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Thursday, March 3

The Enclave Mentality and the Oriental Stranger Syndrome

"Pundita, Your explanation [in 'Anti-jive Policy' essay] about government corruption in the developing world is very depressing. You're saying that much of it is not really corruption as Americans understand the term but a way life that could take generations to change. There seems to be no solution except attempts to educate."
Ann in Cincinnati"

Dear Ann:

Pundita did not state that the situation could take generations to change. Yes, there has to be a process of education but the process must be first on our side. Rush Limbaugh spent last week in Afghanistan. He wanted to see the situation there with his own eyes. Rush told his audience a story that perfectly illustrates the essence of the problem on our side:

At first there was tremendous resistance among the Afghanis to voting. An Afghani explained his reluctance to a US solider he'd become friends with. He didn't want to vote because the winner would stalk the people who voted for the loser and shoot them.

The soldier told him, "Naw, that's not how it works in a democracy; if you lose, you just regroup and try to make your guy the winner in the next election."

The Afghani asked, "Really?" The soldier replied, Yeah really.

That was all it took. The Afghani went and told his family and friends. Thus, the US military realized the problem, and pretty soon word was flying around Afghanistan that a democracy means you don't get shot if you vote for the loser.

Well, how were the Afghanis supposed to know unless someone told them?

Rush also told a story about Ayatollah Sistani; Sistani nixed the US advice that the Iraqi Constitution had to be ratified by a majority of Iraqis. Conversation with Americans he'd gotten to know revealed that he thought the US had made up the rule for Iraq. The Americans told him, Naw, that's what Americans did; that's why American democracy is so strong.

Sistani decided to investigate. After a few weeks of studying American history, he realized that by gum, the Americans were telling the truth; thus, he saw the logic of not adopting a constitution without majority agreement.

Now in consideration of the billions of dollars the World Bank and Washington have spent on analyzing The Native, you might think the stories Rush Limbaugh told are anomalies. You would be wrong. The stories point to the Enclave Mentality, which has dominated US foreign policy thinking since US relations with Native populations began. The mentality is lifted whole cloth from the European colonizing mindset.

Americans are greatly mistaken if they think the mindset died out along with European colonizing. Today, Americans doing oil business in Nigeria live in enclaves, which keep them isolated from virtually all Nigerians except the officials and the wealthiest businesspeople. This situation is repeated all over the world.

The Native officials do provide the Enclave Americans with a picture of the host country and its peoples. However, the picture is the same type that World Bank employees drawn from the developing world write up in policy papers for the Bank. The Natives gauge what the Bank wants to know, then frame their analysis of the Native from that viewpoint. Therefore, galactic-sized chunks of reality are omitted from the analyses.

The Bank's view is as skewed as Washington's. Washington runs on policy papers; to be more specific, it runs on one page two-syllable abstracts of policy papers. Congressionals are supposed to read the policy papers but most only read the abstracts, which are piled to the ceiling in their office. They leave the chore of reading the actual papers, which can run to 1,000 pages with 20 pages of footnotes, to their aides. These aides are straight out of college and their brains must function on the nutrition provided by peanuts, popcorn and cola.

These are the Americans charged with comprehending and summarizing policy papers for Congress. Their boss stuffs the summary and abstract into his briefcase and reads them on the way to his congressional committee sessions, which set budgets and help shape US defense/foreign policy.

With regard to the Pentagon and CIA, their analysts actually read the policy papers and even comprehend them in some cases, but they read with a magic marker in their head. Every sentence has to be reframed in terms of budget considerations and DoD or Intel protocols. That means their analysis of the papers omit galactic sized chunks of reality.

The picture that Americans receive from government officials in foreign countries is the same type that the British overlords received from the rajas in India. The rajas were mostly concerned with keeping their power. Thus, the strongest message that came through to the British was "Don't rile the Natives any more than you have to."

The French developed a very creative way of dealing with the same message, maybe because the French didn't possess the navy the British had in those days. The French thought up the Modernity Kit, which they hawked to every chieftain they wanted to trade with. They convinced the chiefs that you're a thoroughly modern person if you master the French language, learn to eat with a knife and fork, and develop an appreciation for chamber music.

Thus, generations of colonized peoples were raised up without a clue as to what really constitutes modern Western government. They got only the outward forms: the marble buildings of bureaucracy and judiciary, the 15 copies of a directive that had to be signed and stamped, the filing cabinets and the ritual banter between judges and lawyers.

That is how it came to pass that vast tracts of humanity have no idea what makes for American democracy and how it came about. They do not know that America was built by women wearing long dresses and men with beards--men and women who were not terribly bright, who were for the most part narrow-minded and insular, and whose education was pretty much confined to reading the Bible. In short, vast tracts of humanity don't know that America was built by the same kind of people they are.

Now what does it take to correct that misperception? Yet more mountains of policy papers? Yet more billions spent on educational programs? The creation of yet more international organizations?

First it takes understanding the major roadblock, which was inadvertently alluded to by Banfsheh Zand-Bonazzi, the editor of Iran Press News during a conversation she had one night with John Batchelor. She mentioned in passing that the Iraqi borders weren't locked down by the Coalition forces because the British didn't want to offend the so-called nomadic tribes.

The tribes insisted that they be allowed to pass back and forth between Iran and Iraq whenever they wanted. These aren't just any old tribes; they control a lot of business including oil business in Iran. Zand-Bonazzi said bluntly that the British wanted to protect British business interests in Iran.

