Archives for posts with tag: asabiyyah

here’s an excerpt from ed west‘s latest kindle single, Asabiyyah: What Ibn Khaldun, the Islamic father of social science, can teach us about the world today (u.k. link) [kindle locations 256-286]:

“As a rule, the English are not a very family-orientated people. Social life lacks the warmth of the Mediterranean world with its joyful and welcoming extended families. In contrast, many English people don’t especially like their relatives or are apathetic towards them. My father never took much interest in his relations, many of whom are fascinating, lovely people, and it was largely left to my Irish mother to maintain a connection. Meanwhile her family have always been close and this extends to first and second cousins in the more traditional west of Ireland. To the English, although family connections do count, they matter less, and associations with a school, club or other institution define them more.

“Yet despite there being no big fat English weddings with lots of relations called Nigel or Rupert, there are great advantages to a society with weak family connections. It is not a total coincidence that it was in England that clubs first took off in the 17th century, playing an important role in the country’s political and economic growth; in specific cases clubs allowed inventors to meet investors, but they also helped expand the general levels of trust. Countries that are not clannish tend to have far more clubs, institutions and other organizations that are collectively called ‘civil society’. In contrast societies with strong families tend towards low civic capital and in consequence higher corruption. This is reflected in the political cultures of different states.

“Asabiyyah, therefore, can work in two ways; the group feeling can lie at the nationwide level, or it can exist within tribes, clans or religious communities, and this has a profound effect on a state’s institutions and how well a democracy can function.

“At the other end of the spectrum to the English are the Bedouin, whose famous phrase ‘me and my brother against my cousin, me and my cousin against the world’ reflects concentric circles of trust, one limited to family members.

“Mark Weiner wrote in The Rule of the Clan about countries governed by ‘clannism’ that: ‘These societies possess the outward trappings of a modern state but are founded on informal patronage networks, especially those of kinship, and traditional ideals of patriarchal family authority. In nations pervaded by clannism, government is co-opted for purely factional purposes.’

“In these societies, especially in the Middle East and Africa, ‘the nuclear family, with its revolutionary, individuating power, has yet to replace the extended lineage group as the principle framework for kinship or household organization’.

“Clannish states have little sense of wider civic asabiyyah and therefore civic responsibility. Indeed, as social anthropologist Stanley Kurtz wrote, tribes were used to preying on others: ‘Once a particularly powerful tribe or tribal coalition actually captured a state, they simply routinized their predation under official guise. (Saddam and his Sunni tribal allies fit the bill.) The state, such as in the Middle East, offers but a thin alternative to ‘the war of all against all’. Too weak to provide public utilities, policing, or impartial justice, most Middle Eastern states are just reincarnations of the predatory, winner-take-all tribal coalitions of old. Why exchange the protection of your family, tribe, or sect for submission to a weak or predatory state?’

“The relationship between this type of state and the tribal peasant, wrote Philip Carl Salzman of McGill University in Canada, ‘is that of the shepherd to his flock: the state fleeces the peasants, making a living off of them, and protects them from other predators, so that they may be fleeced again’. Salzman describes such clan-based states as ‘cliques determined to impose their power for the pleasure of dominance and the profit of extortion’. The inevitable result of clannism is kin-based corruption whereby resources, positions and other rewards are monopolised within family groups. Nepotism is found wherever humans are, but is far more widespread in clannish societies, and this affects both a country’s corruption levels and its ability to sustain democracy.”

(^_^)

see also: The Islamic historian who can explain why some states fail and others succeed from ed west, Ed West’s Kindle Single on ibn Khaldun and Asabiyyah from steve sailer, and Introducing: Asabiyah from t.greer.

previously: asabiyyah

(note: comments do not require an email. ibn khaldun.)

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here’s a top ten-ish selection of my posts from this year, selected by me (this blog is not a democracy! (~_^) ). they weren’t necessarily the most read or most commented upon posts, but just the ones that i like the best and that i’d like people to read. ymmv!

a BIG thanks to all of you who do read the ol’ blog! and many, many thanks for all the informative and insightful comments. (^_^) …and for some of the crazy comments, too. (~_^)

big summary post on the hajnal line“so, apart from indicating patterns of nuptuality in late medieval and modern europe, hajnal’s line also represents the extent of both manorialism and The Outbreeding Project on the continent. both of these together set up a very new and different sort of social environment for western europeans — a new, and quite unique, social environment which exerted some very different sorts of selection pressures on the populations, particularly on social behaviors, but perhaps on other traits as well.”

medieval manorialism’s selection pressures“medieval society in northern europe (ca. 400-1500 a.d.) produced some quite unique selection pressures which very much shaped the characteristics and personalities of ‘core’ europeans….”

die ostsiedlung“from a sociobiological point-of-view, probably the most underappreciated event in recent western european history. that and the reconquest of spain.”

