Very interesting from Bahrani blogger Emoodz, as translated by Amira Al Hussaini of Global Voices.
My family, like a lot of other families in Bahrain, suffers from a breakdown due to work, which never ends. We rarely meet as a family for lunch on weekdays. This gives lunch gatherings during holidays a special flavour, even if they lack in all the rice and curry dishes as many of us are avoiding getting obese – which has become the boogie man many families have been avoiding in the last half of the previous decade, mostly at the expense of delicious food.
While speaking to my dad as he was devouring a piece of Mullet (type of fish) in a unique ferocity associated with Bahranis (Shia population of Bahrain), we started speaking about sectarianism and the division in society based on sects, particularly in Bahrain, and around the Arab world in general. He spoke in depth about how religion was the basis and reason for sectarianism, adding that it is now one of the woes we as Muslims have to accept without objection. Islam has ruled on the unification of Muslims,, and that are as equal as the teeth of a comb, with the only differences being their righteousness and good deeds. But at the same time, it (Islam) opened the door for the plurality of sects, which in turn, created a sectarian dispute between Muslims. Islam too decreed on upbringing the new generations based on a sound basis and immaculate behaviour. However, today it has become a hatching ground for terrorism, which is crime and barbarism, enveloped in politics. Although Islam called for unifying the ranks and waging Jihad on the conquerors, today we see it replaced with sedition between Muslims every where. So Islam, or rather Islamic theory, has spawned three sons. They are sectarianism, terrorism and sedition. This is the trinity which has resulted from the Islamic theory and which will one day bury Islam and replace itself in its place. And we Muslims will be the ones to pay the price.
“I am not saying that Islam is a sectarian ideology but sectarianism is a natural consequence of Islamic theory.” He said that while spitting the bones of the fish from his mouth and getting closer to the plate of water melons. I didn’t respond to him, especially when his views had a lot of truth in them. This is because Islamic theory, even if it called for unifying Muslims, it couldn’t build the foundation upon which the desired Muslim unity could be established. As a result, the Muslim society changed from a unified one to another made of narrow minded groups, each alleging that they represent religion and history and accusing all those who don’t share their views as being apostates.
However, are we really a society which is ready for unity? Do we have the basis for unity? Can we live as a homogeneous nation on this land, putting citizenship and the general good of our society as a basis for showing preference to each other? Is it true that if break down the religion obstacle we will succeed in achieving this? Will we be able to overcome the class system which has become so widespread in this society? After a person is classified as Shia or Sunni, the situation gets further complicated. If he was Sunni, he is further sub-classified depending on the tribe he comes from and whether he is of Arab or Huwala origins and this further breaks down to whether he is close to the Ruling Family or related and other factors. On the other hand, if he is Shia, then the classification depends on whether he is originally from Manama or a villager. Those from Manama are city people and are thereby better and more sophisticated than those from villages, who depended on farming and fishing for their livelihoods. The next basis of classification is their religious role-model and that is a cause for preferences as the followers of one look down on the followers of the rest. Another cause of friction is whether they are the followers of this matam (Shia religious gathering place), who are in constant fights with the followers of that matam, etc.
The end result is that sectarianism (or the class system) is something deeply rooted in us, in more ways than we know. And even if we agree that we shouldn’t differentiate between the people of this nation to the degree that we wouldn’t be able to make out one person from the other, it would be impossible to completely eradicate sectarianism (or the class system), given our current conditions. All that I am saying is that this division and sectarianism is the result of the backwardness which is deeply rooted within us and that Islamic theory (even if it is the scapegoat we can hang the blame on for all our troubles today) is only a means which was used to implement sectarianism among us.
The situation is critical. We are living today on a keg of oil which is about to explode. Remember how religion was abused in the so called war of the Afghan Mujahedeen and how it resulted in the birth of the Taliban mentality which is among the most dangerous terrorist and extremist mentalities today. Remember how the conflict with Iran in the 80s resulted in dangerous terminology which is still being echoed in our newspapers today such as calling people Majoos (fire-worshipers) and Safawis (in reference to the Shia Safawi dynasty in Iran) and how these terms have created a rift in our society and how its wounds are still apparent after 20 years?
Will we ever wake up?
Questing toward an Awakening from the Nightmare
The view from halfway across the solar system is fuzzy and indistinct. But I can make out three major issues.
