thank you, war nerd!

here’s the war nerd on syria:

“War Nerd: Our Ringers vs. Your Ringers”

“When you look at this war strictly as a military struggle, you notice something weird: over two years of fighting, the lines are almost totally static….

“If you look at a map of sectarian demographics in Syria, and superimpose it on a map showing areas of Assad control and rebel-held regions, you’ll see that the two maps are almost identical. And the front lines haven’t changed much since the Sunni grabbed control of their neighborhoods two years ago…. The lines held by the Sunni, Shi’ia and Kurds barely move.

“And by the way, I’m going to talk about Sunni, Alawite, Shi’ia, and Kurds, because that’s what matters in Syria. This is a sectarian war, and pretending it isn’t is just pious nonsense. As long as you keep in mind that in the Levant, ‘sect’ means an ethnic group as much as a religion. And if that seems weird, try thinking of a classic Levantine sectarian outpost you may have heard of, the one called ‘Israel.’ Are Israeli Jews a religion or an ethnic group, a people? Both, more or less — a very sloppy, leaky Venn diagram. Religion works as an ethnic marker for most groups in the Levant, not just the Israelis. And the fact that there are always outliers, people too noble or crazy or sophisticated to be defined by their sect, doesn’t change the fact that for most people, the sect is what defines you.

“Once you see how deeply this sectarian identity works, you can start to understand why this war is so static. In urban sectarian warfare, most fights are about the neighborhood, keeping the neighborhood in your sect’s hands, away from the heretics two streets over. You grow up fighting the kids from over there, first with words, then with rocks, then with whatever firearms you can borrow from your cousins. For Anglos, the paradigm for this kind of war is Belfast and Derry. The war there started with neighborhood defenders in places like the Short Strand trying to hold their little block of row houses against the other sect.

“Americans have a hard time imagining how tiny this kind of war can be. In this country you can drive for 14 hours and pull over to the same intersection, with exactly the same McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Denny’s, Day’s Inn, Starbucks, Super 8 and Motel 6. The accents’d be the same, the burgers’d be the same, the price of gas’d might change by a penny or two.

“In a place like Aleppo (or Belfast), every street takes a side….

“This encourages people to ‘think local.’ Which means they’re very good when they fight to hold their neighborhoods, but useless in big offensives. Even raw irregulars can do very well fighting on their own turf. But they’re useless when you try to get them to organize into an offensive army. Why risk the neighborhood’s crop of young men on somebody else’s neighborhood? Not only could you lose half your cousins, but while you and the cuzzies are out there grandstanding, somebody could be invading your neighborhood. You just don’t leave your neighborhood unmanned in a sectarian war, ever. Not if you have living female relatives. In ugly wars like this, you’re not afraid of what the enemy will do to you but to your kin — the really sick people are encouraged to get creative in horrible ways; merely murdering your neighbor gets old fast.

So most of the locals in this war only want to hold their block of houses, basically as far as kin and sectarian ties hold. Ask them to form up and move out for bigger operations, and they’ll fade away. Lots of promises — and then the quiet skedaddle….

great stuff! read the whole thing here.

previously: syria and syrian tribes and more on syrian marriage and family types and clans in the news: aleppo and clans in the news: syria

(note: comments do not require an email. bonus.)

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20 Comments

  1. Echoing mouse. Religion is used first as an identifier, then as a justification. Drawing an actual doctrinal reason from one’s faith is much rarer – true for Muslims now, Christians for much of their history, but really, everyone. Doctrine requires thought and comparison, after all. A bit rarer across the face of the earth.

    Even persecution, which can come closer to actual religious questions and ideas, is usually still pretty local and tribal. National Socialism was really more Tribal Socialism, pro-Teuton rather than pro-citizen.

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  2. “Once you see how deeply this sectarian identity works, you can start to understand why this war is so static.”

    interesting point

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  3. @hbd chick …. actually @ war nerd ““So most of the locals in this war only want to hold their block of houses” Seems we have the usual ambiguities of scale. War Nerd mentions four ethnic groups that dominate Syria, but when he gets down to it the identity is with just a few blocks. Those are very different sizes. In the absence of a coherent formulation I must try to come up with something. It seems to me that the only way peace will come is to assure the survival of the neighborhoods. But the political system does just the opposite. Sectarian leaders try to unify the neighborhoods into ethnic moities, politicians try to unify the enthic group into a modern nation state (which is by definition impossible since there is no “nationality” in sight but that doesn’t keep them from wholesale slaughter while chasing personal power, Islamic extremists want to unify the nations into another Ottoman Empire and the New World Order wants the whole world to look like a stop on the interstate with the same cookie cutter motels, gas stations and restaurants owned by the same faceless rich guys the world over. So I say, “Want their own neighborhoods. What’s wrong with that?” You only get the nightmare when you violate those neighborhoods.
    Yes. I know. A bizziare thought, but at least I don’t call a population of millions a population of hundreds.

