The Global War on Tribes  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

CounterPunch has an article on modern resource wars being conducted against tribal groups - The Global War on Tribes.

The so-called “Global War on Terror” is quickly growing outside the borders of Iraq and Afghanistan, into new battlegrounds in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and beyond. The Pentagon is vastly increasing missile and gunship attacks, Special Forces raids, and proxy invasions--all in the name of combating “Islamist terrorism.” Yet within all five countries, the main targets of the wars are predominantly “tribal regions,” and the old frontier language of Indian-fighting is becoming the lexicon of 21st-century counterinsurgency. The “Global War on Terror” is fast morphing into a “Global War on Tribes.”

Tribal regions are local areas where tribes are the dominant form of social organization, and tribal identities often trump state, ethnic, and even religious identities. Tribal peoples have a strongly localized orientation, tied to a particular place. Their traditional societies are based on a common culture, dialect, and kinship ties (through single or multiple clans). Although they are tribal peoples, they are not necessarily Indigenous peoples--who generally follow nature-centered spiritual and cultural systems. Nearly all tribal communities in the Middle East and Central Asia have been Islamicized or Christianized, but they still retain their ancient social bonds.

Yet modern counterinsurgency doctrine only views tribal regions as festering cauldrons of lawlessness, and “breeding grounds” for terrorism, unless the tribes themselves are turned against the West’s enemies. The London Times (1/5/10), for example, crudely asserts that Yemen’s “mountainous terrain, poverty and lawless tribal society make it… a close match for Afghanistan as a new terrorist haven.” This threatening view of tribal regions is, of course, as old as European colonialism itself. ...

Whether in Mexico, India, Iraq, or the United States and Canada, the Global War on Tribes has some common characteristics. First, the war is most blatantly being waged to steal the natural resources under tribal lands. The rugged, inaccessible terrain that prevented colonial powers from eliminating tribal societies also made accessing minerals, oil, timber and other resources more difficult--so (acre for acre) more of the resources are now left on tribal lands than on more accessible lands.

Resources are not always the underlying explanation for war, but they’re a pretty good start at an explanation. In the case of Indigenous tribal peoples, their historic attention to biodiversity has also enabled natural areas to be relatively protected until now, as corporations seek out the last remaining pockets of natural resources to extract. Look no further than the Alberta Tar Sands, for instance, to see the exploitation of Native lands by modern oil barons.

Like in Avatar, Native peoples often resist the militarization brought by corporate invaders seeking to mine “unobtainium,” and they don’t need a white messiah riding a red dragon to guide them to victory. In his book Resource Rebels: Native Challenges to Mining and Oil Corporations, Al Gedicks notes, “Up until recently, the tendency in the mass media has been to stereotype native people as fighting a losing battle against the onslaught of industrial civilization. But after two decades of organizing local, national, regional and international alliances, assisted by…the Internet, native voices can no longer be ignored in powerful places” (p. 1).

Second, the Global War on Tribes is a campaign against the very existence of tribal regions that are not under centralized state control. The tribal regions still retain forms of social organization that has not been solely determined by capitalism. In her anthology Paradigm Wars, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Chair of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, comments that “promoters of economic globalization, the neocolonizers, use the overwhelming pressure of homogenization to teach us that indigenous political, economic and cultural systems are obstacles to their ‘progress.’” (p. 14).

The point is not that all tribal peoples pose an egalitarian alternative to neoliberal capitalism. Some (such as Indigenous peoples) certainly do have strong egalitarian principles, but many other tribal peoples --such as in the new conflict zones--certainly do not (particularly toward women). The salient point is not that all tribal cultures are paradise, but that they are not capitalist, and neoliberal capitalism cannot stand anything other than Total Control.

Third, the collective form of organization enables tribal peoples to fight back against state control and corporate globalization. When I asked Arundhati Roy at a Seattle forum (3/29/10) why counterinsurgency wars seem to be focused on tribal regions, she answered that tribal peoples do not have a “bar-coded” view of the world. Tribes still have the social networks to defend their lands and ways of life—networks of trust anchored in deeply held values that citizens of urban industrial society generally lack.

Speaking of Arundhati Roy, she's in a little trouble over her recent article on the Naxalite rebellion in India - Author investigated over rebel ties.
A Booker Prize-winning author is facing a police investigation over her links with Maoist insurgents behind the massacre of more than 70 soldiers.

Police in Chhattisgarh, central India, confirmed they had ordered an investigation into Arundhati Roy's comments in a magazine article in which she outlines her sympathy for the Maoist insurgency.

Her comments brought an official complaint from a local activist under the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act 2005 who claims the article was intended to drum up support for the Maoists. She can be held for several years without bail and jailed for two years if found to have violated the act.

Since her novel The God of Small Things won the Booker Prize in 1997, Roy has campaigned for the rights of India's tribal people who have been ousted from their land to make way for mines, factories, roads and dams. ...

In a statement to an Indian newspaper, Roy denied her article had glorified the Maoists, and said the investigation was an attempt to ''cordon off the theatre of war and choke the flow of critical information coming out of the forests''.

Roy was jailed in New Delhi in 2007 for contempt of court over a protest against a dam project in the Narmada Valley.

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