mating patterns of the medieval franks“by the 800s, second cousin marriages amongst the franks were considered ‘scandalous.’ bishops actively enforced the bans in their dioceses and neighbors willingly squealed on their cousin-marrying neighbors to the bishops. by the 800s-1000s, there is good evidence that both the frankish aristocracy and the lower classes avoided close cousin marriage.” — see also: kindreds, communes, feuds, and mating patterns in medieval france“beginning in the 1000s, there are indications — the rise of lineages and the appearance of communes — that the french kindreds were starting to break apart. however, feuding continued in france into the 1200-1300s, so clannishness did not disappear in france overnight.”

the transition from shame to guilt in anglo-saxon england (and “core” europe)“feelings of guilt were probably selected for over the course of the middle ages in northwestern europe starting in the early part of the period.” — see also: more on the origins of guilt in northwestern european populations“the center of the guilt culture in northwestern europe — the core region which (historically anyway) has been characterized by the least corruption, the highest levels of trust, liberal democracy, free societies, low levels of internal violence, high levels of human accomplishment, the invention of capitalism, the advancement of science, the development of the ideas and ideals of the enlightenment, and pretty much everything else we call western civilization today — is the core where The Outbreeding Project began the earliest in europe.”

sneak preview: violence, punishment, outbreeding, and swashbuckling pirates in medieval england“over the course anglo-saxon period…the death penalty did come to be more widely applied to cases of homicide, but for most of the period there weren’t really very many executions of killers…. more laws demanding the death penalty (or castration) for killings were issued and enforced during the anglo-norman and angevin periods… [but] executions actually remained comparatively low during large parts of the norman period…. as far as i can tell, criminals were executed right and left during the tudor period. the use of capital punishment really ramped up during the 1500s.” — see also: homicide rates in various regions of thirteenth century england“[I]t is possible that every person in England in the thirteenth century, if he did not personally witness a murder, knew or knew of someone who had been killed.”

a study in swiss“my guess is that the swiss are some of western europe’s ‘inbetweeners’ as far as outbreeding goes. i guessed that they probably got involved in The Outbreeding Project later than some other western europeans — the ones in and closer to the center of my ‘core’ europe. and they didn’t experience manorialism either (unless some of them on the swiss plateau did?).”

reverse renaissance?“perhaps the arabized world underwent a *reverse* renaissance process thanks to the introduction by the arabs of the most inbred form of cousin marriage — father’s brother’s daughter (fbd) marriage — to the populations of the middle east/maghreb….” — see also asabiyyah and asabiyyah ii – clannishness and the abbasid caliphate.

fbd cousin marriage and clans and tribes in iraq“i think a long term inbreeding society selects — or *can* select — for what i call clannishness. and iraqis have got that in spades. they’ve got clans and tribes, nepotism, and an obvious inability to handle liberal democracy. not that that’s some sort of goal in and of itself. i’m just sayin’.”

cousin marriage in sub-saharan africa“there is also a wide variety of mating patterns in ss africa. some populations avoid cousin marriage altogether. we’ve already seen this with the bamileke of cameroon and the igbo of nigeria. also the turkana of kenya and quite possibly the amhara of ethiopia (not 100% sure about them — need to double-check). a notable group which apparently avoids cousin marriage is the zulu. but plenty of other ss africa groups do practice cousin marriage like, as you’ll see in the table below, the kongo and luba in the democratic republic of congo, the ashanti in ghana, the sotho-tswana in south africa, and the kpelle of liberia.” — see also: the bamileke of cameroon and fulani, hausa, igbo, and yoruba mating patterns.

the american revolutions“that there were four american revolutions is a result of the fact that four (five?) somewhat different english populations settled in different regions of north america. the cultural and attitudinal differences between these regions persist to this day because, undoubtedly, there are genetic variations between the populations — probably average genetic differences in the frequencies of genes related to behaviors, personality, and even intelligence. these regional differences also persist because, since the very founding of the united states, like-minded people have been self-sorting themselves within the country so that they group together — and that sorting process has *not* been slowing down.”

it’s not nature and nurture…“…it’s nature and…*we dunno*…miscellaneous/unknown/noise?” — this post's actually very important. READ THIS POST! think about it for a while and let it sink in. and make sure to follow the links!

– my "what is hbd" series: what is human biodiversity (hbd)?“human biodiversity (hbd) is very simply the diversity found among and between human populations that has a biological basis.” — see also: what human biodiversity (hbd) is not; examples of human biodiversity (hbd); why human biodiversity (hbd) is true; hbd and racism; and hbd and politics.

