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This is an extended comment on Richard Lyon's excellent diary, Oil Economies as Rentier States I, which starts with a brief recap of how notions of state and society developed in Europe.

Perhaps it's obvious, yet it bears repeating: people in the Arabic countries in the Middle East and Northern Africa where currently revolutions are taking place see the desired end point of their struggle for freedom differently than we in the West do. In terms of notions of state and society, history has dealt them a different hand. In any case, I had intended to chime in with an off-the-cuff remark amplifying (or "riffing on") Richard's opening point. But then a translation from German into English turned out to be involved, so my comment grew into a diary.

Europe was once racked by religious wars. Who or what councils today could help pacify relations between Sunni and Shia and other communities, I wondered. Does the Organization of the Islamic Conference have a role to play? I don't have answers, only questions. But more below the fold.

Again, it's helpful to first go read Richard Lyon's excellent diary, Oil Economies as Rentier States I, as background.

Europe's concept of nation-state emerged in 1648 with the Peace of Westphalia. That series of treaties ended the Thirty Years' War, a series of religious wars of Catholic against Protestant.

For the first time it was established that a country (sovereign state) was something different than its sovereign (ruling family or government). A ruler could be Catholic or Protestant, without binding the country and people. Wikipedia:

The power taken by Ferdinand III in contravention of the Holy Roman Empire's constitution was stripped and returned to the rulers of the Imperial States. This rectification allowed the rulers of the Imperial States to independently decide their religious worship. Protestants and Catholics were redefined as equal before the law, and Calvinism was given legal recognition.[6] [7]

The Holy See was very displeased at the settlement, with Pope Innocent X reportedly calling it "null, void, invalid, iniquitous, unjust, damnable, reprobate, inane, empty of meaning and effect for all time".[8]

The main tenets of the Peace of Westphalia were:

• All parties would recognize the Peace of Augsburg of 1555, in which each prince would have the right to determine the religion of his own state, the options being Catholicism, Lutheranism, and now Calvinism (the principle of cuius regio, eius religio).[6][7]

• Christians living in principalities where their denomination was not the established church were guaranteed the right to practice their faith in public during allotted hours and in private at their will.[6]

• …

How does this compare to the historic evolution of the nation-state concept in predominantly Muslim countries? The German Wikipedia article (but oddly, not the English one) on the Arabic language says that in Arabic "there is no relatively precise equivalent of the European word 'nation'":
Der Wortschatz ist zwar extrem reich, aber oft nicht klar normiert und mit Bedeutungen aus der Vergangenheit überfrachtet. So gibt es zum Beispiel kein Wort, das dem europäischen Wort „Nation“ relativ genau entspricht. Das dafür gebrauchte Wort (‏أمة‎, Umma) bedeutete ursprünglich und im religiösen Kontext bis heute „Gemeinschaft der Gläubigen (Muslime)“; oder z. B. „Nationalität“ (‏جنسية‎, ǧinsiyya) eigentlich „Geschlechtszugehörigkeit“ im Sinne von „Sippenzugehörigkeit“ – „Geschlechtsleben“ z. B. heißt (‏الحياة الجنسية‎, al-ḥayāt al-ǧinsiyya), wobei al-ḥayāt „das Leben“ heißt. Das Wort für „Nationalismus“ (‏قومية‎, qawmiyya) bezieht sich ursprünglich auf die Rivalität von „(Nomaden-)Stämmen“ und kommt von qawm, was ursprünglich und bis heute oft noch „Stamm“ im Sinne von „Nomadenstamm“ bedeutet. So überlagern sich oft in einem Wort sehr alte und sehr moderne Konzepte, ohne dass das eine über das andere obsiegen würde. „Umma“ z. B. gewinnt wieder mehr seine alte religiöse Bedeutung zurück.

The vocabulary [of the Arabic language] is extremely rich, but it often is not clearly standardized and is weighed down with "loaded" meanings from the past. For example, there is no relatively precise equivalent of the European word "nation." Originally, and even today in religious contexts, Umma (‏أمة‎), the word used for "nation", actually means "community of [Muslim] believers". Or to take another example, "nationality" (‏جنسية‎, ǧinsiyya) actually means "kinship ties" (clan or tribal affiliation); whereas the same word combined with al-ḥayāt "life" (‏الحياة الجنسية‎, al-ḥayāt al-ǧinsiyya) means "sex life". The word for "nationalism" (‏قومية‎, qawmiyya) actually refers to the rivalry between "(nomadic) tribes" and comes from qawm, which originally meant "tribe" in the sense of "nomadic tribe" and often still means that today. Thus a single word often displays very old and very modern meanings interlayered with each other, with neither clearly winning out. "Umma", for example, has been lately regaining more of its old religious meaning.

It's an interesting and informative passage, if accurate. But one also wonders if the anonymous editor of German Wikipedia has completely innocent motives in bringing this up. Clash of cultures civilizations? Or helpful bridge building?

Originally posted to lotlizard on Fri Mar 11, 2011 at 12:44 AM PST.