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  4. @linton – “So I say, ‘Want their own neighborhoods. What’s wrong with that?'”

    you’re so clannish, linton! (~_^) (not that there’s anything wrong with that. (^_^) )

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  5. @hegel – “Homogenous patrilines.”

    yeah. homogenous hyper-patrilines really since, because of the particular arab/middle eastern mating pattern (father’s brother’s daughter’s [fbd] marriage), ALL of the males in a patriline can wind up ALL sharing the same y-chromosome, EVEN a man’s daughter’s sons (see latter half of this post for an explanation of how this happens).

    @hegel – “Violence follows male migrations.”

    also, if there’s some connection between some genes on the y-chromosome and violence, perhaps males in fbd societies can wind up being particularly violent in particular ways? (see this post for a little more on that idea.)

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  6. @avi – “Religion is used first as an identifier, then as a justification.”

    agreed. i always say that religion — and other “reasons” people give for their behaviors — are usually after-the-fact “rationalizations.” most people really don’t know what they’re about, and try to explain it afterwards. it’s like the entire species is full of fabulists. (~_^)

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  7. If ever there was a war we should stay out of, it’s this one. So of course, we’ll get involved.

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    1. @ Tooddy Cat “of course, we’ll get involved.” I thought we were already involved. Hasn’t Israel been using war planes they bought with our help to blow up Syrians?

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  8. “If you look at a map of sectarian demographics in Syria, and superimpose it on a map showing areas of Assad control and rebel-held regions, you’ll see that the two maps are almost identical. And the front lines haven’t changed much since the Sunni grabbed control of their neighborhoods two years ago….

    That can be easily seen at Bill Roggio’s “Long War Journal” (without the quotes – search – Syria).

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  9. Uhm … I might expand on that (Luke? Please don’t take me to task over that Stratfor link – but the lines are “geographically distinct” – and without a Western intervention (Syria – bad idea, likely to remain so).

    Syria’s Assad forces have pretty much abandoned the Golan Heights – that leaves road routes into Lebanon pretty much open. But there’re Druze and Christian neighborhoods abutting the Damascus corridor south directly to the Golan. Hezbollah’s supply lines lie generally West but mostly West/West/North. Topo maps reveal why.

    Iraq is “allowing” overflights from Iran to Hezbollah – everybody in the neighborhood worries about the Kurds – check the Geography. & Shi’a “governed” Iraq and Iran. The Kurds are “different.” They want autonomy pretty much but the Kurds nearest Turkey have both kinship and commercial oil “stuff” (pipelines) complicated by both the Turks and the Russians. The Russians [and Turks] would prefer a land route with the alternative being some transit of the Black/Caspian Sea route for pipelines but that won’t be easy. Shallow waters, the Bosphorus Straits and it’s earthquake prone.

    The “easy way” route would be through the Caucasus Range. Transport via pipelines needn’t require the maintenance/repair that undersea transit would (because it’s tectonically active) and it’d be easier [relatively] to repair. But going that way poses “problems.”

    It’s mainly energy for the foreseeable future – Turkey and Russia, strategically, need/want to be the mainstay EU supplier.

    I’m of the opinion and candidly I’d give myself a F- for being farsighted – but I think that’s why we’ve seen Wahhabism move into places I personally wouldn’t have thought 20 years ago it would’ve.

    I’ll add a link to a guy name of Baseyev or somesuch to stretch what I mean.

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  10. “Hasn’t Israel been using war planes they bought with our help to blow up Syrians?”

    Yes, but no Americans are actually fighting – yet. Just wait. As Eisenhower once said “there’s no definitive answer to the question ‘how stupid can you get…”

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  11. @Toddy Cat

    I’ve never been able to do that – howgia work that out?

    More to the point I reckon is … if you had the reply … why ask?

    Luke, Grey, … now I think onit heck! Pert everybody here gets mad I didn’t even word the question interrogatively.

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  12. I can’t read the original article, but:

    Seems we have the usual ambiguities of scale. War Nerd mentions four ethnic groups that dominate Syria, but when he gets down to it the identity is with just a few blocks. Those are very different sizes. In the absence of a coherent formulation I must try to come up with something.

    Look at Ulster again. There were really only two ethnicities which mattered: Catholic Irish and Presbyterian Scots-Irish. But they were very mixed on a very fine scale for a variety of historical reasons, including massive industrial development while the peace was kept for about 100 years by the Episcopalian English. Syria has had fairly brutal dictators since the French gave up, and the French were no slouches at enforcing peace on the less civilized, either. That left a lot of time where mixing could occur with ethnic violence kept at a pretty low level.

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  13. Incidentally, it would be interesting to do a study on how geographically interconnected the finely divided ethnic groups are in situations like that – if your neighborhood (a few blocks across) is your people, and the next neighborhood over isn’t, how likely are you to marry a MOTOS from your neighborhood vs from the next neighborhood of your ethnicity over vs from a rural area of your ethnicity, vs a co-ethnic from a different city.

    How does that vary between ethnic groups based on how inbred the different ethnic groups are?

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    1. @ Anhony “how likely are you to marry a MOTOS from your neighborhood vs from the next neighborhood of your ethnicity over vs from a rural area of your ethnicity” Pofound point. I wish I had the nerons to address it.

      Reply

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