– and finally: you and me and hbd“if you accept that humans exhibit biologically based diversity, then you’d better be prepared to accept ALL of it.”

previously: top ten list 2013

in my previous post on asabiyyah, i (boldly!) said: “the arab states repeatedly fell apart, not because they ran out of asabiyyah, but because those in charge didn’t manage to hold together their state in the face of all the different asabiyyahs of the various clans/tribes within their states.”

pseudoerasmus disagreed with me: “The Abbasid Caliphate, which endured in Baghdad from 750 to 1258, started out big in the 8th century but by the time it fell to the Mongols it had basically been reduced to the Tigris & Euphrates valley. That’s because foreign dynasties came to gradually pick away at the periphery of the empire. I’m not saying there weren’t internal divisions that might have weakened the Abbasid hold on power. But there’s no evidence these divisions were tribal.”

well, ok. i admit that i probably overstated my case a bit there. the clannishness of the populations of arab states isn’t the only reason those states fall apart, but it *is* a huge one, imho. but, then, i do tend to look at everything through clannishness-colored glasses. (~_^)

the point i was trying to make, though, was that i disagree with ibn khaldun’s analysis of asabiyyah (which t.greer outlined in excellent fashion in this comment!). i’m of the opinion that al-farabi had it more right: asabiyyah is clannishness and, while clannishness can and does draw clans and tribes together, it is also very much a divisive force which pulls apart arabized societies. asabiyyah is the “me and my cousin against the world” attitude. and, most importantly of course, i think that the behavioral traits that are related to asabiyyah are genetic in origin, and, therefore, it will be very difficult to get the arabized world to behave differently anytime soon.

anyway…so, by way of a few examples, i thought i’d outline some of the clannish elements of the abbasid caliphate that i think worked against it. this is far from a complete list — it’s just a few of the things i can think of off the top of my head. to be completely honest with you, i need to do a lot more reading on the medieval caliphates/medieval arab world. oh. before i get to my little exploration, i want to mention one other thing. pseudo also said:

“[I]n the actual outcomes of territorial consolidation and fragmentation in the Middle East and North Africa, I don’t see much difference between that region and Europe or any other region for that matter. — *in the premodern period*. Which region in Eurasia was not subject to repeated cycles of imperial consolidation and fragmentation?”

well, quite. but europe and other regions of the world were also clannish in the premodern period. europe didn’t move out of that phase until the end of the middle ages. so maybe it’s not fair of me to compare the medieval arab world with the modern european one (although i do the same for medieval europe all the time); however, i do think that clannishness was, and is, particularly difficult for the arabs/arabized world since these populations practice father’s brother’s daughters (fbd) marriage — they’ve burdened themselves with a social structure and a set of innate behavioral traits that makes building and maintaining bigger alliances very difficult. (they didn’t mean to, of course — it just worked out that way.) in fact, i bet that matters have gotten progressively worse over the past thousand years or so in the middle east/maghreb/afghanistan/pakistan since these populations were arabized and started practicing fbd marriage (and due to the actual introduction of arab peoples to these regions who have probably been practicing fbd marriage since the second century a.d.?). having said all that, pseudo is also quite right in saying that trying to hold an empire together is difficult in most circumstances for any population, and was especially so in the past for populations which had more primitive technologies and transport systems, etc., etc. the one set of factors does not rule out the other, though, i don’t think.

right. clannishness and the abbasid caliphate.

well, first of all, the abbasid caliphate was founded in 750 a.d. by an extended family/subclan — the abbasids — which replaced a rival subclan. it really doesn’t get much more clannish than that. (~_^) both the abbasids and the umayyads before them were subclans of mohammed’s clan, the banu hashim, these subclans being, in turn, part of the larger quarysh tribe. before i continue about the abbasids, here’s a bit about the umayyad caliphate from A History of the Arab People [pg. 30]:

“The growth of the Muslim communities in the eastern cities and provinces created tensions. Personal ambitions, local grievances and party conflicts expressed themselves in more than one idiom, ethnic, tribal and religious, and from this distance it is hard to say how the lines of division were drawn.

“There was, first of all, among converts to Islam, and the Iranians in particular, resentment against the fiscal and other privileges given to those of Arab origin, and this grew as the memory of the first conquests became weaker. Some of the converts attached themselves to Arab tribal leaders as ‘clients’ (*mawali*), but this did not erase the line between them and the Arabs.

Tension also expressed themselves in terms of tribal differences and opposition. The armies coming from Arabia brought tribal loyalties with them, and in the new circumstances these could grow stronger. In the cities and other places of migration, groups claiming a common ancestor came together in closer quarters than in the Arabian steppe; powerful leaders claiming nobility of descent could attract new followers. The existence of a unified political structure enabled leaders and tribes to link up with each other over wide areas and at times gave them common interests. The struggle for control of the central government could make use of tribal names and the loyalties they expressed. One branch of the Umayyads was linked by marriage with the Banu Kalb, who had already settled in Syria before the conquest; in the struggle for the succession after the death of Mu’awiya’s son, a non-Umayyad claimant was supported by another groups of tribes. At moments some common interst could given substance to the idea of an origin shared by all tribes claiming to come from central Arabia or from the south. (Their names, Qays and Yemen, were to linger as symbols of local conflict in some parts of Syria until the present century….)”

