TBIMG Question #24 ~ Asabiya

by Dr. Madhi Obeidi and Kurt Pitzer

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TBIMG Question #24 ~ Asabiya

Unread postby Liz » Wed Aug 01, 2007 10:55 am

Pg. 58. Hussein Kamel remained unnervingly silent as he drove. I considered what I knew about the man. A cousin of Saddam’s from Tikrit, he had served as Saddam’s personal driver and bodyguard during the 1970’s and then commanded the elite Republican Guard. In 1986 he married Saddam’s fifteen-year-old daughter Raghad, who was supposedly the president’s favorite. In a culture where the concept of asabiya, the loyalty to one’s tribe and family, dominated social and political life, there was almost no one closer to, or more trusted by Saddam. Pg. 59. There are moments in our lives when time seems to stop, when conflicting emotions battle one another for supremacy. I felt a surge of patriotism and pride that the government had recognized my work. It was a tremendous vote of confidence. Hussein Kamel’s instruction meant my staff of two hundred and I would compete directly with the programs of Dr. Jaffar, the IAEC, and its more than seven thousand employees. But anxiety took hold as I contemplated the heavy responsibility being placed on my shoulders and the penalty for failure. The president’s son-in-law would directly oversee our work, and I would be held accountable for meeting the government’s nuclear goals. I felt as though I were on the edge of an awful abyss that could easily swallow me up into its darkness. Yet I suspected that walking away from it was not an option.

Definition of Asabiya:

Asabiya is a complicated term; it encompasses both the “the cohesive force of the group, the conscience that it has its own specificity and collective aspirations, and the tensions that animate it ineluctably to seek power through conquest.” Asabiya then, is a feeling of belonging, but it is also a feeling of belonging to something which is expanding, and the only way this can come about is through looking up to a leader. The feeling of asabiya is thus also tied to the leader of the community - “the goal to which group feeling leads is royal authority.
http://woodeneyes.wordpress.com/2006/10 ... -the-city/


Is the situation mentioned on Pg. 59 a form of asabiya?

What are the moral implications of that mentioned in the passage on Pg. 59?

Do you think asabiya influenced Hussein Kamel, Dr. Obeidi, the Iraqi’s or has it influenced any other modern day people or societies?
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Unread postby nebraska » Wed Aug 01, 2007 2:57 pm

When I read the "complicated" definition, I was reminded of religious cults...lots of blind devotion to their leader, definitely isolate themselves as a group, and are usually looking to increase membership. I suppose Saddam's followers fit this pattern except I think there was more fear than love among his immediate followers. Generally I would not think of fear as being the chief motivation in Asabiya.

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Unread postby Liz » Wed Aug 01, 2007 3:04 pm

Hey, Nebraska. Thanks for starting us off. I think religious cults is a perfect example based on that definition. I wouldn't think fear would be part of it either....more blind devotion and denial than fear.
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Unread postby Betty Sue » Wed Aug 01, 2007 4:37 pm

I'm having trouble assimilating the definition of 'asabiya.' It sounds so benign and friendly and workable until you come to "power through conquest." :-O I agree many religions have gone that route, however. :mad: Yes , it seems like Dr. O's situation had all the elements of asabiya--group force, individual aspiration, following a leader (though I don't think he looked up to him!), and power through conquest. Moral issues did not seem to be considered. The leader was a known tyrant, and his goal was to wipe out anyone in his way.
I think asabiya influenced all of the Iraqis in the book, just as we are influenced by our country's traditions and beliefs. As far as it influencing other countries, I plead ignorance. :dunce:
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Unread postby suec » Wed Aug 01, 2007 4:47 pm

I think it applies up to a point in the sense that Saddam Hussein is trusting his son-in-law with a secret project, relying on that loyalty he can call on because he is a member of his family. But Hussein Kamel also betrays that trust, so he doesn't seem to have been totally influenced by it. There are echoes of it with Dr Obeidi in the surge of patriotism and pride, but am not sure that it is any more than that. For example, he doesn't seem really to belong to the group. I think the moral implications are a possible conflict between the individual's conscience and the group's conscience that has its own specificity, the conflict between the individual and the role imposed on him belonging to a particular group. Also, the tension that arises between a sense of belonging to one group (tribe or family) and the definition provided which explores the idea of seeking power through conquest. Supporting one group is one thing, conquering another group something else. Strange, but what I am most immediately reminded of is Donnie Brasco, where is evidently a sense of belonging to a group, which does set about expanding and conqering others. There is also a clear sense of it being like a family unit. In fact, doesn't Leftie put it in those terms at one point?
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Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Wed Aug 01, 2007 6:09 pm

nebraska, I first thougt of it as a cult type mentality as well but as Betty Sue says, it sounds a bit benign until you get to the conquer part. I'm thinking here of political terrorist groups.

suec, the Donnie Brasco analogy is a good one.