As to why the US military command in Iraq went along with it, Pundita is not sure. But given the history of US-British relations during the Cold War, which parallels to remarkable degree the plot of Thelma and Louise, it's likely the US command in Iraq didn't have a clue. The British command lectured their American counterpart about the importance of striking non-threatening poses while dealing with the Iraqi Native. Don't wear helmets, wear caps; don't carry your weapons in such obvious fashion, etc.

The British pointed to the relative peace and quiet of Basra to shore up the lectures. Well of course it was peaceful and quiet in Basra. The most powerful tribes were happy they could cross the border at will. The Iranian military and al Qaeda were happy they could use Basra as an easy entry point into Iraq.

Don't tear your hair because you'll be bald by the time you finish reading this essay. What Zand-Bonazzi was talking about is a very old story--it's as old as trade among different tribes. However, it was the colonizing trade model that created the enclave. During Victorian times, the mentality gave rise to the Oriental Stranger Syndrome, which is the Enclave Mentality filtered back to the home peoples who hear third hand about Natives.

The Oriental Stranger kept legions of British novelists, scholars and newspaper reporters gainfully employed. He also took the heat off London's embattled police force, which was fighting a crime wave that emanated from inhumane working conditions in London factories and slave wages paid the factory laborers. Muffled in turbans and reeking of garlic and other strange odors, the Oriental Stranger stalked the gaslit streets of London, wreaking murder and mayhem on Christianity, Western Civilization and British who didn't make it home before dark.

The Oriental Stranger did not spring whole cloth from the fertile imagination of fiction writers and reporters. He sprang from their imaginings about tales told by British soldiers garrisoned in far-flung outposts and British traders who lived in enclaves in the outposts. These tales rested largely on what the outpost rulers told the British about the outpost peoples.

This doesn't mean the stories were complete fiction; they were a window on the world outside the enclave. But you can see very little of the world if you look at it from a window inside your house. In the same manner, the Enclave view shows very little about the peoples outside the enclave.

The Oriental Stranger Syndrome is not really 'prejudice' in the sense of bigotry. It's what happens when you live near peoples you never really interact with. They are always The Stranger, and strangers are always suspect. Thus, you never let your guard down, you never say what you really think, you never really communicate. This sets up a cycle where the Stranger also sees you as a stranger. The upshot is that many colonized peoples learned the outward forms of modern life but didn't get the essences, the subtexts, the referents.

A good example of where this situation leads is the US military and business consultants stationed in Saudi Arabia. They lived in garrison and enclaves, they were trained not to make any criticism of the cultural practices they saw when they had to leave the enclaves. They were trained to look without seeing, and to avert their eyes about many things they looked at. This created a mystique of American power and menace and kept the knowledge Americans had about their culture locked up with them in the enclaves. That allowed the most radical elements in the Saudi society to interpret American culture and democracy to the Saudis.

So while it's ghastly that it had to happen this way, the ongoing terrorist attacks forced the US military out of the Green Zone in Baghdad. That meant legions of American kids and Iraqis had no choice but to interact with each other in a way that never would have happened, if the US occupation of Iraq had gone as the White House originally envisioned.

The same happened in the Afghanistan theater of war. American kids spilled off the military helicopters, looked around and asked, "Where's the base?" An Afghani would ride up, hand the soldiers the reins to a horse and say, "Here it is."

During an earlier era, the CIA and the Afghanis understood the common enemy--the Soviets--and were able to communicate effectively at that one level. That's a far cry from the communication needed to help the Afghanis build up their nation and a functioning democracy while dealing with insurgencies. The US military learned that they could not stay in their garrisons. They had to get out and go live with the Afghanis and they had to explain who Americans are and how we think.

Same happened in Iraq. What do American kids know about diplomacy and trade? And how many of them are walking textbooks on democratic government? They just reacted to the Iraqis in the way they react to people in their home towns. In other words, they acted human, which allowed the Iraqis to learn about them and respond in kind. This was despite the Green Zone, which is an enclave.

The terrorist attacks forced the US military to keep coming out of the enclave, and forced the Iraqis to keep talking with the Grunts. So despite the situation that Zand-Bonazzi mentioned, and despite the Green Zone, the Oriental Stranger syndrome was broken. No surprise, this was followed by the willingness of several Iraqi patriarchs to give a democratic election a try.

Thus another illustration of the truth in the old adage, "Your worst enemy is also your best friend." The enemy's ongoing terrorist attacks in Iraq have done more to further the cause of democracy than most Americans can imagine at this time.

After the Colombine massacre, a neighbor of one of the killers lamented that if only they'd gotten to know their neighbors and engaged with the kids on their block, maybe they would have noted the killers' increasingly strange behavior and mentioned it to the parents. The neighbor added, "But we were just so busy working and commuting; we didn't have the time to engage with the neighbors."

Better make the time because we can't expect a policy analyst to identify the most serious warning signs here or abroad. Yet the signs are not hard to read if we stop, look and listen and engage, engage, engage.

You won't ever lose your compass if you remember that people are not economics and political models of behavior. They are people. They are people whether they live next door or ten thousand miles away; if you forget that, then you must look at people through the narrow window of policy papers and intelligence briefings.

And you must be prepared to wait generations more, before the developing world grapples with the issues Pundita discussed in the Anti-jive Policy essay. But where is the rocket science in the points I brought up? Does it take a special gene to grasp that one can't stick with the clan system, which was designed to serve a few thousand people, and hope to get rid of entrenched corruption in a centralized government that administers to many millions of people?

.
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