and to unimpeded technological development. Both rely on increasing centralization and large-scale bureaucratic control and coordination. From a viewpoint of narrow scientific rationalism, both insist that the planet is there to be conquered, that big is self-evidently beautiful, and that what cannot be measured is of no importance.” (3, quoted in Dobson, 2007, p. 18)

The only politics that matters is how the human race uses and protects its lands and waters for the betterment of our own societies, our future children, and our fellow plant and animal species. How we can in small groups, clans, tribes, and perhaps even bioregional city-states grow enough food, collect enough clean water, gather materials for shelter, use appropriately scaled technology, and foster a vibrant culture among peaceable citizens. This philosophy goes by many names: sustainability, deep ecology, ecocentrism, etc.

Indigenous cultures have been practicing these skills for millennia, passing on oral traditions and ecological and agricultural knowledge so detailed it would make the Library of Congress look insignificant in comparison. Much of this knowledge and ancient wisdom has been lost to the sands of time, victim of the uprooting of cultures because of colonial wars, epidemic diseases, the techno-reductionism of modern health and science, capitalism, and Christianity’s missionary engulfment over entire continents, and more.

Ideas surrounding ecocentric politics, liberty, and democracy are being questioned from new radical perspectives, although Western media blacks-out massive progress: in Ecuador and Bolivia, the socialist parties in power are immensely raising standards of living and education, while improving rights for the environment and indigenous groups. In Spain, Podemos’ combination of direct and digital democracy, and its citizen circles used to debate local and municipal issues are redefining European politics. In the state of Chiapas, Mexico, Zapatistas led by the EZLN group have been busy for the past twenty-one years opening schools and hospitals, redistributing farmland for struggling farmers, saving diverse rainforests from logging and grazing, and imparting deep ecological values to its youths. Also, the EZLN are committed to passing on their own traditional Mayan culture within a framework of egalitarian deals, communalism, and socialist beliefs, distancing themselves from the whirlwind of neo-colonial capitalism that lords over most of North, Central, and South America.

What is also interesting is that many of these new perspectives and leaders are not committed to the ossifying processes that soon results from traditional political parties and the levels of bureaucracy that ensue. Groups like Bolivia’s MAS party and the EZLN have begun to embody the ideal of direct, grassroots participatory democracy. This is because it is only the people of a nation, its citizens, and not the faceless multinationals and their political figureheads, who are able to understand that inequality, injustice, and environmental degradation are a direct result of corporate-induced poverty, resource consumption, a loss of choices in the public sphere, and lack of regulations and care for the Earth.

The Paradox of Modern Education: Liberation versus Indoctrination

Today, modern Western education systems are playing a dual and contradictory role: edifying our youth and steeping them in critical ecological knowledge and value systems, while at the same time indoctrinating them into a corporate and conformist lifestyle by teaching them to obey and buy the products of the multinational companies pillaging the Earth.

Possibly the most intelligent tract concerning modern-day mindlessness when it comes to education is Paul Goodman’s devastatingly accurate Growing Up Absurd. Written back in 1960, Goodman torched the official out-of-touch education system, and laments the disaffected youths who feel excluded from capitalism and the anomie that emerges. Still immensely relevant today, Goodman explains the sheer naivety and blind spots of western pedagogical methods:

“Social scientists … have begun to think that “social animal” means “harmoniously belonging.” They do not like to think that fighting and dissenting are proper social functions, nor that rebelling or initiating fundamental change is a social function. Rather, if something does not run smoothly, they say it has been improperly socialized; there has been a failure in communication. … But perhaps there has not been a failure in communication. Perhaps the social message has been communicated clearly…and is unacceptable. … We must ask the question, “Is the harmonious organization to which the young are inadequately socialized perhaps against human nature, or not worthy of human nature, and therefore there is difficulty in growing up?”  (4)

Goodman’s analysis of juvenile delinquency, the lack of hope and prospects for young people, as well as his treatment on many issues including the structural racism of the prison system, and the missed revolutions in modern society are devastatingly accurate today. Education which focuses on world cultures, equality, indigenous beliefs, sustainability, and love of nature for its own sake and not human instrumental needs, teachings outside the Eurocentric worldview, will foster an ecocentric outlook, and progress then can be made towards a peaceful world community.

