Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Playing for Time

Yesterday evening we went to see Arthur Miller's play "Playing for Time" at the Salisbury Playhouse. The play is about an orchestra of predominantly Jewish women musicians who survive by playing to the German officers at Auschwitz. Originally a TV play, the production didn't seem to us to transfer particularly well to the stage - too many scene changes broke the continuity. And the ethical dilemmas of perverting art to soothing the angst of concentration camp guards seemed too telegraphed to be truly moving.

However, the scenes of brutality and ill-treatment segued into today's story of Shia government brutalisation and torture of 173 predominantly-Sunni detainees in Baghdad. Another day in Iraq, you might say.

The question never addressed: once we put aside the hypocrisy of official statements, and the hand-wringing of the human rights community, why does this occur and how could it be stopped? In a previous post I described Peter Turchin's concept of asabiya (loosely the degree of human social solidarity in a society). A high-asabiya society works together - a low-asabiya society is divided into mutually-disregarding groups which routinely abuse each other. Guess where, in the global Asabiya index, Iraq is today?

I guess the answer I was looking for was this. To minimise ill-treatment and torture, create states around the boundaries of communities which can realistically expect to evolve towards a stable high-asabiya condition. Practice politics between states and groups so that relations do not transition to that low-asabiya state known as war.

Do you think current western policy in the middle-east is aligned with this approach?

Note added a little later:

Thinking about it, if you reflect on what they're actually doing rather than what they're saying, this could well be the policy. The 'unified Iraq' model was long-ago abandoned, replaced by the hyper-federated model along ethnic-cultural-religious lines. I would guess the last piece of the puzzle is to get the Sunnis to agree to their own mini-statelet, and close down jihadist attempts to destabilise the entire region while unleashing holy war on everyone non-Wahhabi.

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