ISIS And Al Qaeda Are Landlocked … And Only Tribes Can Defeat Them
November 20, 2018
ISIS And Al Qaeda Are Landlocked … And Only Tribes Can Defeat Them
Anyone who doubts the direct and major impact our instinctive tribal behaviors have on the world today can have their doubts resolved immediately, by looking at painfully obvious and clearly visible tribe linked events happening in multiple settings.
The Middle East is awash in tribal conflicts. Syria is at war with itself, and that war is tribal to its core. A minority tribe has gained control of the country, wrapped itself in the illusion of national governance legitimacy, and has practiced all of the conscience free and evil us/them behaviors that can happen when those basic intergroup instincts are triggered and activated at their most primal and negative levels.
The minority tribe that controls Syria today has dropped barrel-bombs on civilians from other tribes in that country because — as the InterGroup books all point out — we suspend conscience, and we feel no guilt in doing damage to whoever we define to be “Them” at the most primal, instinct guided levels.
Iraq is also at war with itself and those battles are equally tribal. Sunni tribes, Shia tribes, and Kurdish tribes have been in conflicted status with each other for centuries. Those tribal conflicts in that country began centuries ago, with people using swords, knives, and spears to kill one another in very primal settings. That country now has modern people killing each other with the most modern weaponry we have available, and they are achieving the exact same, very primal murderous outcomes.
Sadly, those conflicts in Iraq and in a couple of other Middle East countries, sometimes regress, even today, to the old weaponry and behavior that descends to people beheading other people with those same primal swords that took lives in those exact same settings centuries ago.
We have clearly not made a lot of progress in some key areas of behavior and we have not created more modern value systems with the same skill sets that we used to create modern weapons.
Tribes were central to the bloody intergroup damage that we saw in each of those settings centuries ago. They continue to be painfully relevant to the people who live in that same piece of the world today.
In Irag, very much like Syria, we had the national power structure of the nation abused by tribal leaders and we are facing the consequences today of having dictators from local tribes who ran the government, and who used their tribal power to oppress and damage other tribes in the country.
A Sunni dictator in Iraq was replaced as the official national leader by a dictatorial leader from the Shia tribes. Each of the dictators used his national power position to intentionally damage people from other tribes in what were clearly instinctive intergroup ways.
All of the damaged tribes in that setting want revenge for their injuries. Their behaviors at this point are very easy to predict given their instinct sculpted motivations and their long and negative inter-tribal experiences.
Anyone who calls the conflicts in either Syria or Iraq political or ideological obviously isn’t paying attention to who is killing whom in each of those settings.
Kuwait, of course, is equally tribal. People from one set of local tribes were also dominated for years by another set of tribes — and the people who were dominated are now getting revenge, and trying to take their turn as the dominant tribal force in the area.
In each of those settings, instinctive intergroup behaviors are being activated in completely predictable, and consistently negative and damaging ways by each relevant tribal group.
The intergroup battles happening in each of those areas are exacerbated and inflamed by religious alignments that are held by each of the tribes. All of the people in those conflicted settings are Muslim. Each of the tribes is officially a Muslim tribe.
That fact doesn’t serve to align people in those settings in Peaceful ways, because there are several clearly defined ways to be Muslim, and the people who choose each of those ways tend to find themselves in a state of conflict with people who choose one of the other ways to practice that religion.
Each tribe in those settings has chosen to align with one of the three primary Muslim sects. Those affiliation choices are not made by individuals — they are made by entire tribes. Individuals are born into both their tribe and their religious connection.
Those choices of religious alignment by each of the local tribes create another level of differentiation that feeds the instinct-sculpted-conflict levels that we see in all of those settings between the tribes.
Each of the tribes uses their group religious alignment to define and reinforce their own tribal identity, and to give the tribes both justification and motivation for their intergroup aggression, intergroup hatred, and hostile and damaging intergroup interactions with other tribes.
A directly related behavior package that makes the whole region even more complex is that the tribes tend to reach alliances with other tribes in the region who share their chosen religious alignment.
The Shia tribes in the region tend to ally with other Shia tribes. Sunni tribes tend to ally with other Sunni tribes. Kurds tend to have an affinity for other Kurds.
Being Kurdish is not a political ideology and it is not a political identity. Being Kurdish is a tribal identity, and that tribal identity is reinforced by very clear sets of religious beliefs and traditions that are linked directly to the tribe.