The Anatomy of Power

The modern nation-state faces a series of contradictions, not just in health, agriculture, and education. It simply is becoming more impotent as solving problems in mass society due to layers of bureaucracy, inflation of the currency which makes every social service more expensive to implement, the hollowing out of community services due to privatizations, etc. And problems of an interconnected, interdependent, globalized world lie outside the reach of the state. In Daniel Bell’s words, nations “have become too small to solve big problems, too big to solve small problems.”

States in the 21st century are most likely to function and thrive by governing horizontally: with many connections between workers unions, local politicians, civic groups, environmental non-profits, etc. In this way, local production takes precedence over mass-manufactured goods from China and places halfway across the world, lowering greenhouse emissions. Thus practices of bioregionalism are employed, and what experts might call the “topology of power relations” is changed to include environmental concerns and forms of eco-cultural restoration. Culture can then recreate itself around annual agricultural and ethical-responsible means of production, and recreate its connection to time and space: rather than continuing exclusively under the atomized Gregorian time system and borders imposed by conniving politicians, our world culture can work, play, and sink into the ever-present moment, what the Aborigines call the Dreaming.

If power is already beginning to be dispersed tribally, and through bioregional processes, are there any examples we can point to? Certainly, in the West, the case of the breakup of Yugoslavia, referendums in Quebec, Scotland, the fight for a referendum in Catalonia, all qualify as sub-national tribal entities reasserting their right to self-rule. Further, in the region of the former Soviet Union, the cases of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, East Ukraine, and Crimea, while they are often vilified as a form of ethno-nationalist fascism originating in the Kremlin, are undoubtedly due to the tribal allegiances shared between these fragile mini-states and the Russian motherland

There are even wannabe theorists in the US who claim to have identified the tribal identities in the USA, such as Colin Woodward and Joel Garreau. You can find the facile representations of their findings here and here. Both authors appear to be older, white, privileged, and seemingly unaware that US culture is very homogenous, and perhaps didn’t consider that there are vastly less cultural differences between New York and California, a 3,000 mile trek, then, say, the short hop between Brussels and Amsterdam. Further, unsurprisingly, Garreau does not even have any territory set aside for the First Nations, the Native Americans whose ancestors lived here for millennia, while Woodward only includes land in Northern Canada and Alaska for First Nation status, apparently oblivious to the 333 federally recognized Indian Nations in the US that are not in Alaska.

Badiou’s Rebirth of History

Occupy

The most striking examples of tribal, sub-national, mass movement intuitive wisdom towards rebellion and revolution against corrupt nations can be found in the 2011 Arab Spring, the Occupy Wall Street movement, and Spain’s Indignados. In all three instances, it was an activist minority who ignited popular dissatisfaction against corrupt regimes: in the West, oligarchic capitalism, in the Arab world, the figure of the Western-backed strongman, the dictator. For philosopher Alain Badiou, each of these dedicated protests represents a historical riot: an attempt to portray a political Truth to the world. Further, these acts showed that they represented the true will of the people, in the most general and universal terms: even though they accounted for a tiny minority, mainstream media regularly referred to Egyptian protesters at Tahrir Square as democratic, as representing the will of the people.

Of course, in the Middle East and North Africa the Arab Spring was about much more than democracy in any representative, parliamentarian sense: besides throwing out dictators like Mubarak and Ben Ali, social justice, dignity, equality, and freedom from Western hegemony were among key issues. The state should not have total power to determine law, taxes, industrial organization: civil society and direct democracy has a role to play as well. For the state, this is non-negotiable. As Badiou puts it:

“A massive popular event creates a de-statification of the issue of what is possible. In general, and especially in recent decades, the state has arrogated to itself the right to say what is possible in the political order and what is not. It is thus possible to ‘humanize ‘ capitalism and ‘develop’ democracy. But to construct a productive, institutional social order normed by equality and genuine popular command – that is completely impossible, a fatal utopia.”  (5)