so the rapid urbanization of the arabs as they moved into the middle east actually exacerbated their clannishness/tribalism.

anyway — back to the abbasids. the abbasids thought that they ought to be in charge since their ancestors were more closely related to mohammed — the founder of their subclan was a paternal uncle of mohammed. the founder of the umayyad subclan was just some guy that was adopted into yet another subclan related to mohammed’s (who then went on to found his own subclan, the umayyads). the abbasids had a whole load of supporters who were not abbasids, of course, including plenty of non-muslims, but there was definitely an element of an inter-clannish spat here, as there was across the histories of all of the caliphates. for example, the founders of the fatimid caliphate in 909 a.d. claimed to be descendents of mohammed’s daughter fatimah — and, therefore, more worthy of being caliphs — so yeah…more family intrigue. from A History of the Arab Peoples [pg. 33]:

“In some ways ‘Abbasid rule did not differ much from that of the later Umayyads. From the beginning they found themselves involved in the inescapable problem of a new dynasty: how to turn the limited power derived from an uneasy coalition of separate interests into something more stable and lasting. They had won their throne through a combination of forces united only in opposition to the Umayyads, and the relationships of strength within the coalition now had to be defined. First of all the new caliph rid himself of those through whom he had come to power; Abu Muslim and others were killed. There were conflicts too within the family itself; at first members were appointed as governors, but some of them grew too powerful, and within a generation a new ruling elite of high officials had been created. Some were drawn from Iranian families with a tradition of service to the state and newly converted to Islam, others from members of the ruler’s household, some of them freed slaves.”

yup. gotta get rid of competing members of the family when you’re in a clannish society.

one of the first things the abbasids had to deal with was the alid revolt of 762-763 undertaken by a couple of brothers who, yes, claimed descent from fatimah and who thought/claimed (for various reasons) that they deserved to be in charge rather than the abbasids. so, this was more infighting between rival subclans of mohammed’s quarysh tribe. the abbasids defeated this particular branch of the family that was behind this revolt, but one of the brothers of the leaders of the revolt went on to found the idrisid dynasty of morocco, which was one of those dynasties constantly picking away at the edge of the abbasid empire, even though the idrisids always at least nominally swore allegiance to the caliphate. (one of the offshoots of the idrisid dynasty, btw, is the senussi dynasty of libya, which may or may not make a comeback one of these days.)

between 809 and 827, we’ve got the fourth fitna (civil war) over succession to the caliphate’s throne. the contenders were two half-brothers, the sons of the deceased caliph: al-amin and al-ma’mun. al-amin was caliph for a while until his brother desposed him. the caliph had named al-amin as his successor, but al-ma’mun was actually slightly older, so he was p*ssed off at not having become caliph. the thing was, al-amin’s mother, zubaidah, had been a cousin of the caliph and of the house of abbasid, while al-ma’mun’s mother was just some persian concubine.

about the aftermath of the fitna, wikipedia says:

“The long civil war shattered the social and political order of the early Abbasid state, and a new system began to emerge under al-Ma’mun, which would characterize the middle period of the Abbasid Caliphate. The most tangible change was in the elites who supported the new regime: the abnaʾ, the old Arab families and the members of the Abbasid dynasty itself lost their positions in the administrative and military machinery, and with them their influence and power. The provinces of the Caliphate were now grouped into larger units, often controlled by a hereditary dynasty, like the Tahirids in Khurasan or the Samanids in Transoxiana, usually of Iranian descent. At the same time, however, al-Ma’mun tried to lessen his dependence on the Iranian element of his empire, and counterbalanced them through the creation of two new military corps: Mu’tasim’s Turkish slaves, and the Arab tribal army of the Byzantine frontier, which was now grouped together and placed under the command of al-Ma’mun’s son al-Abbas. This system was further elaborated and acquired its definite characteristics in the reign of al-Mu’tasim, who created a tightly controlled, centralized state, and expanded his Turkish corps into an effective military force with which he waged campaigns against the Byzantines and internal rebellions alike. Its leaders came to political power as provincial governors, while the old Arab elites were sidelined.”

so the entire character of the caliphate changed — and many of the arab clans and tribes lost power — thanks to a clannish family feud. al-ma’mun probably favored non-arab groups — like the tahirids or samanids — for anti-clannishness reasons. this is a common practice in clannish societies around the world, especially the arabized world which suffers from particularly strong clannishness: to try to work around your rival clannish groups by allying yourself with some other groups. never works out, though. from A History of Islamic Societies [pgs. 103-104]:

“To win control of the Caliphate, he [al-ma’mun] had depended on the support of a Khurasanian lord, Tahir, who in return was made governor of Khurasan (820-22) and general of ‘Abbasid forces throughout the empire, with the promise that the offices would be inherited by his heirs. Despite the momentary usefulness of the arrangement, the concession of a hereditary governorship defeated the Caliphal objective of integrating provincial notables into the central government. Now the empire was to be governed by an alliance of the Caliph with the most important provincial lord.

