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Sez Who? How This Thesis Came About

By Steven Pressfield | Published: June 9, 2009

Yesterday we talked about the idea that the real enemy in AfPak today is not militant Islam or jihadism or terrorism. It’s tribalism and the tribal mindset.

Now: how did this thesis evolve? What’s the source? Upon what authority do I put this idea forward?

It comes from my own research and study of history. For my book The Afghan Campaign, I immersed myself in Alexander the Great’s campaign in Afghansitan, 330-327 B.C. That campaign was remarkably similar to our own contemporary struggle, but with this extremely significant difference: Alexander was pre-Christian and his enemies were pre-Islamic. (300 years before the birth of Christ, 900 before the birth of Mohammed.)

That’s what made me first ask, Who are these guys? What characterizes this enemy (it can’t be Islam, since Islam wasn’t around in 330 B.C.) who seems to be the same today as he was 2300 years ago.

For another book, Last of the Amazons, I did extensive research on tribes. What makes them tick? How do they think? How are they different from you and me? That study convinced me even more strongly that tribalism was the key to this contemporary conflict.

I began writing op-ed pieces on this subject–one for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and another for ABC News Online. The feedback I got convinced me even further that this thesis had real value.

Finally, for a book I’m currently working on, I began studying modern Afghanistan. British involvement in the 19th Century, the Russian debacle in the 1980s … then our own engagement post 9/11, Operation Jawbreaker, Operation Anaconda, Roberts Ridge and so forth. I haven’t been on the ground in Afghanistan myself but I feel like I’ve lived there several lifetimes, just from being submerged in its study for so long. I also have numerous friends, authors, journalists and correspondents from the Marines, Special Forces, Army Airborne and others who have personally served, or are still serving, in Afghanistan. Their ideas and writings have broadened and reinforced this concept too.

I hope to share some of their thoughts as this series goes along and I most earnestly invite any and all fighting men and women to chip in their opinions, criticisms, whatever. Tell me I’m wrong. Let’s stir the pot!

Tomorrow I want to share a piece with you from David Ronfeldt, called 21st Century Tribes. David is a Senior Fellow at the Rand Corporation and the author of Networks and Netwars: The Future of Terror, Crime and Militancy. After that, I’ve got some very interesting videos to share.

Posted in Afghanistan, Agora, On Tribalism

One Response to “Sez Who? How This Thesis Came About”

  1. Bill B
    June 10, 2009 at 12:30 pm

    I came to the same conclusion when I read “A thousand Splendid Suns” and the “The Kite Runner”. I would love to see a dialogue between you and Khalid Hosseni the author of those fine books.
    Tribalism I think may have played a part in the Serb-Croation part of the world as well.