To Badiou, the instincts of these protesters are correct in the sense that they tend towards universality: the values expressed (freedom, justice, forcing dictators to step down, etc.) not only apply to the nations involved, but are political truths the whole world must accept. This marks our age as an interregnum, or as Badiou says, an intervallic period, a stage between crony capitalism and a possible future world order of justice and egalitarianism. History is being born again out of the Thatcherite-Reagan period of hyper-capitalism from approximately 1980-2011, where greed was good, deregulation and privatization ruled, and the World Bank and IMF plundered the developing nations. The rise of civil society and grassroots democracy will lead to the withering away of the state, to Communism, in Badiou’s mind. For other theorists, ecologism is the preferred term to refer to the future era of politics, for others, bioregionalism, or environmental democracy.

Despite the differences in the symbolic nomenclature, in ideology, there are key similarities between theorists of leftist political thought,  and though they are hesitant to use terminology of the tribe, their principles often align with indigenous groups: smaller organizations of well-integrated peoples living and working together, with forms of consensus, direct democracy, horizontal civic groups, and yes, even tribal and religious elders who will uphold essential traditions, rituals, and spirituality necessary for group survival and cultural enrichment.

Lessons from Anthropology

For cultural anthropologist John H. Bodley, there are three cultural worlds: the tribal, the imperial, and the commercial. Most 21st century states are commercial states, dependent on industrialization, fossil fuels, high technology, global markets and cities, and representative government. Yet as he points out, “Commercialization co-opts both humanization and politicization processes to promote economic growth and the accumulation of financial capital.” (6) Political “elites” agree, although they use vague and convoluted arguments, threats, rhetoric, and would demur from ever saying so in such a blunt manner. For instance, the humanism of the 1948 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights is now seen as idealistic and unworkable by most “modern” Western states. The politicization process begun in the Enlightenment now begins and ends with liberal democracy, which today only buys time for authoritarian capitalism and the oligarchy that funnels money to the one-percent and their multinationals.

The commercial (liberal) arguments that restricting personal freedoms and thinning out the social commons are necessary for civilization are simply cases of falling for one’s own propaganda. The most glaring and infamous recent example being Fukuyama’s The End of History, in which he posits free-market capitalism, liberal democracy, and globalization marked the end of world conflict, the rising of standards of living globally, and  that liberal capitalism was the last and greatest socioeconomic ideology. These are “Delusions of Progress” according to Bodley. Bodley rejects the materialist technological, epidemiological, and geographical reasons for Eurocentric dominance (Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel argument) in the imperial and commercial worlds, and for him:

“The fate of humanity is determined by three variables…the scale at which people organize their sociocultural systems…how people control social power…and their deceptive use of culture to control perception.” (7)

In the imperial states of the 16th century through the commercial states in the 21st, the Westphalian states meet all three criteria for domination of weaker tribes and small nations. Recall the huge organizational scale of Spanish, Dutch, British, and French empires; the figure of the leader, replaced by rulers and later parliaments who demand tribute in the form of taxes to control social power; and the use of culture for dark purposes (consider the hypocritical and murderous rhetoric of Manifest Destiny, the Monroe Doctrine, Bush’s “War on Terror”, Adam Smith’s “invisible hand”, etc.).

The Global System, Political Ecologism, and Their Limits

Global institutions like the UN, World Trade Organization, the EU, and their associated NGOs are simply not equipped to handle the flood of crises that scientific and social experts are predicting. And the nation-state will not be ready to handle issues when the floodgates open either. There are calls from a few (mostly ignored) expert theorists to begin planning for what they call the Eco-state, or the Green State (8), which will delegate responsibility of the bottom-up duties of social welfare and assign them to civil society, non-profits, and grassroots citizen groups; and the top-down, streamlined hierarchy of government responsible for natural disasters, tax collection, defense, and integrating trade within the global architecture. Green political ecologism does impart an especially important lesson, one that tribal societies understand implicitly: to expand the moral community to provide political protection for the rights of future human generations, non-human life forms, and the biosphere as a whole.

