As I wrote in “Neither Left nor Right,” before there can be a rational way to deal with the political troubles that are currently escalating in the Middle East, there must first be an understanding of Arab societies and their culture. This requires an understanding of tribalism and its relationship to the states in the Middle East.
From a historical perspective, tribal societies existed for millennia in the Middle East long before Arabs began converting to Mohammedanism in the seventh century and long before modern states with their precise boundaries were formed. In many ways these tribal roots are deeper than the Arab’s religious and political beliefs and they determine their behavior to a far greater extent. Tribal loyalties in the Middle East cut across the national boundaries that were arbitrarily laid down by England and France during the early part of the twentieth century. Furthermore, from a characterological perspective, Arabs belong in various degrees to the far right of the political center. These are important but frequently overlooked considerations at a time when America is struggling to work out a diplomatic resolution to the conflicts in that region.
As in the case of a medical disease there must first be an understanding of the disease before a rational treatment can be instituted. Symptomatic measures without knowledge of the underlying pathology are guaranteed to fail.