Author: Doyle Quiggle Jr.

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Symposium: Clan on the FOB, part two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Symposium: Clan on the FOB, part one

Unlike most of our symposium members, I do not approach the RULE OF THE CLAN from a legal perspective, not primarily anyway. My perspective is from the battlespace. The issues of clan solidarity, group honor, and collective shame that Mark elucidates, specifically in chapter seven, were not legal theory but stubborn and irreducible facts-on-the-ground for my students and me at a Forward Operating Base near the AF-Pak border in Afghanistan. I approach Mark’s arguments primarily from a socio-cultural perspective, for cultural incompatibility between US Forces and Afghan Forces, who are supposed to be allied in their efforts to provide security to Afghans, often has lethal consequences. Green-on-Blue killings (Afghan troops killing US troops) dramatically spiked during my deployment to Afghanistan, a “metric truth” I discovered first-hand when an Afghan Soldier stopped me on my way to my tent, for no apparent reason, by aiming his short-barrel AK at my head—an epiphany at gunpoint that instantly revealed the predicament in which my students found themselves working alongside an Afghan Army made up of dangerously loyalty-conflicted individuals. That at-the-end-of-a-barrel moment also revealed the tricky nature of my pedagogical duty as Professor Fobbit.

That duty was preventing Green-on-Blue conflict. My students are being asked to fight an especially treacherous kind of war in Afghanistan, in which they must vigilantly watch their backs for fear of being shot through their own hearts by the native minds they’re supposed to have won over, the ANA and ASF. For example, on our base, the ANA manned the ops alongside US Soldiers, my students. Whenever we came under attack, however, the ANA would typically NOT shoot back, for fear of killing one of their own kinsmen. Many abandoned their posts, leaving US soldiers (my students) to worry that they’d soon be getting shot at from behind. In addition to uniformed Afghans, many non-uniformed, armed Afghans roamed the FOB. As one student remarked, “I don’t know how many pyjama-ed, sandal-wearing, OBL-bearded locals I see a day walking around base armed with AKs but not wearing ID badges. Who the hell are these guys? NOBODY knows!”

In this environment, reliable, detailed socio-cultural data about Afghans was of MORTAL import to my students, armed US Soldiers and Sailors whose daily choices often had lethal consequences, for themselves and for Afghans. My students’ ability to make blink-fast, razor-smart on-the-Fob and on-patrol choices was directly linked to their understanding Afghans as complicated human beings who belong to complex, clan-based, honor-obsessed cultures that appear, at first glance, utterly incomprehensibly bizarre to most US Troops. We called the kind of intellectual skill we were developing in our plywood classroom “cultural cunning.” Mark’s insights are uncommonly useful to developing that kind of cunning.

Although I taught any material that was intelligently useful to helping my students learn how to sidestep unnecessary conflict with their Afghan counterparts (I wish I’d had Mark’s book then), Homer was our main textbook. The primal data the ancient bard offers in ILIAD about the tough psychic realities of combat helped my students deepen their understanding of and commitment to the Warrior’s Code (See Shannon French’s THE CODE OF THE WARRIOR, 2005) and gave them a much-needed narrative template upon which to organize their own increasingly burdensome and discombobulated experience of counter fighting a brutal, no-end-in-sight insurgency. I didn’t have to teach them that Homeric myth can be used as a method to face the spiritual and psychological damage of war fighting. They taught me that lesson, because they were already living inside the warrior myth.   Echoing Roberto Calasso, my students demonstrated that that Greek myths are not “there waiting for us to revive them; they are there waiting to revive us, to wake us up to collective psychic realities.” They provide a place to begin healing from the collective “moral damage” of war. Homer was, as we approached him on a battlefield in Afghanistan, a powerful prophylactic against moral injury and psychological trauma.

Mark is dead right in RULE when he states that “each Marine is bound other Marines by unbreakable bonds of loyalty.” The same is equally true of the Soldiers and Sailors I taught in Afghanistan. Our study of Homer’s ILIAD gave them abiding insights into their own collective understanding of the powerful feelings of honor that bind them into effective military units. I know of no relationships thicker or more intense than those between Soldiers in combat. The US military is extraordinarily effective at training its Warfighters into fictive kinship groups, bands of brothers, indeed. (See BECOMING SOLDIERS: ARMY BASIC TRAINING AND THE NEGOTIATION OF IDENTITY by John Bornmann) And Homer’s primal insights into battlefield relationships spoke directly to what mattered most among my students: The ethical and social performance of his or her own forces. Their understanding of honor, like Homer’s, was intensely social, keenly collective. Bouncing our experience off of what Homer depicts of the bonds between Ajax and Nestor or Hector and Paris or Achilles and Patroclous, we explored the implications of what Mark has called the “community surveillance” of clan configurations, especially its benefits to US Warfighters in the battlespace, “security, identity, robust interpersonal relationships”—solidarity. Deployed life in US uniform in Afghanistan is, in the best-possible sense, Clan life. I’ll return to his point in a follow up post with the recent evolutionary, socio-biological discoveries about group loyalty and genetic altruism of Robin Dunbar, Franz De Waal, Paul Zak, and E.O. Wilson. (I also hope to contrast my work in Afghanistan with my work in Africa.)