“To offset the power of the Tahirids and regain direct control of the provinces, the Caliphs were eager to create new military forces. Thus, al-Ma’mun and al-Mu’tasim (833-42) raised two types of forces. The first were *shakiriya*, intact units under the leadership of their local chiefs, from Transoxania, Armenia, and North Africa. Though the soldiers were not directly beholden to the Caliphs, they served as a counterweight to the Tahirids. The second type of force was Turkish slaves, called the unsullied *ghilman* (pl.), who were purchased individually, but grouped into regiments. For the sake of efficiency and morale, and a balance of power between the regiments, each lived in its own neighborhood, had its own mosque and markets, and was trained, supplied, and paid by its commander. Thus slave regiments also became self-contained units which gave their primary loyalty to their officers rather than to the Caliphs….

These new regiments strenghthened the hand of the Caliphs, but the Transoxanian and Turkish soldiers soon ran afoul of the Baghdadi populace and of the former Arab soldiers in the Baghdadi army, and bloody clashes ensued. Eventually, the Caliph al-Mu’tasim built a new capital, Samarra, about 70 miles north of Baghdad, to isolate the troops from the masses. While Baghdad remained the cultural and commercial capital of the region, from 836 to 870 Samarra was the military and administrative headquarters of the Caliphate. However, the new city only created further difficulties. The Caliphs, who had hoped to avoid clashes between the populace and the troops, instead became embroiled in rivalries among the various guard regiments. The officers took civilian bureaucrats into their patronage, won control of provincial governorships, and eventually attempted to control succession to the Caliphate itself. Regimental rivalries led to anarchy. Between 861 and 870 all the leading officers were killed, and the troops fell out of control and turned to banditry. The employment of slave armies further alienated the Caliphate from the populace it ruled. While the early ‘Abbasid empire had depended upon the military support of its own subjects, the late empire tried to dominate its peoples with foreign troops….”

clannish behaviors everywhere! even in “socially constructed” clans. (if you’ve got “genes for clannishness,” whatever they might be, you’re going to behave clannishly.)

in the late 800s, the abbasids had to deal with the breakaway hamdanid dynasty in northern iraq/syria (hmmm…familiar territory) which was founded by hamdan ibn hamdun who was p*ssed off when the caliph tried to give the governorship of mosul to some turkish guy. hamdan’s tribe — the banu taghlib who were originally from eastern arabia and who waited until quite late to convert from christianity to islam — rebelled. hamdan’s son, husayn, made peace with the caliph, though, and regained the governorship of the region for the family…buuuut, he did wind up eventually being beheaded for taking part in yet another revolt. a couple of husayn’s rather ruthless nephews managed to set up “semi-independent emirates” operating out of mosul and aleppo. although they, too, like the fatimids, swore allegience to the caliph, i view all this clannishness and literal tribal behaviors as further examples of the chipping away at the caliphate. oh — another dynasty, the uqalyids, took over in mosul in 990, and they were of the banu uqayl clan out of western arabia. so, more literal tribalism.

some of the other foreign dynasties that chipped away at the abbasid caliphate were not tribal arabs, but many of them were certainly very clannish themselves. the samanid dynasty of persia, for instance, was founded by saman khuda of the house of mihran, one of the seven parthian clans of the earlier sassanian empire. al-ma’mun appointed four of saman’s grandsons governors as a reward for the family’s loyalty to the caliph. clannish! the last of the samanids, isma’il muntasir (i.e the “victorious”), who was trying to restore his family’s then-dying glory, was killed by some arab guy, so unfortunately he wasn’t so victorious after all.

many of the other central asian dynasties that conquered areas previously, or maybe better intermittantly, held by the abbasid caliphate also read like hatfield versus mccoy stories: the buyids, the ghaznavids, the simjurids, even the seljuks. much of this rather extreme clannishess — like that of the samanids above — happened before these groups converted to islam or very shortly afterwards, so probably too soon for them to have adopted fbd marriage as part of any broader arabization process. this makes me guess that these populations in persia and afghanistan, etc., were probably practicing quite a bit of close cousin marriage before the arabs got there, just presumably not fbd marriage (if the anthropologists are right). don’t know. Further Research is RequiredTM.

but clannishness didn’t just chip away at the edges of the caliphate — internal clannishness, even though the caliphs had tried to eliminate the powers of the arab clans, worked against the caliphate. from A History of Islamic Societies [pg. 105]:

By the late ninth century…numerous small cliques attached to many leading officials had become polarized into two great factions, called the Banu Furat and the Banu Jarrah. Each of these factions was built around a wazir and his relatives and clients. The families also had a larger following based on social and ideological affiliations. The Banu Jarrah faction was composed mainly, though not exclusively, of Nestorian Christians or Christian converts, often educated in the monastery of Dayr Qunna in southern Iraq. By the middle of the ninth century, this faction had already grown powerful enough to influence state policy. In 852 al-Mutawakkil (847-61) was persuaded to assure Christians freedom of religion, freedom from military service, and the right to construct churches, and to give the Nestorian Catholicos full jurisdiction over all Christians…. The other major faction, the Banu Furat, were mainly Baghdadi Shi’a.

