Victor Davis Hanson says (here), “[I]f we have an orphaned war that is dubbed lost, it nevertheless can still be won. None of our mistakes has been fatal; none is of a magnitude unprecedented in past wars; all have been cataloged; and few are now being repeated.” Hanson’s article includes a very fine catalog of our failings in Iraq, but as has been the case throughout the conflict, he takes an optimistic view of the path ahead.
Some would agree with him. Some would not. I think the best option available at this point is to hope that General Petraeus’ plan is somewhat effective. But conservative family researcher Stanley Kurtz thinks that our problem in the Middle East is far more intractable than most have thought.
A couple of weeks ago Kurtz published two provocative articles (part 1, part 2) where he explores what he believes is at the root of Islamic extremism and terrorism in the Middle East. I have waited to write about this because he promised to discuss in a future article what should be done about it. That should be interesting, because the problem he discusses is so deeply entrenched in the culture that a solution is difficult to imagine. Alas, after two weeks of waiting, part 3 has yet to be published.
Kurtz’s theory is that the preferred family structure in many Middle Eastern societies results in a natural conflict with modernity. It all comes down to exogamous and endogamous marriage practices. Exogamous marriages between clans open them to external thought and external alliances. Endogamous marriages, on the other hand, create extremely tight “self-sealing” clans that shun external influences.
Long before Islam was founded, the preferred marriage practice in many parts of the Middle East was within clans, and it still is. Clans are defined solely along patriarchal lines. Although most Americans find the idea anathema today, the practice in significant swaths of the Middle East has been and is today marriage between parallel cousins. That is, marriage to a child of your father’s brother. Being a strictly patriarchal order, this strengthens the clan against external thought and external influences.
Not all of the results of this are bad, Kurtz notes. Endogamy provides “benefits of heightening social cohesion and preserving cultural continuity.” But endogamous societies rely mostly upon who you are rather than what you know or can do. Also, “Instead of encouraging cultural exchange, forging alliances, and mitigating tensions among competing groups, parallel-cousin marriage tends to wall off groups from one another and to encourage conflict between and among them.”
Endogamy specifically goes against integrative factors such as “cultural communication, adaptive development, and mutual trust,” which are essential elements to coping with modernity. Kurtz explores examples of how the Middle East has found successfully implementing modern business organizations to be an impossible task, unless they are significantly staffed with foreign help. He discusses how Middle Easterners moving to the West often have incredible difficulty integrating, even after generations.
Kurtz is quick to note that endogamous marriage is not an Islamic tenet. However, religious reasons are often cited for continuing its practice. Indeed, it was Mohammed’s ability to bring so many endogamous tribes and clans together under a single head that was one of his crowning achievements. But Kurtz suggests that this achievement now threatens our entire world.
I find Kurtz’s thesis intriguing. He shows no malice toward Islam, but does harbor significant concerns about preferred family structure in many traditionally Islamic societies. I believe he makes his point quite convincingly. It makes me ponder the significance of family structure as we experiment and tinker with it in Western societies. The impacts of this tinkering are unpredictable and may result in significant problems many generations down the road.
What I want to know is what Kurtz proposes to do about the problem he has defined. I’m not smart enough to perceive any reasonable way to solve it. I think that it’s quite obvious that there is no quick fix. Is it even possible to implement a solution that could prove useful any time during the life of children being born today? Come on, Dr. Kurtz, let’s have the next part in the series.
(A full library of Stanley Kurtz’s NRO articles can be found here.)