Also republished by Foreign Relations, Eyes on Egypt and the Region, and History for Kossacks.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (14+ / 0-)

    The Dutch kids' chorus Kinderen voor Kinderen wishes all the world's children freedom from hunger, ignorance, and war.

    by lotlizard on Fri Mar 11, 2011 at 12:44:11 AM PST

  •  republished by Foreign Relations... (5+ / 0-)

    As to the county/state/nation terminology, the differences are not found solely in Arabic. We speak today of the "nation-state," a country whose population largely self-identify as belonging to one social, cultural and ethnic group.

    The debate over the viability of multi-ethnic states (I'm choosing my terms carefully here) continues today. Jerry Z. Miller writes a wonderful article in Foreign Affairs ($ needed) titles, "Us and Them: The Enduring Power of Ethnic Nationalism" (March/April 2008) only to find the structuralists, Habyarimana, Posner, Humphreys, Weinsteing, Rosecrance and Stein ranged against him in their reply, "Is Ethnic Conflict Inevitable? Parting Ways Over Nationalism and Separatism." (July/August 2008).

    It's worth a diary. I'll see what I can come up with.

    "The cure for bullshit is fieldwork."
    Robert H. Bates, Eaton Professor of the Science of Government, Harvard University.

    by papicek on Fri Mar 11, 2011 at 04:15:35 AM PST

  •  Lotlizard, I like the way you think :~) (5+ / 0-)

    The Treaty of Westphalia was, IMO, a European solution to a European problem. As these European countries began to meddle in both the political affairs and economies of non-European regions, they brought with them the idea--naturalized as an Enlightenment ideal--of the nation-state and imposed it upon culture-blocs whose historical trajectories would likely not independently have resolved into nation-states. Now, of course, the ideal of the nation-state has been codified in the UN, and the world is required to conform to a cultural-geographic notion which is not as "natural" as often presumed.

    Real stupidity beats artificial intelligence every time. (Terry Pratchett)

    by angry marmot on Fri Mar 11, 2011 at 05:07:01 AM PST

  •  I am so pleased to have (6+ / 0-)

    provided you with a spot of inspiration :)

    I think that the approach of comparing historical development in different parts of the world is very useful and fruitful. One issue that I would like to explore is the history of Christianity as a vehicle for nationalism and at times terrorism.

  •  I think we need a bit more precision (8+ / 0-)

    in our concepts here between languages (and perhaps a recognition by the German writers of that wiki article that all languages have words that are loaded and 'weighed down' with meaning from the past and that current usage can and does often stray from the original meaning. But I don't want to deconstruct the Orientalism I see in that article.)

    In Arabic, hukumi and dawla mean state/government. That's a reasonably precise translation of the mechanism and agencies of government. Finding an equivalent of nation in Arabic is a bit more problematic. Europeans defined themselves as communities of people, nations, with common descent, history, language. The root of 'nation' comes from the Latin 'to be born' (nasci nat) through Old French (natio onis). Arabs are defined as a community by their language and some shared history but not by common descent. Most Arabic speakers are not ethnically Arab and don't define or separate themselves in the way that Europeans do or have with the concept of 'nation'.

    Below this 'Arab' level of affiliation, there are affiliations based on common descent or ethnicity, affiliations based on religion and sect etc. So underneath 'Arab' you have Egyptian, Palestinian, Iraqi, Syrian etc. Arabs were ruled for centuries by empires and certainly under the Ottomans there was great opposition to their rule. For example, during the 1800s, Egyptian and Lebanese rulers led military revolts against the Turks (which were put down with the assistance of the British and Austro-Hungarian empires). These revolts were probably inspired by the concept of watan/homeland or balad/country which are not precisely equivalent to nation or nationalism but show the connection of the people of that place to their land and their desire for independence.

    If the desires of the peoples of the Middle East had been taken into account when the empires drew lines on the map, you probably would have had one state in the Levant and several states in Iraq and the Gulf.

    I don't think that we should be lamenting/praising other cultures for not having concepts that are similar/dissimilar to western concepts. I think it's far more important to grapple with the concepts in those socieites and how they have affected and effected change, contributed to institutional arrangments and structures etc. (For examples in Arab states, you've got influences from Arab, Muslim, Turkic, French, British and Italian governance and traditions as well as local ones). The Arab world didn't precisely experience 'nationalism' but there were forces there that were not dissimilar. And in a world where we are developing institutions that transcend the nation-state (the UN, the EU and other attempts at regional integration) Arabs have a clear advantage in terms of homogeneity of culture and language.  

    •  Now that is a rich feast (3+ / 0-)

      of food for thought. A lot happened to the European notions of nationalism during the 19th C. It became much more politicized. The movement to standardize languages was one facet of this. The pressure to imprint national identity was very much mixed up with the justification of colonialism. The Congress of Versailles was the great exercise in imposing these delusions of reality. The Arab nations were systematically excluded from having qualified to fit the approved notion of nation states and placed under European administered mandates.

      This is a contrast that is worth a great deal more development.


