As the temperature of war increases in Iraq, and the U.S. increases troops in Afghanistan, an unanswered question looms.
Not, ‘what is a nation’, so much as why is this a nation, and when?
When we speak of Iraq, Afghanistan or even Pakistan as nation-states, we are really speaking of political elites in their capitals, and of relatively new political identities that are not truly agreed upon even in those states.
Many of these nations had their borders drawn, not by themselves, but by diplomats in Europe, more for their interests than the inhabitants thereof.
Let me give but one example: remember the former Pakistani president-general Pervez Musharraf? In the year he was born, there was no Pakistan. He was born a citizen of northwest India.
In many of these countries there are millions of people who see themselves, first and foremost, as members of ancient tribes, to whom loyalties lie. They are Pashtun, Punjabi, or Tajik.
In Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s autobiographical work, Infidel, she recounts the childhood memory of her and her sister standing in their back yard in Somalia, reciting the lineage of their clan. Standing over them was the daunting figure of grandmother, a switch in hand, and woe to the child who would forget or overlook an ancestor.
Her grandmother didn’t demand that they recount the rulers of Somalia. What was important was tribe, clan and sub-clan histories and lineages.
For millions and millions of people, in Africa and South Asia, one’s clan is crucial; nation is ephemeral. For before nation, there was clan. When one is in distress, there is clan. When one is endangered, there is clan.
Nation is a collection of strangers. Nation is the faraway capital. Nation is the oppressive force that imposes taxation, or unwanted military presence.
As the U.S., under Obama, plans to downsize in Iraq, and beef up in Afghanistan, it faces a force that Americans have not had to consider for several centuries; the power of tribes (here, I speak of the so-called ‘Indians’, a European name imposed on a host of tribes, clans, and sub-clans).
This is the true social and political power that lies beneath the ossified and often corrupt national governments in which the U.S. has invested billions.
There is the formal nation-state, with all the structure that Americans like, but unseen is the true movers and shakers of society — identity formers — tribes.
This may be the rock upon which all U.S. efforts, all of its billions, all of its military might — shatters.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently rejected Mumia Abu-Jamal’s appeal for a new trial based on racism in jury selection. The U.S Supreme Court has not yet decided whether it will further consider the Philadelphia DA’s appeal of the 2001/2008 rulings of two lower courts, which ruled that Abu-Jamal deserves a new sentencing hearing if the death penalty is to be re-instated. If the U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of the DA, Abu-Jamal could be executed without a new sentencing hearing.
In response, Abu-Jamal’s lead attorney Robert R. Bryan will be filing a "petition for re-hearing" at the U.S. Supreme Court. Emergency meetings have been held in several cities to coordinate grassroots response, and over 3,000 people have signed an online petition <http://www.petitiononline.com/supreme/> in an effort coordinated by anti-death penalty activists.
On Friday April 24 and 25, 2009 events were held in more than a dozen cities to organize and to celebrate the release of Mumia’s new book with City Lights, JAILHOUSE LAWYERS. More info here:www.citylights.com <http://www.citylights.com/>
Watch Angela Y. Davis speaking at the Oakland event on April 24, 2009
Listen to Mumia’s response to the Supreme Court decision in an interview with Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio.
Contact the White House to protest the unjust ruling
Emergency Rally | 4pm, Friday May 8th | 163 W. 125th St. in Harlem