First, Arab Muslim kinship is unusual among the peoples of the Earth in that they typically marry within the lineage. A man will prefer to marry his father’s brother’s daughter. This is called consanguineous marriage, because it is within the same bloodline or lineage. Because both man and wife marry within the same lineage they grew up in and raise their children in the same lineage, they are less likely to develop close ties with each other than if one was in a strange place. Both husband and wife already have long-standing support systems in the lineage. The woman is less likely to be divorced by her husband (because he won’t be allowed by his kin to divorce her), and she and the children will be protected by his and her kin if she is divorced or widowed. She will probably end up married to one of his brothers as a second or third wife. It is a very stable system for lineages, but less stable for societies. The rate of consanguineous marriage is between 30% and 80% in the Arab world. This makes the lineage more important than anything to Arabs. It also explains veiling, and the bandit tribe nature of Arab ruling families, but that’s another issue.
Compare this to the old European standard form of cousin marriage. A man of old Europe would have preferred to marry his father’s sister’s daughter or his mother’s brother’s daughter. Since intermarriage between clans was often used to patch up disputes, it became the standard thing. Wives would leave their family and bear children into the lineage of their husbands. A woman’s brother’s children were not therefore of the same lineage as hers. And the result of this sort of marriage over time is that the lineage has not the same central importance as it has in a consanguineous system. Clan and tribe ties were looser and reached further, and this tended to encourage the development of nations where all felt a real sense of brotherhood and family that permeated all the strata of society.
These days in the West, cousin marriage is frowned upon and in many places it is prohibited by force of law. This is one of the keys to the peaceful societies of the West.
Second, Jihad is a religious obligation to wage war for Allah. And in order that warriors be ready to wage war against infidels, human nature being what it is they will keep in practice by assaulting other clans. Once a dispute has started between clans the feuds are almost impossible to start because of the importance of lineage and family honor. As long as Jihad is a religious imperative for holy war Muslims will prefer war to peace. As long as they prefer war to peace they will fight among themselves. And as long as they constantly fight the hostility between lineages will be increased and sustained.
Third, Ideology is a powerful idea, powerful, perverse and uncontrollable. The 20th century is littered with mass ideological movements that hoped to bring about a new Eden by making simple systemic changes to human behavior, and instead created Hell on Earth for their victims. Nazism, Communism, Socialism, and the Islamism of the Taliban and Al Qaeda are some of these movements. These ideologies all operated under the assumption that human behavior could be adjusted and perfected by a vanguard or elite class. And yet what happened when ideologies such as Soviet Communism were able to form governments and rule over people? Human behavior stayed the same and the system adjusted in order to force humans to support the Communist system, thus turning into a vast and efficient machine for crushing human will. A wise man once said, “Be careful what you wish for. You might get it.” The initial, idealized goal of anointing a vanguard to create a system for the equal and free exercise of human will was irrelevant to the resulting system. Rather, the ideological system when implemented had perverse effects that crushed human will in a devilish, tyrannical machine. And this is all because ideologues insist on defining their systems by their intentions, which never works, rather than their results. The only way to get to the desired end point is to start by deciding how you will know when you have reached your goal, then take a small first step and test the results, then take another small step and test again. Repeat again and again, honing the result with each step and measurement, and once you have reached the end state, as defined by the results you expected when you started the trip, then you have a path that works. And what works, the path that falls out of an organic and non-ideological process like this, is a benign and loving and humane system.
Ideology is not sufficient, or even necessary, to create a good result, the most important piece of the puzzle is understanding how you will know when you have gotten to the good place. If you know that, the path will follow.
When Arab Muslims solve these three problems of consanguinity, Jihad, and ideology, they will have solved the riddle of what this Bahrani writer calls sectarianism. They will be able to function as cohesive nations with non-tyrannical, representational systems of government. They will put down the weapons of holy war and redefine Jihad as an inner struggle. They will stop thinking of marriage as a way to reinforce the ties within their lineage and start thinking of it as a way of creating linkages and reducing tensions between different lineages.
The answer to the question posed in the title is “YES.”
Should Muslims desire to awaken from their civilizational nightmare the first step is to ban cousin marriage in all Muslim states. It is a hard step to take, but it is worth it for the promise the future holds.