Political elites are not interested in imparting these deep ecological values: the elites instead appeal to the darkest, craven, lowest-common-denominator voter who refuses to consider lowering their habits of consumption. Everything could be changed by sharply limiting what we buy, lowering meat and especially beef consumption, rationing fossil fuel use, etc.: quality of life would vastly improve, average lifespan would increase, the arts would be rejuvenated, and morally responsible technology would develop.

As long as elites are bought by lobbyists pushing corporate agendas, and electorates are unwilling to see that the “standard of living” does not equate with the amount of things one owns, the green state and the interlocking global framework it requires seems far off. Perhaps the late 21st or the 22nd century will provide the state system needed for ecological stability and interdependence. For now, the smaller scale of the tribe will have to suffice.

Tribal Seeds: Reproducing Culture from Time Immemorial

While great philosophers like Badiou extol communism, and green theorists such as Dobson and Eckersely promote ecological politics, the annals of history and examples of indigenous tribes today can provide a model for the future. As Bodley shows, it is the tribal world that knows how to reproduce culture. Small-scale tribes are less likely to use organize violence as a tool for coercive and deadly clashes with rival nations, and much more likely to use sustainable farming and technology. A sharing and bartering society, with organic, biodynamic agricultural practices nourishing people materially and spiritually, would go a long way towards healing the open wounds of our mother Earth and the ethnic and sectarian tensions plaguing most nations. Rather than keeping food, housing, material and intellectual property under lock and key, a culture of abundance would allow unparalleled access to health, education, and scale-appropriate technology.

All the while, transnational notions of identity allow numerous chances for the cross-fertilization of sub-national groups and tribes. Civic engagement is slowly regaining strength as citizens want to expand communal gardening and agricultural practices, energy-efficient housing and irrigation, and renewable energy projects. As mass movements rally for social justice and direct democracy, the idea of what a tribal nation can be will spark a change in the public, and the struggle for liberation from suicidal capitalism and respect for universal human rights dissolve people’s delusions that a tribe must be xenophobic and anti-democratic.

Tribal society can be insular when it comes to one issue, however: the idea of reproducing culture. Certain rituals and rites of passage remain a closely guarded secret for many tribes, because of their profound mystical and spiritual implications. Shamans and chieftains in indigenous society are trained their whole lives to guide and groom the next generation: there are risks involved when passing through stages of life, and traveling through spiritual realms. Similarly, the industrialized nations face similar risks today, which can only be solved by a tribe, a village, a community. We must invent ways where we can initiate youths and adolescents, mothers and fathers, so that they can develop harmoniously within the social fabric. We must confront the ennui and malaise that the consumer culture has spawned. And hopefully, then we can learn the holy, sacred secrets to reproducing and recreating ecosystems and cultures worth passing on to the next generation.


Notes

  • 1 Amin Maalouf. In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong. p. 90. Penguin Books, New York, 2000.
  • 2. Daniel Quinn. Beyond Civilization: Humanity’s Next Great Adventure. p. 61. Three Rivers Press, New York, 1999.
  • 3. Andrew Dobson. Green Political Thought (4th ed.). Routledge, New York, 2007.
  • 4. Paul Goodman. Growing Up Absurd. p. 10-11. Vintage, New York, 1960.
  • 5 http://ouleft.org/wp-content/ p. 94.
  • 6. John H. Bodley. Cultural Anthropology: Tribes, States, and the Global System. (5th ed.) p. 17. Altamira, Plymouth, 2011.
  • 7. ibid. p. 19.
  • 8http://www.amazon.com/Planetary-Vision-Essays-Freedom-Empire-ebook/dp/B01E968NSQ/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1460761588&sr=1-1ii .Robyn Eckersely. The Green State. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2004.

William Hawes

William Hawes is a writer specializing in politics and environmental issues. You can find his ebook of collected essays here. His articles have appeared at Globalresearch.ca, Countercurrents.org, Dissidentvoice.org, and Counterpunch.org. You can reach him at wilhawes@gmail.com.