According to Salzman, “conflicts within the Middle East cannot be separated from its people’s culture….while many diplomats and analysts view the Arab-Israeli dispute and conflicts between Muslim and non-Muslim communities through the prism of political grievance, the roots of such conflicts lie as much in culture and Arab tribalism.” (Salzman 2008, p. 23) His particular opinion on the subject comes from a great deal of research and his own opinions on the way the Arab world is run – operating mostly on cultural differences causing conflict than anything related to the political and military sphere encountered there. In this paper, we will evaluate why he has come to these conclusions, and the way in which he has done it, with help from other sources.
Tribalism is the name of the game, according to Salzman, and even Peteet (2008) claims that “tribes now complete with Islam as an explanatory device” to offer something to blame for the overall instability in the region of the Middle East. Joseph, on the other hand, explains that tribalism and sectarianism are often completely imagined as concepts, both by the Western world and by those in sectarian groups themselves. (Joseph 2008)
Salzman (2008) claims that alienation between Israel and Arabs are derived from four different factors – “the defense of honor, segmentary opposition, transference of discontent outward, and conflicting material interests.” He also states that these are largely due to culture, as Arabs are a notoriously proud and stubborn people, carrying fragile egos that can lead to a loss of ‘honor’ among their own. They will often blame others for their own situation and take steps to eliminate them for their impertinence.
One of the biggest problems with Salzman’s determinations comes largely from Davis’ idea that we simply do not know enough about the “real” Middle East to know for sure. “The Middle East continues to be analyzed through a conceptual prism that has changed little since the collapse of colonial rule.” (Davis 2008) In essence, we need to alter our methods of looking at the Middle East in order to gain a more accurate picture of what is going on; right now, we are operating on an antiquated way of examining the sectarian violence and the poorly run government. We cannot say for sure that it is due to the culture in and of itself; a better, more modern and reflective way of discussing Arab culture must be found and implemented.
Not only that, Makdisi (2008) claims that there are too many assumptions made about the Middle East, and how sectarianism applies to it, to make an accurate analysis. “The study of Middle Eastern sectarianism is extraordinarily politicized,” Makdisi says. It is based on old Protestant and Orientalist concepts of sectarianism that may or may not apply anymore.
Despite Salzman’s assertions to the contrary, there is a lot more to the violence in the Middle East that cannot simply be chalked up to “tribalism” and “sectarian violence.” There has to be explanations given at the political or military level if there is to be some sort of common ground found in order to form a lasting peace. It is possible to live in peace while still having sectarian conflicts; therefore, there must be a higher-reaching problem that exists there that is much easier to fix and will be far more effective. What’s more, it will cost far less human life.
Davis, E. (2008). A Sectarian Middle East?. International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 40.
Joseph, S. (2008). Sectarianism as Imagined Sociological Concept and as Imagined Social Formation. International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 40.
Makdisi, U. (2008). Moving Beyond Orientalist Fantasy, Sectarian Polemic, and Nationalist Denial. International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 40.
Peteet, J. (2008). Imagining the "New Middle East". International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 40.
Salzman, P. C. (2008). Middle East's Tribal DNA. Middle East Quarterly, Winter, 23-33.