    •  Thanks for that in-depth comment. (3+ / 0-)

      German "Orientalists": just what I was hinting at. Writers for Germany's national left-alternative daily newspaper die Tageszeitung (or "taz" for short) have derided the phenomenon for years, especially lampooning its most notorious exponent on German political talk shows, Peter Scholl-Latour.

      Translation of the somewhat tongue-in-cheek TV review:

      He'd have been an on-the-spot reporter all through the Opium Wars — if TV had existed in those days. Scholl-Latour, media veteran and talk-show go-to guy for geopolitical strategy and anecdotes, has seen it alll, experienced it all, and loves telling all about it — most recently in his book "The White Man's Fear" in the best tradition of Samuel Huntington. A TV documentary "The End of White Global Domination" goes with the bestselling book and will air on German TV 2 (ZDF) at . . .

      The Dutch kids' chorus Kinderen voor Kinderen wishes all the world's children freedom from hunger, ignorance, and war.

      by lotlizard on Sat Mar 12, 2011 at 10:33:44 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Sounds like Thomas Friedman. n/t (3+ / 0-)
        •  That's just who I thought of too. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          petral, Richard Lyon

          In the late 1990s I started realizing just how bad CNN was getting — even CNN International which is what is on cable and satellite systems in Germany — when I saw that CNN's idea of a hard-hitting documentary on the Middle East was Tom Friedman going around interviewing people in this I'm-just-an-average-schmo English.

          A foreshadowing perhaps, of the wisdom on the Iraq war (America to the Muslim world: "Suck on this!") which Friedman would vouchsafe unto the world in 2003? (Here Sam Seder interviews Atrios (Duncan Black) of the Eschaton blog about Friedman's perceived role as "the most serious foreign policy columnist in the American press.")

          It was so ludicrous. At the time the network also had CNN: Q&A with Riz Khan. Khan, who can speak French and Hindi and Urdu. I thought, where do they get this Friedman buffoon, why don't they have more people like Khan, who are actually knowledgeable, when it comes to giving us Americans the inside info on important global issues?

          A few years later Riz Khan did leave CNN to join, whom else, Al Jazeera, even writing a piece about it for the Wall Street Journal (behind a Murdoch firewall now, but excerpts are available here on the Democratic Underground forum).

          The Dutch kids' chorus Kinderen voor Kinderen wishes all the world's children freedom from hunger, ignorance, and war.

          by lotlizard on Sun Mar 13, 2011 at 12:03:15 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  btw (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        lotlizard, Richard Lyon

        thanks for an excellent and thought-provoking diary. I think there's a lot more on this topic that we can tease out and I hope you continue with this.

        •  Thanks! Been doing some reading on the Arabic (3+ / 0-)

          … language and writing system. "Writing systems of the world" are kind of a hobby with me (yay Unicode!). In the last couple weeks I started a project, a FileMaker database of Arabic words (actually 3- and 4-consonant Semitic roots, which also occur in Hebrew) as an experiment.

          As in many other Semitic languages, Arabic verb formation is based on a (usually) triconsonantal root, which is not a word in itself but contains the semantic core. The consonants k-t-b, for example, indicate write, q-r-ʾ indicate read, ʾ-k-l indicate eat, etc. Words are formed by supplying the root with a vowel structure and with affixes. (Traditionally, Arabic grammarians have used the root f-ʿ-l, do, as a template to discuss word formation.)
          (from English Wikipedia on Arabic language)

          They say trying to write a program to do something is a good test of whether one really understands it. The next thing I'm going to try to program into the database is, generating the verb stems ("Forms I through X").

          As far as learning to converse, one of our Arabic-speaking sisters and brothers, I think it was simone daud, recommended to me a book called Kullu Tamam! An Introduction to Egyptian Colloquial Arabic, whose authors originally put it together at the University of Amsterdam (right up my alley!) In this case, it's the English edition that grew out of the Dutch original, and it comes with a CD.

          The Dutch kids' chorus Kinderen voor Kinderen wishes all the world's children freedom from hunger, ignorance, and war.

          by lotlizard on Sun Mar 13, 2011 at 12:38:07 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  excellent comment fire bad tree pretty (3+ / 0-)

      thanks so much ... watan or watani is the closest term that I have heard used in songs and in political slogans. I cannot thank you enough for this excellent comment.

      History always repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, and the second time as farce. Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

      by NY brit expat on Sat Mar 12, 2011 at 03:33:58 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I am in Boston with my son and went to the (0+ / 0-)

    JFK Presidential Library today. Kennedy was asked about a trip he took to the Middle East and why the people of those countries had such a deep dislike for the US.  His answer was that the people of the region were controlled by Western colonialism and their hatred of all things western extended to the US even though we were not the 'powers' controlling them.   His words resonated with me today in a way they would not have done two or three months ago. When they regained their independence from their colonial masters we managed to substitute their governments with dictators that were really puppet regimes to continue to do our bidding.  I can but wonder what he would say today about the conditions and events of the Middle East today.

    Not being able to do everything is no excuse for not doing everything you can. - Ashleigh Brilliant

    by dmac on Sat Mar 12, 2011 at 07:08:07 PM PST

  •  this writer argues samuel huntington (0+ / 0-)

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