While Homer provided my students self-protective insight and narrative form for their own experience of war, the Mediterranean bard also provided my students key insights into a clan-based, honor-possessed Afghan society. As my friend and colleague, Dr. Jonathan Shay (ACHILLES IN VIETNAM: COMBAT TRAUMA AND THE UNDOING OF CHARACTER), points out, “The world of Homer was dominated by aspirations to, struggles over, and rages related to honor. The Soldiers currently fighting in Afghanistan are fighting against, and also in alliance with Afghans, who inhabit a culture that is much closer to that of the Homeric epics than to that of today’s USA. This can only help our Soldiers make better decisions on the ground.” Homer forms much of his epic out of what Mark has identified as a key aspect of identity-formation in clan members, “ancestral consciousness…lineage knowledge provides clan members with a sense of their place in the world, not only in contemporary time but across many generations in the past and, implicitly, in the future.” A great many passages in the ILIAD depict characters boasting of their lineage. The point of these I-was-begat-by riffs is to establish the status and presence – a sense of place – of the character, i.e. Ajax, Nestor. Here, we made the links to Afghan identity structures and to Afghan ancestral SELF-consciousness.

As Mark has noted, a clan coerces cooperation and loyalty out of its members. Myth is a highly manipulative tool invented by the clan for creating solidarity, of course. Homer’s ILIAD, for example, was used to teach a young Greek warrior the stubborn and irreducible social and psychic facts of war. The teaching and reciting of the ILIAD by Greeks was also used to form loyalty to the group and to promote the key virtues that were considered absolutely crucial to the formation of Greek warrior units: The classical virtues of courage, honesty, moderation, self-sacrifice—justice. (These are also the core LEADERSHIP values of all branches of the US military.) Homer was, for centuries, THE textbook for Greeks.

Moreover, the ILIAD provides an unsurpassed lesson in the psychology and physiology of honor: How honor structures individual identity, how it binds the individual to the group, how it motivates him to action, especially into combat. The ILIAD reveals the physiology of honor, demonstrating better than any work I know of how honor motivates the feuding behavior of an entire society. Homer reveals the specific cultural devices that instilled and induced the feeling of honor and shame among Ancient Greeks. That was, in fact, the main didactic point of Homer’s epic. In that sense, the ILIAD is highly manipulative, inducing feelings that were key to becoming a true Greek warrior and encouraging the appropriate, active responses to those feeling states.

As I explained to both my ISAF (and to my AFRICOM) students, honor is neurologically compulsive among members of honor-based societies. (See Richard Nisbett and Dov Cohen’s study on the physiology of honor in Southern men.)

It’s vitally important to know that affronts to members of honor-based societies call forth automatic, gut reactions from an individuals whose identity is structured by the honor-shame dynamic. An insult to a Tribal Afghan might very well compel him, at the neurological level, to empty his AK into you and your unit. His reaction is NOT deliberative. It is compulsive. He cannot NOT react to the cocktail of neuropeptides released into his blood stream by an affront or insult. Among some Afghans, even the profanity used so very casually by ISAF personnel in the vicinity of a tribal elder (or, worse, an Afghan woman) might be enough to give an insult that provokes an honor reaction.

In order to work effectively with Afghans, you need to know precisely what offends and affronts the individual’s culturally-bound, innate sense of honor. You need to know the cultural mechanisms by which honor and shame are induced in individuals by their tribe. Mark’s book gives us some tough gristle on which to chew through these issues.

For example, Homer’s ILIAD is a grand dramatization of the cataclysm into which honor-provoked feuding typically propels clan-based societies. In this regard, Mark’s book not only confirms many of my own observations of Afghan clan-driven, honor-obsessed behaviour but also echoes the primal lessons about pre-modern, honor-driven small societies that Homer’s been teaching us for over 1,500 years. In our battlefield classroom, we applied Homer’s insights to Afghan society and used them to discover the specific cultural mechanisms by which a given Afghan tribe created loyalty and solidarity. I wish I’d had Mark’s book available to me then. His book has given me “soft eyes” on Homer.  (I’ll try to refrain from waxing Homeric in future Posts.)

I had an ideal position as a “socio-cultural” professor on that particular FOB because I lived in a tent that was exclusively designated for Afghans. Even better, I was the only NON-Afghan living in that tent. They didn’t want me there, but I stayed on to learn their worldview, to learn from them directly how they viewed each other, me, ISAF—how they viewed my students. At any given time, there were around fifty Afghans packed into that tent: Nuristani, Pashai, Pashtun, even Shia Hazaras. After they figured out they could trust me (or pretended to), they invited me into long chai conversations in which they endeavoured to make me understand the immensity of the cultural chasm between them and my students.

I learned their backgrounds, levels of education, musical tastes, attitudes toward Islam, toward women, toward the ANA, toward Russians, toward Pakistan, toward America, toward each other. I learned how to make Chai. I learned their complicated, oft contradictory and ambivalent views of our Troops so that I could better equip my students to cope with Afghan hostility and ambivalence—to cope with potentially lethal cultural incompatibility. I lived with them in that tent, alone as an American. My self defence was entirely on me. I eventually learned how to sleep soundly. (Male-on-male rape was disturbingly common on that FOB.)

I took their insights (and complaints) directly into my classrooms. My squibs last year in FOREIGN POLICY will give you a pungent sense of our classroom work at that FOB.  In my next post, I’ll share more of what I learned from Afghans about Afghan “clannism.”