Small Wars Journal

Challenges Ahead in the Middle East

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Challenges Ahead in the Middle East

by A. Lawrence Chickering

Download the Full Article: Challenges Ahead in the Middle East

Two decades ago, flying with a friend over Cairo's City of the Dead, Hosni Mubarak pointed to the forest of TV antennas below and remarked, "This is why I no longer control Egypt as I once did."

Although the United States knew the events were coming that have swept through the Middle East, it was utterly unprepared for them. These events, protesting dictatorships and promoting democracy in a number of countries, will disturb the region for as long as it takes to complete the revolution and transition to stable democracies. If U.S. policy is to support this transition and promote change, it must consider differences in internal conditions leading up to the unrest within each country. But underneath the differences are much deeper social and cultural similarities that represent the real challenge. Unfortunately, these similarities are now being largely ignored.

Mainstream comment on the recent unrest denies that any common social or political force is driving the unrest and only emphasizes the differences among the countries where the unrest is strongest (Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, and other countries). They emphasize different elements ranging from the role of the army, the nature of the autocratic governments, the state of the education system, the role of women, and a blizzard of other differences.

There is, however, a common force driving unrest that is spreading across the region. It is the desire of tribal people for freedom. The freedom they seek has many components: freedom to abandon lives rigidly defined by traditional roles, freedom to participate actively in their own economic and social progress, freedom from dictators and freedom to participate actively in civic life. In essence, it is the desire to be free to leave the passive role-bound nature of traditional tribal life and choose an active role in modern life.

If people are to be free to make such a change in their lives, they must embrace a new set of values: social trust, active citizenship, individual empowerment, self-governance, and a sense of equality. These values are crucial to any healthy and stable transition to democracy. Without them there will be increasing unrest and instability throughout the region.

Download the Full Article: Challenges Ahead in the Middle East

A. Lawrence Chickering is a social entrepreneur and writer who designs and implements civil society strategies in public policy. He is founder and President of Educate Girls Globally (EGG), which has developed a powerful program for promoting girls' education and empowering traditional communities by reforming government schools, partnering with the government of the very tribal state of Rajasthan in India. Before that, he founded the International Center for Economic Growth, which was headquartered in Panama and played a major role in promoting economic reform in the more than fifty countries over ten years. He is coauthor of Strategic Foreign Assistance: Civil Society in International Security (2006). The author would like to thank Larry Biehl, P. Edward Haley, and Tom Rautenberg for their comments on earlier drafts of this paper.

About the Author(s)

A. Lawrence Chickering is a social entrepreneur and writer who designs and implements civil society strategies in public policy.  He is founder and President of Educate Girls Globally (EGG), which has developed a powerful program for promoting girls’ education and empowering traditional communities by reforming government schools, partnering with the government of the very tribal state of Rajasthan in India.  He has concentrated his recent writing on the uses of civil society in foreign policy and, more specifically, in counterinsurgency warfare.  He is coauthor of Strategic Foreign Assistance: Civil Society in International Security (2006).  His other, great interest is conflict management and the search for a transpartisan politics.  He has written two books on that subject: Beyond Left and Right (1993) and (with James S. Turner) Voice of the People: The Transpartisan Imperative in American Life (2008).  He is a regular contributor to the SWJ.


Lawrence Chickering

Wed, 08/03/2011 - 9:38pm

<em>Webmaster note - this user comment is one of a few displayed out of order due to some hiccups during our site migration. By looking at the comment date, you can see where it belongs in the thread. This comment was lost in the ether from ~8/5 to 8/26, when we were able to restore it. The original, unedited comment follows:</em>


My response to your first question runs through my entire article, and it is a central issue in the challenge of modernity for all societies, including the U.S. Dostoyevsky wrote most powerfully about the fear of freedom in "The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor" in *The Brothers Karamazov*. The central challenge of all modern societies is to find sources of order that are consistent with and emerge out of freedom. And that is what I think EGG's process does, engaging people in personal and voluntary contact and connection.

The answer to your question about growing fundamentalism is that when you offer people a choice about freedom and the choice also provides powerful sources of order (people working together for common purposes), fundamentalism will not increase. Please recall my report from many countries that when traditional communities have a stake in their societies through ownership of a well or school, they will protect it and resist insurgents.

