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Middle East Tribalism

Tribal Identity And Political Metaphor

Tribal genealogies and identities often employ metaphors such as the parts of the human body and the branches of a tree to symbolize stability, obligation, and belonging, but tribal and lineage identities in the Middle East are social constructs that change and are manipulated with shifting political and economic circumstances. Ibn Khaldun (1332–1406), the medieval North African historian and advisor to kings, recognized the flexible shape of tribal identities.

For Ibn Khaldun, "group feeling" (Ar., 'asabiyya) exists when groups act cohesively, as if compelling ties of obligation hold them together to achieve common interests over extended periods of time. Thus belonging to a tribe does not depend on kinship or descent alone. In certain circumstances, individuals can change tribal, lineage, and clan affiliations. Dynasties and political domination were hard to sustain without such cohesiveness, especially present in tribal contexts. Group feeling is expressed in terms of presumed "blood" relationships, but in tribal contexts these are strong and compelling social metaphors for bonds of solidarity that take precedence over all other bonds of association. In Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, and elsewhere, tribal codes of responsibility and justice based on such cohesion often parallel the civil and criminal codes of state justice, and those of Islamic law, the shari'a.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Toxicology - Toxicology In Practice to TwinsMiddle East Tribalism - Tribes In Seventh-century Arabia, Tribal Identity And Political Metaphor, The Multiple Meanings Of Tribe