Sunday, August 6, 2017

Readings about tribes, tribalism, tribalization — #13: Kenan Malik, "Britain’s Dangerous New Tribalism" (2015)

Speaking of NYT's attentiveness to the tribal form (see reading #12), this NYT op-ed shows an early grasp of tribalism: Kenan Malik's "Britain’s Dangerous New Tribalism" (2015). 
It was written in the wake of jihadi attacks that were followed by rising tensions between Muslim and non-Muslim (not to mention anti-Muslim) Britons. Yet, Malik is intent on pointing out, the hostility toward Muslims was not relentless, for in many ways Muslim and non-Muslim communities were getting along well enough in Britain.
Here's what he says, after reviewing recent trends and incidents: 
"All this might suggest a nation polarized between alienated Muslims and non-Muslims hostile to Islam. The reality is otherwise. What is striking about the past decade is not conflict between Muslims and non-Muslims, but the relative ease with which different communities have got along. …
"While anti-Muslim hatred is certainly present, there is by no means a climate of “relentless hostility” toward Muslims."
In light of this reassuring observation, Malik next explores why matters stay so polarized anyway. He attributes this, on the one hand, to value-loaded political rhetoric and harsh counter-terrorism measures from the top, and on the other hand, to a growing disaffected politics of identity at mass levels of society — and to how these top and bottom dynamics reactively reinforce each other. At least that's what I think he is saying. 
Here's an excerpt:
"So, if in practice Muslims and non-Muslims coexist relatively peaceably, how do we explain the polarization in attitudes? Why do so many non-Muslim Britons regard Islam as a threat, while so many Muslims yearn for Shariah law? …
"Politicians constantly call for a defense of British values against extremism. But beyond platitudes about liberal democracy, they find it hard to articulate what those values are. At the same time, these leaders constantly undermine fundamental liberal values in the name of fighting terrorism: They have increased state surveillance, restricted free speech and banned certain organizations.
"Meanwhile, a growing disaffection with mainstream politics among Muslims and non-Muslims alike has found expression in a politics of identity, which encourages people to understand their problems through the narrow lenses of culture and faith. The overall result is that people see values less as ideals than in terms of identity. For many non-Muslims, for example, the idea of Shariah conjures images of Islamic State beheadings or the oppression of women. For many Muslims, supporting Shariah may mean no more than an affirmation of identity."
In conclusion, Malik says the persistence of rancorous hostility derives from "the emergence of a tribalized society". That limits how people can go about having a sense of identity and belonging. It also increases the probability that disaffected people will end up becoming more tribalized, in one direction or the opposite.
"The real problem is neither Muslim disloyalty nor rampant Islamophobia. It is, rather, the emergence of a tribalized society in which people have an increasingly narrow sense of belonging. At the fringes, this can funnel disaffection into jihadism on one hand, and into anti-Muslim hatred on the other.
"Britain is not divided into warring camps, as some would have it. But the consequences of tribalism can be devastating."
Malik's is a pertinent insightful op-ed. I'm pleased it's in my folder. Yet it's flow of logic about tribalism leaves me a little puzzled. If he is saying that polarization, the politics of identity, etc., have led to tribalism, well, OK, in a way. But that's very close to saying that the attributes of tribalism cause tribalism — which verges on being a tautology. However, if he is saying that how people talk and act can make a big difference for how tribal they become toward each other, then I say bravo. At least he has a disposition toward fine-grain analysis that offers some encouragement and promise that malignant tribalism will not carry the day in Britain.

To read for yourself, go here:

[I posted an earlier write-up of this reading on my Facebook page, on April 16.]

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