Your casual reference to "small effects countering deeply ingrained cultural biases" misses the important point that there is nothing "small" about the change from indifference to educating girls to active advocacy of it or the change from preconscious habit to active engagement: these are *enormous* changes, observed at small scales and in individuals. We are showing, however, that these changes can be encouraged to occur at very large scales -- at much larger scales than in those communities where people with ownership resist insurgencies.

Afghanistan is not the only country where schools are threatened by violent insurgents. Around the city of Asyut in Upper Egypt, the "epicenter of Islamic terrorism" in Egypt, and around Multan, the center of terrorism in Pakistan, community ownership of girls' schools powerfully neutralized the antagonism of violent revolutionaries toward them. It is time to discard these generalizations and ask the question: are there places where it is not working as I think it always does? And if so, what is going on -- because in these places things are happening that are different, and it is important that we understand them and not just ride through space repeating generalizations to which there are significant counterexamples.

I would like to know precisely what the 52-year-old leader did that led to his assassination. I can't say that my program would have prevented it, but there are lots communities where no assassinations are taking place; and I believe if our process had been operating where he was, the chances of his assassination would have been greatly reduced.

It does not follow that local people are providing no information on the assassination because of fear. I have submitted a new article I hope will be published soon in the SWJ that takes that situation and provides a very different explanation for it -- and what to do about it.

You mention opposition to women's rights. Who said anything about rights? I did not. Rights are mechanistic, Western inventions -- the very opposite of the organic process of engagement that is at the heart of the EGG program. My article explains, I think, why traditional and tribal people will oppose rights; but the same people will often move powerfully toward informal, organic empowerment of women when there is strong personal engagement. I can give you thousands of examples in the most difficult places in many countries.

I have thought a lot about the challenge of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. If we had been doing our process in Egypt over the past two decades -- or even one decade -- the environment there would be very different. But I appreciate your idea. I will think about it.

Lawrence Chickering

Wed, 08/03/2011 - 7:20pm

<em>Webmaster note - this user comment is one of a few displayed out of order due to some hiccups during our site migration. By looking at the comment date, you can see where it belongs in the thread. This comment was lost in the ether from ~8/5 to 8/26, when we were able to restore it. The original, unedited comment follows:</em>

Bill C,

Sorry for delay in responding, but I have tried responding twice before and lost the contents both times. I hope I will do better now.

Your examples are large-scale, macro situations that were easy to see as foreign invasions -- with the predictable results. My proposal is very different, with proposals emerging from *within* other societies in highly localized situations. No hint of any problems where we have been working in regard to this concern.

If you are suggesting that Pakistan's dysfunction is our fault, P has been in trouble since 1947 in ways that are highly predictable for a tribal society trying to be a centralized state. If our process had been applied in P for a decade or two, the situation would look very different there.

We are not "interferring" with anybody. The tribal communities around thousands of schools have embraced our model without opposition or conflict. Why are you so resistant to evidence?

Lawrence Chickering

Wed, 08/10/2011 - 6:12pm

I wrote a very long comment responding to both Bill C and CBCalif a week or so ago. Unfortunately, the comment has not made the transition from the old format to the new. I am assured it *will* be transferred though. Unfortunately, I did not keep a copy of the comment and so have no way of simply reposting it.

CBCalif (not verified)

Mon, 08/01/2011 - 4:15am

Dr. Chickering:

First, One has to love the English language and the confusion use of certain words (by myself) can cause. I should have stated my question as:

I will leave this subject by asking the question, What are your thoughts as to why so many, perhaps a majority, of the Turkish population want a return to some level of Islamic fundamentalism instead of continued secular development and what does that bode for the relationship between that society and the west if the trend towards Islamic fundamentalism increases in that country?

I did not mean to imply it was your proposition, it was simply my question. Personally, I view the trend away from secularization and toward increasing Islamization in Turkey as troubling.

Also, I was not imply that you work with upper class Indians, only that if their mental approach to education is reflected by the lower or poorer classes in that arena I could see why your approach could there be successful.

I am glad that UNICEF schools are making some progress in the secularization of Egypt, however, I would not so offhandedly dismiss the views and experience of those living and surviving in a culture. Small effects countering deeply ingrained cultural biases are one thing, but if one was to have the appearance of effecting large scale change minimizing the control of Islamic radical types over their society, then that movement will in all likelihood evoke a violent reaction.

