by Charles Notess
Last Updated 1-04-07


The "Iraq Study Group Report" by James Baker and Lee Hamilton, Co-Chairs, is now in the public domain.

Yet, it includes little or no discussion of considerations that contribute significantly to violence in the Middle East.

Most Americans are aware of the well known contributors to violence in Iraq, which are: occupation by foreign powers, destruction of Iraq's infrastructure and the decadent and immoral standards of Western television and other forms of mass communication. The ones that are overlooked are a strong cultural difference that in the Middle East is tied to a system of justice based on patriarchal and tribal commitments. Others, about which we have heard little, are: unemployment among youth and adults, and problems associated with: managing identities during times of cultural change, commitment to narrow tribal perspectives, and a lack of education and experiences that are so essential for strengthening inclusivist and pluralist attitudes. I believe that these latter contributions to violence have to be included in any planning for peace in the Middle East.

A recent book that will help those who wish to understand the failure of American Policies in the Middle East is one by Professor Lawrence E. Harrison. It is entitled: The Central Liberal Truth: How Politics Can Change a Culture and Save It from Itself. This book builds upon research conducted by the Culture Matters Research Project administered by the Fletcher School at Tufts University. Some 60 professionals from around the world were involved in research and writing about how cultural values, beliefs, and attitudes interact with economic, political, religious, educational, and other institutions to advance and/or retard the evolution of human societies toward a good quality of life for all. This book complements my forthcoming book: Countering Polarizing. I recommend his book highly. It is well written and summarizes much research from around the world that I have not included in my E-book.

The commitment to narrow perspectives is a wide-spread problem in patriarchal tribal cultures wherein the family patriarch was also the judge. Maintaining family honor is a very important aspect of such judicial systems. This leads to blaming others for problems that inhibit family happiness. In some cases such as an unapproved romance, the father feels obligated to kill his daughter because her actions or her rape dishonored the family. Women's rights in some of these tribes are severely limited.


An emphasis on commitment to small, exclusivist communities and perspectives can be divided into two parts. One part is attachment to a supportive community such as a village or ethnic enclave. I have found this attachment illustrated by children of Polish-American families in Buffalo, N.Y. of the 1950's. Some were eager to reduce family ties and move out to the suburbs, blending into the American main stream way of life. This was found moreso in young men who had their worldview expanded by service in the military. Some of the young women in the same family preferred to stay in the Polish ghetto, attached to and benefitting from the mutual support of traditional ethnic communities. I have heard many folk songs about love for the old village in Macedonian, Serbian, Irish, and other cultures. Such attachments tend to provide support and strengthen the personal identities of some people, though at the same time they might slow down assimilation into a more modern urbanized culture.

The second part of commitments to a small perspective is one that involves commitment to a doctrinaire interpretation of faith in a beligious belief system or a politico-economic ideology. Many true believers were raised in authoritarian households that restrict interaction with others who follow different interpretations. After leaving home to go to college or to start their own life and career, some are exposed to diverse faiths, ideologies, and life styles for the first time and have difficulty adjusting. Following an exclusivist set of doctrines and belief system, they had little experience in tolerating diversity. They were weak in skills of critical thinking. Their religious teachers and parents relied on guilt and shame to guide the child along a narrow path and these emotions were driven down into their unconscious. A book that describes this aspect very well is Leaving the Fold - A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving Their Religion by Marlene Winell. She described how Christian fundamentalists emphasize a narrow interpretation of the Bible in their efforts to provide a "good" society.

I believe that attachment and the latter kind of narrow-world-view, exclusivist doctrine also exist among many Muslim people, though in ways that differ from those among Christians. Many people need and depend upon these forms of exclusivism, but others become confused as they encounter people who seem to thrive relating to diverse and broader perspectives. These problems can be mitigated as a society educates young people about critical thinking, and provides school, play, and work experiences with others who follow diverse interpretations of sacred writings and different paths to being compassionate, creative, and open to new ideas. Problems resulting from reliance on guilt and shame in both of these world faiths, can be changed so as not to imprison followers in a fatalistic worldview wherein one relies upon old interpretations of "the will of God" to solve problems and thus reduces innovation and exploration. My short E-book, entitled: Reality and Faith - A Coming Together of Faith and Reason provides background information on trends in religion. Go there now.

Progressive interpretations of the Bible and the Qur'an are being written by scholars, especially since the disaster of 9-11-01. It takes time for scholars to gather information, write books and then get them published. The writings of John Spong, Diana Eck, Marcus Borg, Omid Safi, Khaled Abou El Fadl, Amina Wadud and many others are examples of progressive interpretions.

My short web posting entitled: Working Toward Peace by Balancing Commitments to Narrow and Wide Perspectives includes a discussion of problems that many people have as a society becomes more inclusive and pluralistic. See the discussion in its second section entitled: Managing Identities Amidst Too Many Relationships.

In conclusion, narrow, exclusivist commitments do provide benefits for those who prefer the simple worldview and they guide many to become compassionate, kind and caring people. On the other hand in pluralist situations that include people with diverse worldviews, ambiguous situations and cultural change can cause some to feel lost and others to rely on terror to preserve their worldview.


Might it have been better for Iraq if economic development and improvement of services such as water, waste disposal, transportation, schools, health care, electricity, and other utilities were provided with manual labor rather than Halliburton crews and their hugh machines? This would have provided many jobs quickly. It could have provided inclusive work teams organized in ways that strengthen pluralistic relationships among the team members. It could have been organized to distribute wealth much more equitably. With pluralistic experiences young people could have been guided to form personal identities based upon good values and trust in government agencies.

Modern technology and machines could have been brought in after committed and effective regional and state-wide judicial systems were established to prevent the corruption and maldistribution of wealth that so often is found in states that are rushed to modernize their culture before effective and trustworthy institutions are established.

It takes time to develop institutional change. Professor Roland Paris, in his book At War's End - Building Peace After Civil Conflict, wrote about the time it takes for establishing democracy and a market economy and says the competition included in market economies can cause problems if it appears too soon after a civil war. A key phrase that Roland Paris defines in his book is: "IBL - Institutionalization Before Liberalization" (following Woodrow Wilson's ideas related to liberal democracy) and marketization reforms. His book describes efforts to bring peace to 14 nations during the interval 1989 to 1999.

I believe that it is not too late to request the Shiite and Sunni leaders in Iraq to issue strong statements related to educating their Imams about how to lead their followers away from killing and narrow tribal commitments to reconciliation and commitments to institutions of larger scale governing and judicial systems. Traditionally, the Shiites were on average lower class and more strict in following religious doctrines whereas Sunni's were the educated upper class, many quite secular in their ways. The Sunni look down on the Shiites like the Protestants in Ireland look down on Catholics and Whites in the USA look down on Afro-Americans. More equality in educational opportunities and mind-broadening experiences that develop Social Capital are needed. Social Capital is described by Robert Putnam in his book, Making Democracy Work.

My detailed Bibliography that includes the sources mentioned above along with many others related to my book, Countering Polarization. It is accessible on the web at: Bibliography.

© Copyright: by Charles Notess, 2006. "Fair use" encouraged.

See other postings by Charles Notess at: Postings.