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Re: NYTimes.com Article: Iraqi Family Ties Complicate American
by Elson Boles
03 October 2003 14:05 UTC
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The New Ruth Benedicts

Whether Iraqi cousin marriages are unique or not (and they aren't) is 
irrelevant.  Fox's spurious argument is this: cousin marriages make nepotism a 
moral duty which explains undemocratic political institutions.  He thus argues 
that American efforts to change Iraqi might be impossible because the "Western 
idea" of "liberal democracy" is hindered by, and is antithetical to, Iraqi 
culture. Tierney reinforces the idea: "The extraordinarily strong family bonds 
complicate virtually everything Americans are trying to do here, from finding 
Saddam Hussein to changing women's status to creating a liberal democracy.  

Fox is among the New Ruth Benedicts.  So is Alexander Stille who, writing 
earlier this year in the NYTs, refers to a (very flawed) defense of Benedict by 
Pauline Kent, Ryokoku University and citing Benedict directly, argues that the 
US needs "new Ruth Benedicts" to help the US officials understand Iraqis just 
as Benedict helped them understand Japan.   

The similarity of the New Benedict's views of the Iraqis with Benedict's views 
of the Japanese is striking.  She argued forcefully that Japanese culture, not 
the state or historical capitalism, denied "simple freedoms" and was utterly 
"alien to equality loving Americans."  Stille makes the New Benedict view 
explicit with this analogy: "Kamikaze pilots were like today's suicide bombers, 
symbols of a fanatical culture with no appreciation for the individual."  
Likewise, the universalistic rhetoric of US government leaders today resembles 
that of Benedict, who referred to the "high moral bases on which the US based 
her policy" contra the alien enemy that "sinned against an international code 
of 'live and let live'" and violated "absolute standards of morality."


Elson E. Boles
Assistant Professor
Dept. of Sociology
Saginaw Valley State University
University Center, MI 48710
(989) 964-4178

>>> <Threehegemons@aol.com> 09/29/03 10:39PM >>>
In a message dated 9/29/2003 9:55:24 PM Eastern Daylight Time, 
b_rieux@yahoo.com writes:

> My question is how unique is the pattern of cousin
> marriage in Iraq? I'm not sure from reading the NYT,
> and will have to do further research. I'm sure most
> Iraqis are not traditional herders, though I'm also
> sure there are remnants in Iraq and Iran. Still I
> don't know about the marriage situation in Iraq but
> plan to find out.

This is an interesting question, but its also pretty much an academic one of 
interest to anthropologists seeking to understand Iraq. Whenever its been 
convenient, the West has come up with these reasons why one place or another 
(China, India, Iraq, whoever) can't be modern.  Actually, not long ago, the 
'line' about the Mideast was that the problem was that Islam had not 
sufficiently seperated from the state, that it required a Protestant 
Reformation(presumably skipping the three-hundred years or so that followed of 
religious wars and intolerance).  Now we hear its all a question of the Iraqis 
marrying their cousins--a reason seemingly designed to repulse Americans.

Steven Sherman 

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