Islamic fundamentalists do not respond through blog debates, but instead use assassinations and bombs against clients of their opposition when necessary. The Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Hezbollah, etc. are not people easily convinced by academically logical arguments. Schools flourish in Afghanistan only due to the presence of our military. Good luck to those individuals who try to implement the approach of education without military protection in the face of Islamic radicals.

Remember what happened recently in the so called Jenin refugee camp to the Palestinian Isreli Juliano Mer-Khamis, the 52-year-old director of The Freedom Theater attempting to change that culture to one of peaceful resistance--sadly just as my Palestinian friend predicted. By the way, the Palestinian authorities assert they have no idea who carried out the assassination. Clearly the locals are not providing them information out of fear. They know what will happen to them if they cooperate with the police.

I know many Palestinian and Jordanian men, but do not know many, if any, who wish or would permit their women to have equal rights. That is not a cultural view or prejudice I agree with, but I certainly wouldn't argue with them in their world. They get quite angry and are rather irrational about the possible effect of Western culture diminishing their authority.

Perhaps you should publish a paper on a method for diminishing the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, as it certainly appears from the news that the rather disorganized Egyptian groups favoring a secular society (I believe) need help.

Good luck to those who try and do the actual teaching or ...., however it is the program functions. I wish them success. In the Arab world they had better watch their backs and their fronts. Their probable opponents use violence as a tool of influence and assassinate with little concern.

Bill C. (not verified)

Sun, 07/31/2011 - 12:54pm


Last sentence should have said:

This is not the case today with the people you -- AND WE -- are interfering with.

Bill C. (not verified)

Sun, 07/31/2011 - 12:40pm

Dr. Chickering:

I feel left out. What of my reasoning re: the extreme dangers of unintended negative outcomes and unanticipated horrific/mutative consequences re: "offering choices?" And my example, in this regard, of (a) the offer of Christianity to China and (b) China's Taiping Rebellion?

Should we not consider, in this exact same "cause" (the offer of choices) and "effect" (the disasters this can produce) light, your statement to CBCalif immediately above, to wit: "Instability and internal conflict creating strong dangers of Islamic radical insurgents overthrowing regimes in countries which then become bases for the overthrow of neighboring regimes. The greatest danger here is Pakistan with nuclear weapons" ...?

Herein, the "road to Hell" you describe immediately above being paved by the modern world's "good intentions" (specifically: our "offer of choices" to the peoples of these areas).

In the past, the people of China could not strike back at us here in our homeland when we intervered in their affairs by offering state and societally disruptive choices.

This is not the case today with the people you are interfering with.

Lawrence Chickering

Sat, 07/30/2011 - 7:08pm


We have no economic interest. But we have strong national security interests. Instability and internal conflict create strong dangers of Islamic radical insurgents from overthrowing regimes in countries which can then become bases for overthrow of neighboring regimes. The greatest danger here is Pakistan with nuclear weapons, having already shared nuclear secrets with other regimes.

Our program is not *imposed* on anybody.

I disagree with most of your assumptions in your second graf. Highly focused radical religious visions can dominate a preconscious, tribal culture, but reports from all regions -- Upper Egypt, Afghanistan, NWFP in Pakistan -- show that where people have ownership of schools or wells, they *resist* insurgents. No matter what your Palestinian Christian lady says, when people become conscious, reaching beyond family and tribe, their behavior changes radically, their identity changes, and the hold of traditional culture greatly weakens. In our process it take 4-5 minutes for men to go from indifference to educating girls to active support of it. This reality, observed in hundreds (now, thousands) of schools completely contradicts your assumptions about tribal peoples, moving toward conscious engagement.

These generalizations, imputing strong, static qualities to people based on ethnicity and religious faith are based on deterministic and mechanistic assumptions about people that conflict with the great variety of behaviors between people -- and especially conflict with empirical observations of the same people, as they move toward consciousness.

I can't disagree with you about the first part of your discussion of Turkey. I do not see where you get the idea that I think most Turks want to go back to a religious fundamentalist political system. If the Turks implemented our organic, bottom-up process, they would move move rapidly on a path toward secular democracy.