The chiefs of these factions eventually gained control of the whole government services…. A wazir and his faction would come to power by intrigues and by bribing the Caliph and other influential courtiers. Their main concern then would be to exploit their offices, earn back the bribes, and prepare for future hard times by various frauds, such as padded payrolls, false bookkeeping, illegal speculations, and taking bribes. The officials regarded their positions as a property which they bought, sold, and exploited for private gain.”

after the late 800s, the caliph was very often the caliph only in name (it varied depending on the individual caliph). governmental officials and their extended families and clients (patron-client systems are typical of clannish societies — think: sicily) ran the show within the core of the caliphate, and virtually independent familial dynasties typically ruled the peripheral regions.

what i find even more interesting than all this clan and tribal intrigue, though, is how clannish society within the caliphate actually was. this sort-of societal arrangement is always fraught with difficulties — from A History of Islamic Societies [pgs. 61-63]:

“Local government was organized for taxation. Surveys were taken in the villages to determine the amount of land under cultivation, the crops grown, and their expected yield, and the information was passed up to the central administration. The taxes for whole regions would be estimated, the sums divided up for each district, and the demand notes sent out describing the responsibilities of each subdivision. Each sub-unit received its bill and divided it among the smaller units. At the next stage, taxes were collected, local expenses deducted, and the balance passed upwards until the surplus eventually reached Baghdad….

“How was the state to know if crops were concealed? The state came to the villages with staffs and technical specialists such as surveyors to make land measurements, weighers and measurers to estimate the size of crops, and bankers and money changers to convert currencies or to give credits. It came with legal specialists, judges to adjudicate disputes, witnesses to transactions, registrars of deeds, and the like. Alongside the technicians, it came with specialists in violence, collectors, soldiers, police extortionists, stool pigeons, and thugs. Fear was no small part of the business of tax collection.

Yet, with all this, the potential for passive resistance and the problem of inadequate information could not be solved without the cooperation of local people. These included family patriarchs, village headmen (such as the *ra’is* in Iran, or the *shaykh al-balad* in Egypt), and village landowners, who controlled a large part of the village land and were much richer than the average peasant, but not so wealthy as the great estate or iqta’ holders….

“These notables played an important intermediary role in the taxation process. As the most powerful people connected with the villages, they handled negotiations, made a deal on behalf of the peasants, and paid the taxes. The arrangement suited everyone. The bureaucratic agents were never absolutely sure how much money they could raise, and wished to avoid the nuisance of dealing with individuals. The peasants did not have to confront the exorbitant demands of the tax collectors directly. The notables underestimated the taxes to the state, overestimated them to the peasants, and pocketed the difference. ‘Abbasid officials understood perfectly well the importance of these people, whom they called their *a’wan* (helpers)….”

clannish corruption. long-standing tradition in the middle east, then.
_____

anyway…those are just some of the clannish elements of the abbasid caliphate that, imho, caused it to “collapse” — or nearly collapse — or get chipped away over time both on the edges and internally. i guess that there were plenty more such elements and that one could find similar examples from other arab states, too, both in the past and in the present.

new working theory, btw: that the populations of the middle east, maghreb, afghanistan/pakistan have become more and progressively clannish and dysfunctional (in terms of attempts to build western-style states in these places) since they’ve become more and more arabized (especially since they began practicing more and more fbd marriage) beginning at the earliest in the ca. early 600s. the actual migration of the (already at the time) very inbred, and therefore very clannish, arabs didn’t help, either.

previously: asabiyyah

(note: comments do not require an email. as-saffah, the first abbasid caliph.)

inigo montoya sm

asabiyyah. it’s a word that was used by ibn khaldun in his work on history entitled Muqaddimah or Prolegomena (“Introduction” — here’s a version on google books).

asabiyyah often gets translated simply as “group solidarity” or “social cohesion” or “group feeling” which has led many a westerner to think that it can be applied to any old group, but that is just not so. this “group feeling” that khaldun was writing about was specifically the solidarity found in arab or arabized clans and tribes. other thinkers of the islamic golden age, such as al-farabi, also discussed the concept of asabiyyah. al-farabi, however, used the word more in its (apparently) original sense — clannishness. i kid you not! [pg. 171]:

“According to Muhsin Mahdi in his authoritative work, ‘Ibn Khaldun’s Philosophy of History’ (London: George Allen and Unwin, 195), 263 n. 1, Ibn Khaldun’s use of ‘asabiyyah differs from Alfarabi’s. The former views ‘asabiyyah both as a source of division *and* as a source of unity; the latter views it merely as a source of division. Thus, Mahdi translates ‘asabiyyah in his book on Ibn Khaldun as ‘social solidarity’ rather than as ‘clannishness.’