The Kurds have a long history of being oppressed by both Shia and Sunni tribes. The other tribes have held power over the Kurds in each country where the Kurds live. Those other tribes who have run the countries have even sometimes denied the Kurds the use of the Kurdish language. Dominant local tribes in several settings have sometimes banned and outlawed various Kurdish cultural practices in a failed and futile attempt to make the Kurds disappear as a tribe.
So there is a significant amount of intergroup conflict in each of those settings that can be linked directly to the tribes in those settings.
The intergroup conflicts that are happening in each of those Middle Eastern countries have been complicated immensely in recent years by the emergence of both Al Qaeda, and The Islamic State jihadist groups as factors in the local fighting. Those jihadist groups each create their own additional levels of local conflict.
Both Al Qaeda and ISIS have armed followers who are fighting for control of major areas in several Middle Eastern countries.
Both groups have had significant success in gaining control over major portions of that turf. Both groups now have significant expanses of territory with control of the local population and local functional operations.
That particular development of having jihadist groups gaining power in the region does not change the tribal nature of those conflicts. It actually both highlights and exacerbates the relevance of tribes in those settings. It increase the relevance of tribes because both Al Qaeda and ISIS have religion based beliefs and practices that make them theologically limited as groups only to Sunni tribes.
They could not be more tribal. ISIS has deliberately and openly committed genocide against non-Sunni tribes. Al Qaeda is only open to Sunni tribes people as their members. The tribal alignment of both groups is explicit, deliberate, intentional, and stunningly rigid, clear, and absolute.
ISIS has actually enslaved and sold women from other tribes at explicitly tribal levels
An important point to recognize is that the direct tribal linkage that exists for those two organizations means that both ISIS and Al Qaeda are inherently land locked in their expansion potential. Both very literally have limited horizons. Neither group will ever persuade Kurdish tribes or Shia tribes to become their allies, or to voluntarily surrender control of their actual tribal territory or turf.
ISIS and Al Qaeda are both highly unlikely to have any volunteers ever joining them from Iran or from any other Shia populations. So their expansion into those particular geographic settings will be highly limited, and those limitations will not disappear.
It is also important to recognize and understand that in those parts of the region, where those Sunni linked jihadist groups actually have gained local support and control, that support has also reflected very negative intertribal history and it often happened for what are purely tribal and relevant reasons.
In both Iraq and Syria, there have been local Sunnis who believed their national government — when it was headed by Shia linked leaders from other tribes — was opposed to their tribe and damaging to tribal members. Sunni tribes people in those settings facing those negative and damaging intertribal situations, often lost faith in the ability of their own traditional tribal leaders to protect them from the hostile Shia run governments. Those Sunni tribes people who felt unprotected in those settings have been much more inclined to give their allegiance and their support to Al Qaeda and to ISIS, to serve as their functional and protective “Us.”
As the four InterGroup books point out, we all have a deep need and desire to be part of an “Us.” We all have a fear of being damaged by “Them.” We instinctively need to feel that we are part of an “Us.” We feel stress, anxiety, and even fear when we don’t have an “Us” that we trust in our lives.
ISIS and Al Qaeda have both become that “Us” for many Sunni tribes people in multiple settings where people believe that their tribal “Us” has failed them, and where the nation state that would potentially serve as their national “Us” is either non existent, functionally irrelevant, or even explicitly hostile or dangerous to them as members of Sunni tribes.
ISIS and Al Qaeda have each used the same six alignment triggers that are outlined in Primal Pathways and in The Art of InterGroup Peace. Adolf Hitler used those same six alignment triggers in Nazi Germany to get the support of the German people. Both Al Qaeda and ISIS are using those triggers in the Middle East today to achieve similar goals.
The six alignment triggers that can bring people together to be part of — and to support — a group are (1) a sense of danger, (2) a common enemy, (3) team identity and team activities, (4) a sense of being “Us,” (5) the prospect of mutual benefit or mutual gain, and (6) a commitment and sense of loyalty to either a mission or a leader.
Those six instinct linked triggers can be used to align people in almost any setting. They are clearly being used in the Middle East to get people to ally with the key jihadist groups there.
If we want to counter and constrain ISIS and Al Qaeda in those settings, the instinct related responses that can work to achieve that goal in the Sunni tribe settings are fairly clear. Tribes are the key. The instinctive linkages created by the tribes need to be used as a direct tool in those territories.
The Shia tribes and the Kurdish tribes in those areas already hate both of those Sunni jihadist organizations.
It is also possible to find tribal opposition to the jihadist groups within the Sunni tribes. There are many local Sunni tribes. They each have their own identity, legacy, infrastructure and turf. Each of the existing Sunni clans and tribes in those settings has relevance and functionality. They are a source of loyalty for people today.
