Samson Blinded: A Machiavellian Perspective on the Middle East Conflict
[ Ethnic and cultural groups ]


The relevance of the demographic bulge among youth varies depending on education and economic opportunities: American baby boomers were assimilated after a short adjustment, though in Islamic countries they remain insufficiently employed and violent. Youth, however, rarely vote and exert limited influence on politics; riots culminate in revolutions only sporadically. Education may be culturally inherent, as in Japan, or a means to realistically attainable material gain, as in America. Superficial learning promotes hatred: people are conscious of scholarly defined, thus ostensibly substantial, cultural differences; unable to analyze them; ambitious because education is unusual in their milieu; unable to realize their ambitions because their education and skills are non-competitive; and lack tolerance which develops slowly through long affluence. Idealism, rationalism, ignorance of opposing views and the inability to comprehend the difficulties of social engineering substantiate revolutionary aggression.

The drive to well-being is very powerful, and people rarely choose cultural conflicts when economic opportunities are available. People working for sustenance have no time for xenophobia, unless it offers them loot (a shortcut to sustenance) or when they cannot sustain themselves regardless of toil (hunger revolts). Xenophobia is the domain of the lower-middle class, unrealized professionals and students without prospects of employment.

Xenophobia realizes ambitions either actively, through participation in politics and violence, or passively, by pinpointing culprits ostensibly responsible for the lack of opportunities. Ambitions are realized, albeit irrationally and without economic gain, in the first case, and reduced without a dent in self-esteem in the second. Like a lightning takes the random path of least resistance when a conduit is unavailable, ambitions are variously realized when economic opportunities are unavailable. Conflicts occur along cultural lines because they are clear, and rallying other losers is simple; cultural differences in themselves, however, do not cause conflicts. Cultural fault lines usually relate to religion (now, though not in tolerant polytheist antiquity) or ethnicity because those notions are superficially understandable and big enough that violence on their behalf soothes frustrated ambitions. Other cultural fault lines include class, property distinctions, or even soccer clubs. Differences are everywhere; they become fault lines only when real interests pressure them. Group allegiances become prominent in crises but generally do not cause them.

Capable opportunists sometimes head xenophobic movements, but the rank-and-file are losers who lack the resolution to compete economically. Their hatreds are similarly irresolute. Minimal opposition suffices to quash them: magistrates watched the pogroms with complacency, and anti-American protesters in dar al Islam do not fear reprisal. When, however, real interests are at stake, people are ready to suffer, like in rebellions against tyrants. Xenophobia does not make wars.

Border populations fight along civilizational fault lines when their neighbors belong to another civilization and along ethnic or religious fault lines when their neighbors belong to different ethic or religious groups. Advances in communication and transportation blurred micro-level territorial groups, then blurred the mid-level groups, states. That process is underway in Europe, but other continents will follow. Hearing of blocs like “the free world” or “the West,” other countries answer in kind, inventing extra-large groups with extra-weak bonds, such as the world of Islam. Opposition shapes affiliation.

Muslim Malaysia vents its ambitions through economic activity, fueled by its Chinese population; Muslim Iran suppresses its enterprising class and realizes ambitions by spreading fundamentalism and terrorism. Traditional Islam, unlike Confucianism, does not emphasize a work ethic, worldly gain, or education; the bureaucratized Arab and Turk empires inhibited private initiative. Those differences produced significantly different Arab-Muslim and Confucian economies and, therefore, politics. National competitiveness develops in clusters of related industries like crystals grow spontaneously in saturated liquids; growth builds on itself. Muslim culture, not seething with business activity, is not competitive. Lacking rigorous technical education, Muslim countries, unlike Russia, do not produce even isolated geniuses.

Societies are complex adaptive systems, and no single factor responsible for development can be singled out. Rather, development depends on an almost intangible mix of factors. A mild climate benefits intellectual activity and creates agricultural surplus. Population must be dense enough to communicate, defend itself, and promote trade, yet sparse enough or isolated by terrain to make totalitarian control not feasible. Religion is not a primary factor in development; rather, economies and faiths shape each other. Random factors are at play: occasional wise rulers who establish just laws, the absence of vulnerable neighbors and slaves so people are not prone to loot and oppress, and trade opportunities that open nations to other cultures and promote education. Development cannot be modeled: an emphasis on education in the absence of employment radicalizes society, and emphasis on employment regardless of education creates low-wage-addicted economies. Free societies balance the factors empirically during a gradual advance. Development is self-reinforcing and initially accelerates when more people adopt the beneficial behavioral patterns of winners and slows when an affluent population behaves comfortably rather than efficiently.

Not all cultures are equally militaristic. Monotheist religions and ideologies opposed to common sense suppress dissent and are violent. Mature monotheist religions become, in a sense, polytheist, tolerating other confessions for political reasons. Burdensome religions, such as Islam, which permeate daily life with restrictions and obligations, keep their adherents on a short leash and make them intolerant. The same burden, however, quickly moderates those religions through interpretation or hypocrisy. After a short period of jihad, Islam was relatively peaceful for centuries, but the present fleeting resurgence demands a major place for Islam in the world and is aggressive. Christianity was more expansive than Islam, bringing its teaching to Africa and America by force, and in a sense is aggressive even now.

Religious resurgence is often fundamentalist. New bigots know the religion superficially but need to identify its enemies clearly to channel the discontent. They attain energy through velocity rather than mass and compensate shallowness of knowledge with force of convictions. Their religiosity is in fact nationalism where a nation is defined in religious terms.