Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Ali al-Wardi: Social Glimpses...Part II

Iraqi Moral Values:

Iraqis in the Ottoman period were closer to Bedouin values than Islamic values, due to the control of the ‘Bedouin tide’ on them, there is a stark difference between the values of Bedouins and Islam, in a nutshell, Bedouin values glorify racism, vengeance, looting, killing women to wash away shame and so forth, while Islam condemns all that and considers it banned. Nevertheless, those values were common in the Ottoman period as many people glorified the man who shakes the ground when he walks and who robs houses at night out of manhood, describing him as a ‘lion’, ‘nightman’ or ‘tribe’s pride’.

Those Bedouin tides have always encompassed the Iraqi society at one time or another, in a continuous ebb and flow as Iraq is adjacent one of the world’s greatest Bedouin foundation deserts without any natural barriers separating the two. Bedouin tribes were always ready to enter Iraq and live there, seizing opportunity at times of chaos and wars and famine, or when the government is weak and culture is ripped apart. Bedouin tribes then control Iraqi roads, threatening cities and villages, urging civilians to pick up arms to defend themselves, and in the process spreading values of vengeance, racism and invasion. It appears to me that the most recent Bedouin tide which engulfed Iraq in the Ottoman priod was more severe than any one that preceded it, as Iraqi society never witnessed an era where Bedouin values so dominated as this one. I could bring the following as reasons:

  1. The Ottoman conquest came after a series of Mongul conquests in which no civil government to promote trade and encourage production and irrigation was established, one of the darkest passages of Iraqi history and the lowest of civilization. Post-Abbasid governments were first interested in conquest and taxes instead of reconstruction and order, city dwellers were forced to take shelter in Bedouin and tribal ruggedness as a reaction to save money and soul.
  2. The Ottoman State was past its prosperity and power and started showing signs of stagnation and decay at the time when it seized Iraq in the 16th Century. It was not supposed to stay alive afterwards for a long time but what kept it so was what became known as the ‘Eastern Affair’, as major powers such as Britain and France were interested in keeping the Ottoman State balanced between life and death so it does not die without their having a proper agreement on how to distribute its wealth. As a result, Iraq suffered under a long era of governmental decay and cultural backwardness, which prompted Bedouin tribes to rule supreme.
  3. Ottoman state was preoccupied with its continuous war with Iran, which allowed tribes to do as they please in Iraq. The state itself used the tribes sometimes in its war against Iran, those tribes are known to fight not for any patriotic or religious motive but only for the bounty and to gain rewards that enable dominance on nearby tribes, wide areas of Iraq thus is under the control of Tribal sheikhs ruling according to Bedouin custom.
  4. Diseases filled Iraq at the Ottoman period once every 10 years, an important factor in crystallizing Bedouin tides and destroying civilizations.

Cities and Tribes

There are two social patterns that lay evidence to the extremity of the Bedouin tide in the Ottoman era ; the sparse population and the high ratio of tribes per cities. Mid-19th century Iraq’s population was somewhere close to 1-1.25 million, a very small number as compared to Abbasid Iraq, where the population of Baghdad alone is more than all of Ottoman Iraq. (KK – currently, Baghdad is 6 million, the population of all of Jordan, and Iraq is 28) Tribes in the Ottoman era where three quarters of all of Iraq, some were Bedouin and others were farmers, but all held tribal identification and customs fiercely in their hearts, they looked at all governments as hostile, regardless of being Turkish or Iranian, tribes would aid the victorious and loot the vanquished, regardless of their ideology differences.

On the other hand, city dwellers had three levels of social identification as opposed to the sole tribal one. First of all comes the neighborhood or district against all other neighborhoods in his city, as it comes to be a synonym for the tribe for Bedouins, this local identification would expand to what we could the ‘city’ identification, when the city is threatened under a common ailment. The third level is sectarian, such as when a sectarian case is raised or a state of one of the two sects comes to invade, the citizens then forget all their district and city identifications and pour their attention on that, to quote the Bedouin saying: “Me and my brother on our cousin, and me and our cousin on the stranger.” Hereby, it is clear that sectarianism is another level of social awareness, and is not based on religion or care for it.

The Phenomenon of ‘Shaqawa’

One of the most important social aspects that hint at the Bedouin tide is the ‘shaqawa’, which gives us a clear insight on the values and composition of the Iraqi society.

A “shaqi”, legally speaking, is a criminal who loots houses and imposes ‘taxes’ on the rich. Socially however, he is a hero by which the neighborhood takes pride, he does not disobey the dominant local customs – often a rich, noble guardian of his neighbors, and is keen to observe the rights of ‘the common bread and salt’, his criminal behavior is directed both at the government and at those who do not encompass his identification. Many a bloody battle has been fought at night between the Shaqi and the governmental soldiers, as his status in the eyes of the people increases with the increasing number of victims and battles, if he enters prison, it is a medal on his chest, if he is killed ; a funeral comes out to mourn the ‘great’ man. (Konfused Kid – I have often wondered how come the criminals are always loved, this seems to be universal somewhat in humans, Natural Born Killers, anyone?)

The ratio of shaqis to normal population was very few per district, in spite of their small numbers, they exemplified the social standards with clarity. Their small numbers is a result of the rare qualities one must have to be the shaqi : Courage, physical prowess, weapon efficiency, a stout heart and a dashing spirit. If one person gets lucky and have all this, and then gets to be luckier by surviving a few bloody battles, then his reputation will soar in his neighborhood, eventually adopting all the manners of the confident protector and champion, with a certain ‘walk’ and ‘talk’. Most boys in the neighborhood look up to him as a role model, wishing to be like him when they listen to their fathers and relatives speak copiously, most of those boys will never be like him as explained earlier, which could lead them to suffer immense psychological complexes like the ones which troubled Khalaf bin Ameen.

Khalaf bin Ameen:

Khalaf bin Ameen lived at late-Ottoman period, Baghdadis still chuckle at his anecdotes, all revolving about him being an ugly, cowardly person wishing all the time to be a shaqi to be looked at, he had holstered two big guns which he never uses unless he is absolutely certain that the danger has passed completely. He would spin tales of the most intricate detail about his adventures of looting, mudering and robbing, most of which attributed to himself naturally, if a big heist is attempted, Khalaf would go to people asking whether his name was included in the list of the accused, laying birth to the famous saying: “Didn’t they mention the name of your uncle?”, he would try to confess for crimes he did not commit to attempt and enter jail, but the governor would obstinately release him every time, leading him to come about complaining about the unjust governor who releases the criminals and imprisons the ‘innocents’. Most people, like Khalaf, loved to pompously pose as shaqis, bin Ameen was alone in the spotlight because he exaggerated himself to the point of mockery. A lot of people still carry that trait, and if their hearts are exposed to the masses then we would see many Khalaf bin Ameens. Dr. Mustafa Juwad traces the traditions of Shaqawa to those of the ‘Ayareen’ and ‘Shuttar’ who dominated Baghdad at the Abassid, while the comparison is valid, there is a huge difference; a Shaqi works alone while Ayareen and Shuttar were groups that resembled military soldiers at times and unions at others, and my personal judgement is that the ‘Ayareen’ represented the revolution of the poor over the rich as a result of the aristocracy that grew in the civilized Baghdad at the time, the rich capital of a far-reaching empire. Historians say that when ayareens and bandits would intercept tribes they would justify this by taking their right of ‘zakat’, of which merchants deprived them. This social condition is undoubtedly different from the Ottoman-era Baghdad, people had nothing near an ‘aristocratic’ segregation at the time, it was replaced by an identification with their tribes or neighborhoods, the rich man in a neighborhood would open his doors for everyone in his neighborhood without discrimination, they would swiftly come to his aid in battles and fights. This is more apparent in countryside than ciites, as the sheikh in the countryside would not be arrogant and would not distinguish his clothes, food, or residence to a great degree, he is always at the service of his tribesmen, and they are his loyal soldiers and trustees. This is another sign of the domination of Bedouin tides, as people in general do not adapt to aristocratic denominations until they become civilized and start to feel that money is the vein of life, in Bedouin culture, money is appreciated only in the extent that it embellishes and develops their identity, while the Ottoman governor sole interest was in collecting as much tax money as possible to send to Istanbul, and if anything is left then it is his share, if he thought of building then this will be exclusive to mosques and religious schools, for he, as all people, believe in the principles of intercession.

The Principle of Intercession will be the focus of the next post.


exile - iraqi / gilgamesh X said...

Hello Konfused Kid,


Good work to bring Ali al-Wardi in an English translation.

Concerning to our last discussion about Iraq from Gilgamesh till Saddam I've got a book review for you: http://www.meforum.org/article/1683

The first book shows how ancient Iraq dealt with tribalism, and IMO we shouldn't immitate them but try to learn how they could prosper in old times.

Haak another link for your heavy metal collection: http://www.saddamsfamily.com/


exile - iraqi / gilgamesh X said...

BTW, I would like to know whether Ali al-Wardi is of Persian orign.

I just intensly discussed this my father to who this is not irrelevant.

a question to everyone who can give an answer.

Anonymous said...

A long tirade against Bedouins blaming them for everything up to global warming and the hole in the ozone layer ... and yet he calls THEM racist!

Little Penguin said...

we're not blaming bedouin tribalism for the world's ailments..

Where were religious institutions during all this looting and battling?.. This shaqawa business must've thrived on religious indifference.. weren't all clerics in Baghdad praising the Ottoman ruler and polishing his name in exchange for a few thousand Dinars?..

I'm looking forward to the extract where Dr Al Wardi tackles this issue..

Well done, Kid.. long live your hand! :)

Lynnette In Minnesota said...

This is fascinating, Kid. Thank you.

Shaqi? Oh, Kid, that's Robin Hood. He steals from the rich and gives to the poor. Or perhaps in this case steals from the rich elsewhere and gives to the poor in his community.

...his criminal behavior is directed both at the government and at those who do not encompass his identification.

It's a way of striking back at those you feel have been unfair to you. And also of getting something that has been denied to you. So he becomes the hero. Never mind that it is morally wrong to steal.

One of our guys had an interpreter translate some of al-Wardi's lectures for him, which I found on-line. Here is an excerpt of his thoughts:

A number of the Iraqis mentioned that I could only understand the Iraqis if I read the lectures by Dr Ali Al-Wardi, an Iraqi historian and sociologist, who died in the mid-nineties. One of the translator-editors I worked with laboriously translated his lectures and I found them fascinating. It opened a book for me and explained much of what I saw and heard. He emphasized what he called “dualism” or a form of having two personalities or “schizophrenia.” As Dr. Al-Wardi writes, the Iraqi will do something and suddenly turn around and do something else which contradicts his earlier actions. Without going into the intricacies of his argument, he saw this dualism as a result of a history of conflict between nomads and settled people. This in turn created a society of the ruled and the rulers. While the Iraqi lords it over those he can, he continually complains about the injustices of others toward him. They demand perfection in others while making excuses for themselves. “They call for certain principles they never carry out. They call for goals that they can never achieve. That is why they encourage their leaders to do miracles but when the time comes, they turn their backs giving many excuses and blaming luck.”1

In an even more illuminating passage he blames much of the problems in Iraq on child raising in which a boy learns early that he must live two lives, the obedient, perfect son expected by his father, as well as the irresponsible street kid he is most of the day. His school discipline and expectations of his family run in opposition to the neighborhood values of the boys of his sectarian community, which Dr Al-Wardi says is about power and control. As a result “the Iraqi individual grows up with an extreme tendency toward sectarianism, knowing nothing about his religion.” This problem has been exacerbated by the constant wars, executions, and relocations of ethnic minorities, as well as the exodus from countryside to the cities. There are a sizable number of young men who are simply street people, without fathers or a family relationship. Many of these are drawn into various anti-coalition organizations for money or prestige.

A third reason for the inconsistency in the Iraqi character is that they have “been cursed with the huge difference between classical Arabic and the Iraqi dialect.” As such he describes this as requiring a dualistic system of thought patterns which puts emphasis on “poetic rhymes and grammatical decoration” producing orators who are admired for “unique synonyms” instead of speaking to the ills of their society.

Lynnette In Minnesota said...


I thought you might be interested in reading the entire piece where I took that quote from.

Considering that it was written back in early 2004, it is interesting to see what he got right (or wrong) in his observations of Iraq.

Anonymous said...

exile - iraqi / gilgamesh X said..., saddamsfamily is not an IRAQI band... tara hathoola finlandeyeen theyre making themselves like iraqis

exile - iraqi / gilgamesh X said...

Okay, they are not Iraqis but Heavy Metal is international.

saddam's family said...

they are actually iraqis. they just happen to live in finland.

Anonymous said...

It contradicts what i have learnt:

I remeber clearly a lecture by an arabist at the university who said that nomadic muslims believed strongly to be superoir to the city or farming muslims as a result of islamic tradition and belief.

What I read in this article maintains that nomadic tribes were some sort of gypsies with nominal ties to islam. It might be partly true (may be Turkmens or others non-semites (??), who mihgt be under other circumstances again complete zealots like Pakistanis
today...) But on the whole al-Wardi contradicts my learning: see biography of Muhammed - clearly showing in the same direction: dividing the booty al-anfal not very theological stuff, distribution of captive-slaves etc.

Anonymous said...

Sorry signature:


onix said...

Well i agree you probably cant beat racism with this attitude,
sorry to say so. My culture apparently thinks of the bedouins in terms of nomadic etc. That is, they have an older system of values and agricultural conflict is in some way manifest.
The basic of agricultural conflict is not that the tribe is a thief but that the farmer is an occupier and a slave.
Thought you might like to know.
Also the tribe has a natural language that usually represents that conflict.
Personally i would think the ruggedness of bedouin culture represents a colonialist "divide et impera" strategy. In irak specifically the colonialist had an interest neither the citys would unite and organise themselves, nor the more tribal surrounds would overtake and shape a nation. Meanwhile i figure there was not an interest in raising the cultural notion of the whole.
Tell me if i am wrong but tell me if i am right.(i'm specifically interested in the impact of colonialist rule on development of philosophy and society)

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Yasin al-Jibouri said...

It is my pleasure to be a member of a translation committee put together by Dar al-Mamoon, publishing house for the Iraqi Ministry of Culture, which is now translating all the volumes of Dr. Ali al-Wardi's encyclopedic work titled لمحات اجتماعية من تاريخ العراق الحديث Social Glimpses of Iraq's Modern History. I have completed my translation of its 6th Volume and am working on the Supplement to it which has been re-named Volume Seven. My name is Yasin T. al-Jibouri.

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