Thursday, October 22, 2009

All Politics is Local

Marc Lynch has a post considering a possible divide between Al Qaeda and the Taliban, citing a post at Jihadica by Vahid Brown. Marc compares the situation to the web debate between Iraqi factions that served as a preview to the Awakening. As a non-scholar of Islam but as a scholar of nationalism, I think the division is between nationalists who care about the situation within their country and those who have a bigger ambition--a caliphate or Islamic entity covering the entirely of the Islamic world, give or take.

This should not be terribly surprising as Pan Arabism failed precisely because folks within countries cared more about their plight than about their larger shared identity group, something that Marc and I discussed in a volume he edited with Shibley Telhami.

And this theme appears again, coincidentally, in Kin or Country: that most people have a stronger affinity within those in their own country--they have shared experiences that give shared meaning to their identities. Folks elsewhere may follow the same religion or speak the same language or whatever, but they are not as much "us" as many (although not necessarily all) of those who reside in the same country. This is a poor basis for irredentism in our cases, and is a likely point of contention between those focused on a global struggle and those focused on the challenges at home.

The lesson, as always, is not just that all politics is local, but that identity is complex, with many meanings attached, so that just because some folks have the same label does not mean they see the world the same way.

1 comment:

Bill Ayres said...

It's hard, actually, to think of many examples of really broad, pan-national movements which appeal across ethnic lines on the basis of some broader identity or set of ideas. This should not be surprising. Given the nature of group identity and its psychological underpinnings, there just isn't that much benefit from belonging to a really large group, many of whose members are largely unlike you. What this suggests, in fact, is that there are limits to the size of nationalisms...