To counter both of those jihadist groups, one approach that can work is to use both existing tribes and the current legacy tribal leaders who want to continue to lead their tribes, and who don’t want to be dominated by the jihadists to fight the jihadists.
It is a painfully simple strategy. Fight fire with fire. Create support and capability at the tribal level with tribes who do not want to be taken over to oppose both Al Qaeda and ISIS, and they will not be able to win in those areas. Where those tribes exist and where they have existing local leadership who do not want to be dominated, those jihadist groups will have no converts. Only armed enemies.
People love their tribes. People are aligned with their tribes. Anyone who does not want the jihadist groups to prevail in those areas can use that love, alignment, and instinct supported loyalty to prevail in those areas. Those tribes already tend to have their own police force and tribal militia, but they have been weakened deliberately in those areas. That can be changed.
There is a clear danger associated with using the militias from some of those tribes to do that work of local control today. Some of the tribal militias in those areas have done evil intertribal things to people from other tribes in the past. The Cusp of Chaos book and the Primal Pathways book both describe and explain why some of those evil behaviors have occurred. Whoever uses those militias as counters to the jihadist groups should not want a strategy that recreates those sets of damaging behaviors.
That history needs to be understood and future behaviors of the militias need to be controlled so those levels of ugly intertribal behaviors that have sometimes happened are not repeated.
The strategy going forward needs to have the leaders of those non-Sunni tribes agree to not committing local revenge based genocides as a condition for outside support. Anyone working with those tribes should know to deal with that instinct trigger danger and risk explicitly and directly as a condition for support.
For those areas where the tribes are Sunni, and where both ISIS and Al Qaeda have support, because they are perceived by local people to be the protector, and the functional “Us” that creates a better and safer future for local Sunni tribes people, the answer to opposing those two groups successfully in those areas needs to be the local tribes. People in all settings want to be part of an “Us.”
In those contested areas, the factor that wins the battle for people’s personal loyalty, and for triggering a winning sense of being a legitimate “Us” needs to be the local Sunni tribes and not the jihadist groups.
Instinctive behaviors at other important levels can be used to help create those wins. Both Alpha instincts and turf instincts are key to those strategies. Both of those sets of instincts can be activated to help the tribes prevail.
People who run the local tribes today generally do not want to surrender their own Alpha Status (also explained in Primal Pathways). They do not want to lose control over their tribal turf, and they do not want their own (centuries old) tribal cultures to be subordinated to either Al Qaeda or ISIS leaders for future control and cultural definition.
Looking at the whole situation from the context of instinctive behaviors, what each of those settings faces today is a clear and direct competition for the role of “Us.”
The nations that exist now in those settings have no possible chance of filling that role of being “Us” for the local people. The actual nations are functionally irrelevant. No one living in those settings perceives Syria, Iraq, or Kuwait in their national role to be a viable “Us” that meets the instinctive needs of people in those nations to have a viable, relevant, trusted and believable “Us” in their lives.
So the only real and viable battle for the role of being the new “Us” in those settings is between ISIS or Al Qaeda, and the local tribal or clan chief and the local tribal or clan culture. If people want ISIS and Al Qaeda to lose those local battles to be “Us,” then the answer in those settings needs to be for the local tribe or clan to win. There are no other dogs in that fight.
Wishful thinking will not win those wars. Local peace movements will also not be successful at this point in time. Having the most enlightened people who live in each of those settings — people who believe in democracy and who prefer to live in a democratic environment — somehow rise up with no weapons, no strategies, no leaders and no coordinating tools or functions, and somehow peacefully take local control in various settings to steer their setting peacefully, to elective government and to constitutional functionality of some kind is not a viable option.
Some people wish that local democratic support and more enlightened governance processes might spontaneously emerge and prevail in those settings, but wishing, hoping, and magical thinking isn’t a sufficient strategy tool kit to achieve that level of societal change.
Wishing will not make those local democratic approaches either possible or real. Beheadings and mass murders trump wishful thinking. We need solutions that work. We can actually mobilize tribes. We can’t mobilize unfocused wishes or good intentions.
Only tribes have the infrastructure, support, and leadership tools to be relevant as counters to the instinctive appeal of those jihadist groups in those areas at this point in history.
Time is limited.
We need to use tribes to do that work while we still have local leadership of tribes to use in those settings for those purposes.
