FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Droning Into a War on Tribal Islam

by FRANKLIN C. SPINNEY

Bina Shah has written an excellent review of Akbar Ahmed’s important new book, The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam (Brookings, March 2013). I urge you to read it carefully, because I think it accurately sums up much of Ahmed’s tour de force, at least in so far as I understand it.

Shah’s review appeared in the 7 April 2013 issue of the Pakistani newspaper Dawn  It stands in sharp contrast to Michael O’Hanlon’s petulant review that appeared in the Brookings own blog, which I also urge you to read carefully.

 

O’Hanlon, a typical inside-the-beltway, thinky-tanky self-proclaimed defense scholar, a defender of the Afghan surge and the drone war, cherry-picks a few quotes (out of 369 pages!) in a pique of critique.  In so doing he sounds more like a Pentagon PR drone defending the farm than a serious reviewer making a dispassionate effort to understand and dissect Ahmed’s thesis.  In contrast, Bina Shah, a novelist, has produced a far more nuanced review that, I think, accurately addresses the core of Ahmed’s thesis, albeit from what is clearly a sympathetic viewpoint.

So what is their difference of opinion about?

The Thistle and Drone documents the results of about 40 case studies in the world wide crises of tribal-central government (periphery-center) relations in Islamic societies.  Ahmed argues how the effects of globalization, especially the war on terror, doubly especially the drone war, is destabilizing the already existing crises in these center-periphery relations and is morphing into a catastrophic anti-tribal religious war.  This is a subject about which most Americans, including O’Hanlon, as well as myself, know almost nothing.

But at least I am learning, thanks to this book.

I found Ahmed’s work to be a fascinating dissection of the tensions among the moral
thethistleandthedrone systems of traditional tribal cultures, Islam, and the modern states in which they exist.  It is both scholarly and highly informative — and it is elegantly written and easy to understand.

Ahmed is a PhD anthropologist by training (Cambridge) and now holds the appropriately named Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington DC.  But he also has a wealth of practical real world experience: He served a the Political Agent of the Pakistani central government in the South
Waziristan, a place now called the most dangerous place on earth (see this video of his speech to an interfaith conference at the Chautaugua Institute), and as the Pakistan’s ambassador to the UK.

Too often American foreign policy is shaped by a naive projection of our own values onto other people about which we know very little, conditioned always by heavy doses arrogance and ignorance.  Ahmed’s book is a dose of corrective medicine in this regard.  Of course, given its incredibly broad sweep, just about any reader will find passages he or she disagrees with or subjects that are perhaps not addressed sufficiently to one’s satisfaction.

While Professor Ahmed admirably dissects Pakistani President Musharraf’s dysfunctional role in the so-called War on Terror, I, for example, wish he had devoted more time to analyzing the legacy of General Zia ul-Haq’s rule of Pakistan (1977-88) and how that regime shaped contemporary Pakistani politics and its evolving relationship with the United States.  I say this because Zia’s rule coincided with the buildup to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, including the Carter Administration’s efforts in 1979 to use religious fervor to provoke the Soviets into invading Afghanistan, the resulting flood of Afghan refugees into the tribal areas of Pakistan, the emergence of the Saudi-influenced Madrassa culture in the tribal areas, and the evolution of the US-Saudi-Pakistani support of the Mujaheddin in Afghanistan in the 1980s during the Reagan Administration.

On the other hand, these omissions merely represent my own biases and interests, and they in no way detract from the larger cogency of Ahmed’s thesis.  In the words of Dr. Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, “This is a book of genuinely global importance; by offering a fresh and entirely persuasive analysis of what the West habitually and superficially treats as ‘religiously motivated’ violence and terror, it demands an urgent rethinking of the disastrous strategies that have been used in the last decade to combat the threat of terrorist activity.”

Caveat Emptor: Akbar Ahmed is a new found friend, whom I both like and admire as a person and as a scholar.

Franklin “Chuck” Spinney is a former military analyst for the Pentagon and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. He be reached at chuck_spinney@mac.com

 

 

 

 

Franklin “Chuck” Spinney is a former military analyst for the Pentagon and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. He be reached at chuck_spinney@mac.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
April 28, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Slandering Populism: a Chilling Media Habit
Andrew Levine
Why I Fear and Loathe Trump Even More Now Than On Election Day
Jeffrey St. Clair
Mountain of Tears: the Vanishing Glaciers of the Pacific Northwest
Philippe Marlière
The Neoliberal or the Fascist? What Should French Progressives Do?
Conn Hallinan
America’s New Nuclear Missile Endangers the World
Peter Linebaugh
Omnia Sunt Communia: May Day 2017
Vijay Prashad
Reckless in the White House
Brian Cloughley
Who Benefits From Prolonged Warfare?
Kathy Kelly
The Shame of Killing Innocent People
Ron Jacobs
Hate Speech as Free Speech: How Does That Work, Exactly?
Andre Vltchek
Middle Eastern Surgeon Speaks About “Ecology of War”
Matt Rubenstein
Which Witch Hunt? Liberal Disanalogies
Sami Awad - Yoav Litvin - Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb
Never Give Up: Nonviolent Civilian Resistance, Healing and Active Hope in the Holyland
Pete Dolack
Tribunal Finds Monsanto an Abuser of Human Rights and Environment
Christopher Ketcham
The Coyote Hunt
Mike Whitney
Putin’s New World Order
Ramzy Baroud
Palestinian, Jewish Voices Must Jointly Challenge Israel’s Past
Ralph Nader
Trump’s 100 Days of Rage and Rapacity
Harvey Wasserman
Marine Le Pen Is a Fascist—Not a ‘Right-Wing Populist,’ Which Is a Contradiction in Terms
William Hawes
World War Whatever
John Stanton
War With North Korea: No Joke
Jim Goodman
NAFTA Needs to be Replaced, Not Renegotiated
Murray Dobbin
What is the Antidote to Trumpism?
Louis Proyect
Left Power in an Age of Capitalist Decay
Medea Benjamin
Women Beware: Saudi Arabia Charged with Shaping Global Standards for Women’s Equality
Rev. William Alberts
Selling Spiritual Care
Peter Lee
Invasion of the Pretty People, Kamala Harris Edition
Cal Winslow
A Special Obscenity: “Guernica” Today
Binoy Kampmark
Turkey’s Kurdish Agenda
Guillermo R. Gil
The Senator Visits Río Piedras
Jeff Mackler
Mumia Abu-Jamal Fights for a New Trial and Freedom 
Cesar Chelala
The Responsibility of Rich Countries in Yemen’s Crisis
Leslie Watson Malachi
Women’s Health is on the Chopping Block, Again
Basav Sen
The Coal Industry is a Job Killer
Judith Bello
Rojava, a Popular Imperial Project
Robert Koehler
A Public Plan for Peace
Sam Pizzigati
The Insider Who Blew the Whistle on Corporate Greed
Nyla Ali Khan
There Has to be a Way Out of the Labyrinth
Rivera Sun
Blind Slogans and Shallow Greatness
Michael J. Sainato
Trump Scales Back Antiquities Act, Which Helped to Create National Parks
Stu Harrison
Under Duterte, Filipino Youth Struggle for Real Change
Martin Billheimer
Balm for Goat’s Milk
Stephen Martin
Spooky Cookies and Algorithmic Steps Dystopian
Michael Doliner
Thank You Note
Charles R. Larson
Review: Gregor Hens’ “Nicotine”
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail