on nationhood, here and elsewhere

Thomas Friedman, one of the ideologues who eased us in to ideas such as the Iraq War or the world is flat, in the recent article Tribes With Flags, asks 'Are the new revolutions brewing in the Arab world democracy movements, or are they civil wars?'

Paul Reidinger
San Francisco

Mr. Friedman seems to imply that tribal identities are not modern, but what he really should say is that they aren't American -- and, as an American, he seems vexed and mystified that people in other parts of the world insist on remaining tribal instead of becoming like us, a deracinated whose identities largely have to do with consumerism. As wearying as the right's insistence on "American exceptionalism" has become, America is an exceptional country in the sense that it is non-tribal; it did not evolve as a growing web of blood connections (made through marriage) among a people who spoke a language, practiced a faith tradition and lived on a certain area of land. America grew, instead, as a hodgepodge of immigrant rushed in to fill the Louisiana Purchase before Britain or Spain could. What held the people together was the prospect of getting rich. Other, older places in the world are not like this and never will be. Until we come to some genuine understanding of this, and the true nature of our exceptionalism, we will continue to stumble. Does Mr. Friedman really believe that because Iraqis have "written" a constitution they will abide by it? It is a piece of paper, imposed by the Americans -- a kind of Weimar Republic of the Middle East.

Gene Bocknek
Andersonville TN

Before confining the discussion to the middle east, I suggest we include Yugoslavia, Russia, and Czechoslovakia, maybe Italy and Germany as well. The latter 2 became nations only in 1848, and there are still powerful cultural and regional distinctions ,as there are in our own country. Was Ukraine ever a nation? Or Slovakia? The states that formed Yugoslavia under Tito seem to be managing decently as autonomous units. In our own country ethnic/nationalistic movements may yet result in further segmenting, although our flexibility and history of incorporating others has helped us. I don't see the compelling evidence of a set of principles that prevent tribalization anywhere on a permanent basis. History and change keep moving.

Omar Ibrahim

The trouble, actually the serious problem, with the USA and by extension with Thomas Friedman and American pundits and think thanks in general , is that they presume to know what is best or worst for and/or with the Arabs without really caring to know what the Arabs really think and feel.

At one time, not long ago, THEY decided that the greatest eminent threat to Arabs was communism, which, actually, it was NOT and never was.

Based on their convictions they forged alliances with what turned out to be, not unexpectedly, the most oppressive and corrupt regimes in the Arab world thus not only alienating Arab public opinion but identifying the USA with these regimes and, inadvertently, creating a favorable outlook on the Soviet Union; then the standard bearer of international communism.

Now, after dropping the "war on Terror" which metastasized into a war on Islam, THEY believe that the most crucial issue facing the Arabs is DEMOCRACY, western style of course.
Which advocacy , despite the Bush/Wolfowitz administration resounding failure in and to Iraq and its counter productivity to the USA ( Witness Iranian influence in Iraq post USA conquest, Friedman's war of choice), is witnessing a comeback with the Obama, and Friedman's, brouhaha .
ONCE AGAIN THEY ARE WRONG on, at least, three counts:
1-Few Arabs believe that the USA, considering its regional Arab alliances and its pro Israel anti Palestinian strategy, IS truthfully and faithfully sincere about and dedicated to Democracy in the sense of full public participation in the decision making process !
2-That the USA Is willing to live with the outputs from any genuine democratic process, witness the USA then and present reaction to Hamas electoral victory at the Palestinian Authority legislative elections
And most importantly:
3-Because, in general Arab perception, DEMOCRACY is NOT the most pressing issue facing the Arabs.

That, most pressing and crucial issue, is Arab national security fundamentally flouted, mostly by the USA in, inter alia, Palestine and Iraq and their curtailed sovereignty over their lands and resources.

NOT that DEMOCRACY , in the sense of full public participation and public surveillance, is not a pressing issue, it is; BUT it is NOT the MOST pressing issue.

American oversight of, and its persistent feverish search for alternatives for what really matters most to Arabs, that one cannot possibly attribute to ignorance, is the real question , a major new reason to suspect the USA and Mr. Friedman's synopsis of Arab affairs.

Monterey, CA

No country is more "tribalized" than India; yet India is a functioning democracy.

Micheal Deal
Leipers Fork, Tennessee

The Yankee war criminal, Abraham Lincoln, urged his commanders to make 'hard war' against the people of the South, and U.S. forces happily obliged, routinely pillaging, burning and looting civilian homes and farms - even whole towns - on their way through the South yet Lincoln is held up as a hero, even the greatest president; but, when Qaddafi does much the same thing, we protest, freeze Libyan assets and bomb.

This intervention violates both the US Constitution and the UN Charter. It violates the US Constitution because it was undertaken without any hostile act against the US (or for that matter, anyone outside Libya)and without the consent of Congress. It violates the UN Charter because it violates the principle in Article II of non-intervention in the internal affairs of member states.


I'm surprised that nobody sees Friedman's move as preamble for a Libyan partition: the oil goes west, Tripoli keeps the rest.

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