“But perhaps Iban Khaldun has not departed from Alfarabi in the respect Mahdi suggests. For Alfarabi, although ‘asabiyyah is a source of division between different clans, it is certainly a source of unity within the clan (or *dunasteia*). The common purpose of fighting common enemies unites the members of the clan. Once the law has unified clans into a city, the city’s common fighting purpose still derives from the ‘asabiyyah of its citizens, especially of its leading clan. Is ‘asabiyyah really a greater source of unity than this in the ‘Muqaddimah’? As Mahdi himself notes, Ibn Khaldun never identifies what he calls the ‘natural rule or governance (*mulk tabi’i*) in which one clan rules a group of other clans by virtue of its superior ‘asabiyyah without the assistance of a law (divine or ‘rational’) as a ‘regime’ (ibid., 264-265). The reason why he does not refer to it as a regime is obvious: The result of this kind of rule is not the minimum of internal peace necessary for political life but ‘constant war [i.e., civil war] and confusion’ (ibid., 265).”

asabiyyah, then, is the “group solidarity” or “social cohesion” of the clan or the tribe. it is not the social cohesion that held medieval arab/arabized societies together. asabiyyah was, in fact, the force that divided those societies — and is dividing iraq and syria today. the problem for arabized societies is not having too little asabiyyah, it’s that they have too much.

according to khaldun, part of the trick to maintaining a state full of independent clans each with their own asabiyyah is for the ruling clan to develop some sort of supra-asabiyyah and in that way reach a state of iltiham or coalesence [pg. 285 and pg. 32 here]. this is easier said than done, since each of the clans/tribes at least theoretically wants to be the one on top — if they can get there. islam itself was an excellent uniting force early on for arab tribes. until mohammed died and the infighting over who’d be in charge started (i.e. the origin of the sunni-shia split). maybe some form of radical islam will work today — perhaps whatever al-qaeda or isis has on offer. the problem is, all of the asabiyyah in arab societies is always pulling it apart.

another trick to running a country full of clans while maintaining your own clan on the top is to give enough favors to other clans to keep them happy in their subordinate positions. these are just patron-client systems writ large. this is exactly what the ruling clans did when the arabs first invaded iraq. i wrote in my last post on the arabs in iraq how the clans and tribes set themselves up in separate streets in separate neighborhoods. well, most of these newly relocated clans received stipends from the clans in charge to compensate them for their services during the invasion. this was their booty, in other words. and the financing for these stipends came from taxes — in part from the jizya payed by the non-muslims in iraq. you may have heard about jizya. [see morony on all of this.]

the patronage system — with nepotism to boot — is how arabized states are still run today. it’s the only way, because otherwise the asabiyyahs of all the different clans would tear these countries apart [pgs. 3-4]:

“Ibn Khaldun claims that power (*mulk*) is not based in the [arab] city as was the case in Greek tradition, but is instead based on an essential regroup of key ‘asabiyyah concepts. These are emotional links and blood relationships (*silat-ar-rahem*) — both tribal and familial — driven by sociological narrative rather than citizenship in public space. The roles of brothers, sons, uncles, half-brothers, wives, daughters, and mothers of the leader are defined via ‘asabiyyah in Arab political systems. These elements of analysis, beyond their anecdotal dimensions, introduce us to the heart of how authoritarian dynastical rule functions. ‘Asabiyyah acquires an incomparable force by controlling the state apparatus and carrying out public politics.

“This type of ‘asabiyyah was particularly visible in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, mainly within the security and intelligence apparatuses. It is obvious today in the republican-style authoritarian regime of Asad. We also find ‘asabiyyah applied in the Arab Gulf countries, led by large families who dominate ‘departments of sovereignty’ (*wizarat as-seyadah*), meaning all key positions in the state. Saudi Arabia could be cited as the singular example in which dynastic succession functions through internal cooptation of the al-Saud clan, but it can also be understood as a rotation of the top matrilineages — the clans of origin of the princes’ mothers.

“The princes that belong to the first circle of power and lead departments of sovereignty or hold the governorates of important provinces tend to enter exogamous marriages (which is contrary to the norms established for preferential Arab unions). The women of the al-Saud clan typically enter endogamous marital unions. The clan is therefore a taker, rather than a giver, of women, which both expresses and helps perpetuate the dominant position it holds. Here, matrimonial strategies ensure the clientelism of other clans in the country. In a tribalized and a poorly integrated society, such as that of Saudi Arabia, the paternal clan’s grip on power ensures the cohesion and stability of the ruling group.”

