Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Blood feud, not war

Lee Harris thinks that "the war on terror," is misnamed. It is not a war at all, as we in the West have come to understand that term: War is a for a reason (instrument of policy, for land, etc.), and it has an end. He thinks that our current "war" against terror is really something like a blood feud, and his thought is not entirely crazy:

In the blood feud, the orientation is not to the future, as in war, but to the past. In the feud you are avenging yourself on your enemy for something that he did in the past. Al Qaeda justified the attack on New York and Washington as revenge against the USA for having defiled the sacred soil of Saudi Arabia by its military presence during the First Gulf War. In the attack on London, the English were being punished for their involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the blood feud, unlike war, you have no interest in bringing your enemy to his knees. You are not looking for your enemy to surrender to you; you are simply interested in killing some of his people in revenge for past injuries, real or imaginary -- nor does it matter in the least whether the people you kill today were the ones guilty of the past injuries that you claim to be avenging. In a blood feud, every member of the enemy tribe is a perfectly valid target for revenge. What is important is that some of their guys must be killed -- not necessarily anyone of any standing in their community. Just kill someone on the other side, and you have done what the logic of the blood feud commands you to do.

In the blood feud there is no concept of decisive victory because there is no desire to end the blood feud. Rather the blood feud functions as a permanent "ethical" institution -- it is the way of life for those who participate in it; it is how they keep score and how they maintain their own rights and privileges. You don’t feud to win, you feud to keep your enemy from winning -- and that is why the anthropologist of the Bedouin feud, Emrys Peters, has written the disturbing words: The feud is eternal.

Discussions - 12 Comments

I disagree. As far as I can tell, we are not expending our blood and treasure "simply" to extract revenge on some group who has harmed us, we are doing it to try to keep them from fulfilling their avowed goal of trying to make us bleed more.

If we can extract revenge at the same time we keep them from hitting us again, fine. But if we use english, we should be precise. "simply" says that the statement encompasses scope.

I think that "blood feud" analysis works only in trying to understand the motives of Bin Ladenism. I am confident that has not entered into the motivations of of our country’s response to 9/11.

The question brought to my mind is whether historically, there have been instances of assymetrical warfare with "blood feudists" on one side and more conventional military on the other, and what were the results.

Take a look at Wikipedia’s definition of "vendetta" for an interesting quick history of the blood feud and a partial listing the countries that have a history of that kind of activity.

The Wikipedia discussion omits Native American tribes that practiced a form of the blood feud until the late 19th century, giving rise to the the "settlers" retaliatory practices to the same effect.

Harris’s insight is interesting.

Not entirely crazy?

"you are simply interested in killing some of his people in revenge for past injuries, real or imaginary -- nor does it matter in the least whether the people you kill today were the ones guilty of the past injuries that you claim to be avenging. In a blood feud, every member of the enemy tribe is a perfectly valid target for revenge."

Will this now be used as a justification for the killing of Muslim civilians? We could not take part in such a thing and remain a civilized society. It’s a perverse merry-go-round of endless violence that accomplishes nothing. This blood feud "logic" also allows endless military actions without reason.

Sounds crazy to me.

Let’s assume that the Muslim side is operating with a blood feud mentality. How do we address the problem? When do feuds between neighbors end? They end when the two parties are separated and do not come into contact. If the premise of this post is correct, then the way to end this conflict is for the West and Muslim worlds to separate from each other as much as possible. This would mean the removal of all illegal Muslim immigrants and non-citizens. Also, the removal of all Muslim citizens with jihadist sympathies.

IMHO, I don’t believe we are faced with a blood feud but instead faced with an ideology that cannot live peacefully with other beliefs. Either way though, separating ourselves and Muslims is probably the most bloodless way to achieve some semblance of peace.

Mr. Osterberg:

I think Lee Harris is using the "blood feud" model to explain the other side’s conception of the conflict, not ours. Nor do I think that the Harris is advocating revenge killings.

That said, I’m not sure that Harris is right. A blood-feud mentality might characterize the jihadis’ mindset to a certain degree (it’s a deep part of the cultural background in various regions including the Middle East, with roots that pre-date Islam). But the jihadis (somewhat like the Palestinian Arabs in their persistent assaults on Israel) do seem to believe that the struggle will end and that they will win: As, in their own eyes, the true and best Muslims, they believe intensely that they are God’s own chosen warriors, and that if they just keep waging jihad--whenever, wherever, and however they can, against soft targets if hard ones get too hard, with small C4 bombs on subways if airliners can’t be hijacked for the time being, all the while looking for openings to hit us in the vitals--God will somehow, in His own good time, give them victory.

That seems crazy and vicious to us, but that’s how these people think. The Islamist fanatics (including junior army officers and a doctor named Zawahiri) who murdered Sadat in ’81, for instance, thought that their particular act of jihad would trigger an Iranian-style revolution in Egypt. That’s nutty, of course--there never was going to be a "Tehran on the Nile" scenario--but the killers believed they were on a mission from God, and so went ahead. And I’m sure that revenge against Sadat for making peace with Israel was also part of their motivation. So the providential holy warrior and the revenge-obsessed feuder who presses the feud almost as an end in itself can go together more than we might at first think.

While Clausewitzian rationality (war pursued for policy aims) characterizes our mindset now, of course there’s a Jacksonian strain in the American character that could go in for blood feuding or something very close to it, if and when Americans feel sufficiently provoked. Right now, I think we’re still very much in a Clausewitzian "measured response" mode. If we have another major attack on our soil, that could very likely change.

"But if we use english, we should be precise."

I agree, which is why I’m wondering how exactly one can "extract revenge"??

If indeed the Islamofascists see this as a bloodfeud, they’d best understand something...America is culturally dominated by the Scotch-Irish (by God, we perfected the feud...just look at Andy Jackson). I think that is why these people constantly underestimate the U.S.A. -- they see the placid, reasonable face of our WASP administrations, but when they "mess with us" they get the Scotch-Irish fury and tenacity (to a lesser extent, this is also true of Britain). Celtic zeal channeled by Germanic pragmatism has been the one-two punch of the Western world. When will they understand this?

Ha, good one Dain! They’d better wake up and realize that we’re prepared to keep kickin’ A-rab butt, right?! Especially you, man, you’re all ready to go over there and show them what’s up, except- oh, that’s right, you’re just doing your tough-talking from the safety of your den.

Oh, and before you respond with the predictable "You libs just want to coddle terrorists," let me say that I actually agree that they completely underestimate Western resolve. It’s just that your little theory about Scotch-Irish bloodfeudin’ and your old buddy "Andy" Jackson is laughable. But then, so are most of your comments.

Phil, you just show your own ignorance about the cultural and immigration history of this country. Fine with me, just stop drooling all over my posts. If you want to keep losing to "red America" and failing to understand why, then laugh away.

And, stop following me around. I realize that sniping at me must be the highlight of your otherwise dismal existence, but enough’s enough. Surely you have SOMETHING better to do with your time (like pulling wings of flies, or molesting squirrels, or sending love letters to Osama). And your crack about my courage...well, you don’t know anything about me. Leftists make a habit of attacking individual motivations and actions...must be because they don’t have anything else to say. Pitiful.

By all means, Dain, tell us about your brave and noble past!!’s a long story. First I whipped Hitler (nearly single-handed). Then I stopped those waves of Red Chinese in Korea. During Vietnam, I took a break...probably why we lost. Since then I’m a bit old for combat.

Happy now, smarta$$?

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