I wonder if it is a term that may not translate clearly to English.
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Unread postby gemini » Wed Aug 01, 2007 7:39 pm

Ok Liz this one has me straining the old grey matter.
Is the situation mentioned on Pg. 59 a form of asabiya?
yes

Do you think asabiya influenced Hussein Kamel, Dr. Obeidi, the Iraqi’s or has it influenced any other modern day people or societies?


Thinking of asabiya as the collective actions of a group, strengthened by religion and blood lines, it could be any religious group or street gang or any any group that feels an allegiance to each other. If you add seek power through conquest, it makes me think of Indian tribes. If you mean peaceful conquest its back to covering all religions who want to convert. In other words fear and intimidation don't have to be part of it although they certainly can be..

With these thoughts in mind I guess allegaince to ones country could also be asabiya. Dr Obeide's surge of patriotism and pride would fit. Hussein Kamel was a loyal family member of Saddam until he defected. Here is a quote he made:
This is what made me leave the country, the fact that Saddam Hussein surrounds himself with inefficient ministers and advisers who are not chosen for their competence but according to the whims of the Iraqi president. And as a result of this the whole of Iraq is suffering.
This doesn't change his asabiya, he just puts his loyalty of Iraq his country above his loyalty to Saddam.

What are the moral implications of that mentioned in the passage on Pg. 59?

Dr Obeida does see the moral implications but see's no way around them. Thinking of asabiya, he is practicing it with either choice he could make. To stay loyal to Iraq or to be loyal to the human race considering the nurclear consequences.
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Unread postby nebraska » Wed Aug 01, 2007 7:52 pm

DeppInTheHeartOfTexas wrote:nebraska, I first thougt of it as a cult type mentality as well but as Betty Sue says, it sounds a bit benign until you get to the conquer part. I'm thinking here of political terrorist groups.

suec, the Donnie Brasco analogy is a good one.

I wonder if it is a term that may not translate clearly to English.


I suppose it is possibly a term that it doesn't translate well to English. :-?

As for whether or not a cult is "benign", when I think of cults I think of mass suicides, the Karesh stand off, and the usurping of lives, freedom, and material goods, as well as various forms of abuse that include child abuse. While that may not be conquest in the same terms as military conquering of other countries, it certainly applies to taking control of individual lives.

I, too , liked the Donnie Brasco example.

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Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Wed Aug 01, 2007 9:01 pm

nebrasaka, I'm not sure that my answer translated very well into English! :lol:

I am in complete agreement with you about cults. :cool: What I was trying to say was I'm not sure the term "asabiya" has the same meaning in our culture that it does in Eastern culture, I just don't know. :perplexed: Some words just don't translate completely between languages as shown in the preface to the definition that is a "complicated term". We are defining it in negative terms based on our discussion of the book and our culture which may be different from the perception of the culture where the term originated. Some words just have a feeling with them that doesn't translate. Within the definition, a leader could also inspire people to positive actions as well? I'm just not sure.
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Unread postby gemini » Wed Aug 01, 2007 10:53 pm

A few definitions of asabiya:

Asabiya is the capacity of a social group for concerted collective action. Asabiya is a dynamic quantity; it can increase or decrease with time. It is sometimes translated as esprit de corps or as “social cohesion”, but it is more than that, it is also about getting things done.

asabiya, which simply means the social solidarity among specific group of people. It argues that while the strength of the asabiya is the driving force behind the rise of the state, its weakness could bring the state to its downfall.

asabiya, meaning a society's capacity for collective action


Ibn Khaldun argued that the success of political communities depended on asabiya, an Arabic word that can be translated as "group feeling" or "group spirit."

Here is an article about war and peace that mentions asabiya quite a bit. It actually is used to describe most societies. It is long and most of the part about asabiya starts about page 3.
http://www.eeb.uconn.edu/people/turchin/PDF/Intro.pdf
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Unread postby Liz » Thu Aug 02, 2007 2:41 am

There’s been a lot of grey matter used on this question today, I see.

The more we discuss this, the more complicated it becomes. It is definitely not a simple term. Thanks for the additional information defining the term, Gemini. And I agree with you, DITHOT, that there could be something lost in translation that prevents us from being able to fully understand its meaning.

I do think that all of the examples given are good ones, though. I, too, like the Donnie Brasco example.

I think Asabiya can be a good thing, but also a bad one—depending on how it is used. A group can bring about good—the Women’s movement, for example. In a way, we, as women, are all one tribe working for a common good. There would also be individual ethnic groups that have been discriminated against that may have a sense of Asabiya. But the combination of the elements of extreme loyalty and conquest cause me to wonder if Asabiya is the source of conflict in the Middle East….maybe the reason for all wars.

And Suec, I agree that the moral implications involve the individual’s conscience (in Dr. O’s case as expressed at the end of the passage on pg. 59).

I feel like I'm rambling at this late hour, so I hope I'm making sense.
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The only thing that matters is the ending. It's the most important part of the story.


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