…by keeping subordinate clans happy by sharing with them some of the “spoils” (in the case of saudi arabia or the uae or qatar — oil money!).

some of the confusion some (many!) westerners have about what asabiyyah refers to comes, i think, from the fact that they overlook which populations khaldun was talking about. he specifically looked at the arab states in spain and north africa [pg. 214] and contrasted them with kurdish and bedouin and berber tribal populations [pg. 45]. by the time that khaldun was writing in the fourteenth century, all of these groups were well-arabized and probably had been practicing father’s brother’s daughter (fbd) marriage for several hundred years and, so, would’ve been very clannish [see, for example, the previous post on iraq]. the arab states repeatedly fell apart, not because they ran out of asabiyyah, but because those in charge didn’t manage to hold together their state in the face of all the different asabiyyahs of the various clans/tribes within their states. the invading groups — the kurds, bedouin, and berbers — of course held together by the promise of riches if and when they succeeded in conquering the settled arabs.

most importantly, though, the lessons learned from these populations can’t be applied most other places, because different peoples are different. so, for instance, i think peter turchin’s got two out of three right: 1) yes, you need a charismatic leader to unite clans/tribes (think: mohammed); 2) yes, you need some sort of ideology to create that iltiham (islam worked great back in the day) — even better if you can throw in some spoils; but 3) no, you cannot just go to the desert, either literally or figuratively, in order for your group to acquire asabiyyah. (although dune is an awesome novel/movie! so turchin’s actually got three out of four things right….) you need to be a real clan to do that with real (close) genetic ties and enough time to allow natural selection to select for asabiyyah. the problem is, what to do with it once you’ve got it?

update: see also asabiyyah ii – clannishness and the abbasid caliphate

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

too bad he didn’t get his behavioral genetics right, though. but that’s ok. he was ahead of the times. from The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History; In Three Volumes – I [pgs. 105-106]:

“14. Prestige lasts at best four generations in one lineage

“The world of the elements and all it contains comes into being and decays. Minerals, plants, all the animals including man, and the other created things come into being and decay, as one can see with one’s own eyes. The same applies to the conditions that affect created things, and especially the conditions that affect man. Sciences grow up and then are wiped out. The same applies to crafts, and to similar things.

“Prestige is an accident that affects human beings. It comes into being and decays inevitably. No human being exists who possesses an unbroken pedigree of nobility from Adam down to himself. The only exception was made in the case of the Prophet, as a special act of divine grace to him, and as a measure designed to safeguard his true character.

“Nobility originates in the state of being outside. That is, being outside of leadership and nobility and being in a base, humble station, devoid of prestige. This means that all nobility and prestige is preceded by the non-existence of nobility and prestige, as is the case with every created thing.

It reaches its end in a single family within four successive generations. This is as follows: The builder of the family’s glory know what it cost him to do the work, and he keeps the qualities that created his glory and made it last. The son who comes after him had personal contact with his father and thus learned those things from him. However, he is inferior to him in this respect, inasmuch as a person who learns things through study is inferior to a person who knows them from practical application. The third generation must be content with imitation and, in particular, with reliance upon tradition. This member is inferior to him of the second generation, inasmuch as a person who relies upon tradition is inferior to a person who exercises independent judgement.

The fourth generation, then, is inferior to the preceding ones in every respect. Its member has lost the qualities that preserved the edifice of its glory. He despises (those qualities). He imagines that the edifice was not built through application and effort. He thinks that it was something due his people from the very beginning by virtue of the mere fact of their descent, and not something that resulted from group (effort) and (individual) qualities. For he sees the great respect in which he is held by the people, but he does not know how that respect originated and what the reason for it was. He imagnes that it is due to his descent and nothing else. He keeps away from those in whose group feelings he shares, thinking that he is better than they. He trusts that (they will obey him because) he was brought up to take their obedience for granted, and he does not knw the qualities that made obedience necessary. Such qualities are humility (in dealing) with (such men) and respect for their feelings. Therefore, he considers them despicable, and they, in turn, revolt against him and despise him. They transfer leadership from him and his direct lineage to some other related branch, in obedience to their group feeling, after they have convinced themselves that the qualities of the (new leader) are satisfactory to them. His family then grows, whereas the family of the original (leader) decays and the edifice of his ‘house’ collapses.

“That is the case with rulers who have royal authority. It also is the case with all the ‘houses’ of tribes, of amirs, and of everybody else who shares in a group feeling, and then also with the ‘houses’ among the urban population. When one ‘house’ goes down, another one rises in another group of the same descent.

The rule of four (generations) with respect to prestige usually holds true. It may happen that a ‘house’ is wiped out, disappears, and collapses in fewer than four, or it may continue unto the fifth and sixth generations, though in a state of decline and decay. The four generations can be defined as the builder, the one who has personal contact with the builder, the one who relies on tradition, and the destroyer.”

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