That might not be forever. Once Al Qaeda or ISIS has taken over a piece of turf, they tend to kill anyone who fought with them in the past or who might fight with them in the future for the role of being “Us.” Killing their current, past and future opposition can be a very effective strategy on their part, and if it is done long enough in each setting, the underlying tribal functionality that exists now can simply be erased.
That fact and those practices give people another tool to use to recruit tribal leaders to the cause of performing their tribal functions and duties. Those legacy tribal leaders are clearly at risk if they don’t go down those pathways.
Tribal leaders in a number of those settings now tend to understand that to be true, because they have seen the dire consequences for leaders where those jihadist groups have triumphed. That realization can be motivating for tribal leaders.
Other key players in the world are clearly aware of the significance and role of tribes in those settings. Russia, for example, is beginning to play a role in those conflicts by creating alliances with the Shia tribes in those settings.
The Russian support for the Shia tribe in Syria has earned Russia the goodwill of the Iranians who are the Shia leaders for the world, and who very much want that Shia tribe in Syria to succeed and survive.
Survival is a very real issue and a powerful concern for the members of that currently dictatorial Shia tribe in Syria. They have functioned in cruel and dictatorial us/them instinct sculpted ways.
Strategies that keep the Shia tribe in Syria from facing revenge genocide and from facing massive retribution from the other tribes who make up the other 90 percent of the Syrian population could give Russia long standing support from Iran, and permanent support from the local minority tribes-people in Syria, whose best chance to survive might be the Russian intervention.
Separation of that conflicted country into component tribal parts is probably the best end game that will damage the fewest people. If each of the major groups is given the chance to govern themselves, then no one will be subjected to rule by tribes they hate. Division into self governing tribal parts is the only solution that does not perpetuate inter group warfare.
The Russians seem to be following bombing patterns that fit that possible outcome. Iran might support that tribal division strategy as well.
That approach could end the flood of refugees out of the country.
Russia has its own internal rebellions from separatist Sunni groups in Chechnya and several other Russian Confederation settings. That makes support for the Shia tribes in the Middle East even more understandable.
In that same region, the tribal issues and the intergroup conflicts for Israel and Palestine follow very similar patterns. In addition to the macro-issues of having a Jewish tribe and an overall Arab tribe who are each triggering their own sets of clear intergroup instinctive reactions, there are also clear differences between the Hezballa people who have full Shia alignments, and the Hamas and Fatah people who have Sunni alignments.
In each of the Sunni Palestinian areas, there are local clans and local tribes that each have their own legacy of creating internal alignment, and group loyalty and identity levels for their people.
The clans in some of the Palestinian settings have their own militias and they have sometimes used them against various parties in ways that met the needs of their own clans.
It is entirely possible that the local clans and tribes of Gaza will find solutions for their own governance issues in ways that are different from the approaches that meet the needs of the clans and the tribes for the Palestinians of the West Bank.
Anyone who tries to solve all of those local conflicts without looking at those realities is likely to find the level of difficulty for the solutions to be extremely high.
So in all of those settings and all of those countries, we need to recognize the role that tribes play now and we need to figure out the very best role for tribes to play in the future.
We can’t ignore tribes. Or clans. Or instinctive behaviors.
As the four InterGroup books point out, we are all creatures of our instinctive behaviors. That is true in every setting.
We can’t eliminate our instincts. We need to work with them if we want to create Peace in any of those conflicted settings where our instincts trigger, shape, reinforce, structure, and exacerbate the various intergroup conflicts. Tribal instincts are very high on the list of problematic influences for those settings.
Trying to deal with the massive impact of tribal instincts, tribal alignments, and tribal behaviors by ignoring tribes is not likely to succeed.
We also need to understand the power and the healing that we can create when we all accept our common humanity and when we chose to create a sense of “Us” that helps build the future we need in each setting.
The InterGroup books have all been written to help make that future of Peace and alignment happen. Those books were started more than two decades ago as observations about tribal behavior. They have expanded to broader topics, but the anchor role of tribes in all of those conflicted settings is as clear today as it was then.
Peace In Our Time. That goal is even more relevant today than it was two decades ago when the first drafts of the first InterGroup books were written.
We will not achieve Peace In Our Time if we don’t understand the impact that all of the tribes in all of those settings are having in creating conflict and possibly creating the potential context for Peace.
The Art of InterGroup Peace explains how that process can work. It isn’t obvious until it becomes clear.
And then it actually makes sense. We need a Peace movement … and that won’t happen until we actually commit to making it real.
This post was written by Institute for InterGroup Understanding