Upper class Indians are not at all like the tribal people we work with. There are lots of examples of tribal people gaining ownership who resist religious extremists: in northwest Pakistan, for example, and NWFP in Pakistan. Your generalities are based on ignorance of what happens in particular places with real empowerment.

I don't disagree with you about people's claim that they can secularize the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, but if we were together and had a blackboard, I could sketch a broad strategy on how to reduce their influence in Egyptian politics and build a mass movement to resist them. At present, we are not doing anything remotely like this, which explains why the threat of the MB persists in that country and many other place.

I agree with your point about pudding and eating. But the reason no full democracy has appeared among Arab countries is precisely the point of my article. There *are* many, many examples of radically changed behavior in tribal societies -- like the fathers in the UNICEF schools in Upper Egypt who before the schools would not let their girls out of their homes and after the schools said, many of them, that they would let their girls go to Cairo to college. These radical changes are only observable today in small populations, responding to small-scale interventions. But that is precisely my point: scale these experiences, add a powerful communications component, and you would start to see powerful changes in central governments.


I have a suggestion for you. Before subjecting my words, written hurriedly, to linguistic philosophical analysis in order to invalidate a point, ask yourself if there is any sense in which what I am writing might be true. At the risk of boring readers of these comments to distraction, I will respond to your statement about my choice of the word "allow". "Allow" can mean "give permission", as you interpret it; or it can mean "open space for" -- without any connotation of giving anyone permission. This should have been perfectly obvious to anyone not totally bent on interpreting what I am writing in a manner that is obviously false.

You may think, as others in this discussion obviously think, that I want to push *American* values on other people. I do not think empowerment and choices are "American values"; they are *universal values*.

On preconscious, there is a long literature relating the evolution of political systems/art/language, etc. to the evolution of consciousness. Tribal cultures are (crudely speaking) preconscious. If you would like some citations to get you started in exploring this point in relation to changes in language in the Old Testament (for example) or changes in art from the end of the Middle Ages to the beginnings of the Renaissance, I would be pleased to send some. Even studies in different causes of depression in different cultures are fundamentally about different stages of consciousness.

I feel no superiority to tribal peoples. My own consciousness has changed a lot over the course of my own life and will change far more as I approach the end of it. So will yours. As I said in one response, I deeply long for the serenity and peace of undifferentiated identity. You are definitely correct that the "connected" state of preconsciousness makes tribal people aware of many things we are not aware of. And, in fact, that is precisely the challenge for all modern people -- to find their way back to that connection, but *consciously*.

I deeply respect the tens of thousands of people who have chosen to move beyond preconsciousness and then chosen to stay there because they are more experientially alive than when they were living through preconscious roles. You are not responding to the content of my argument here. When you say I have contempt, you are calling me names, which suggests you have nothing substantive to say in response to my argument.

Sorry, but I am not going back to your repeated statement that we want to change anyone or that we are imposing on anyone. If you *could* go and see our work in Rajasthan, you would not keep repeating this point, which has nothing whatever to do with what we do.

Thank you for your question about what has not worked and what we have learned from it. We are constantly learning from what we do. Four years ago, at the first village meeting, we encouraged girls who have dropped out of school and want to return to get up in front of the community and ask the men for a chance in life (to go back to school). The men would respond, empathically, and many of them, who moments before were indifferent to girls going to school, became advocates for it. They would re-enroll the girls on the spot. We learned, over time, that the habits of girls not going to school could not be overcome so easily. So the community organized "girls' parliaments", which worked with families, encouraging to let their girls go to school. Over time, they succeeded.

We also learned that we could not choose the "natural leaders" of communities without significant passage of time. Now we expect that the natural leaders will emerge only after four or five months of working together.

Your description of modern people living tribal lives by choice is extremely interesting. Doing it by choice is very different than being born into a tribal society. It is entirely consistent with my basic point that such people, many of them and you, may have found the antidote to modern alienation; and the only thing I regret is that I cannot sit with you and learn more about what you (they) are doing and what you have learned from the experience.


Thu, 07/28/2011 - 12:00am

Dr. Chickering:

Not to pile on... but it seems to me that I am responding exactly to what you write. For example:

<i>Our process allows people who do not want to change to continue as they are.</i>

Don't you think that choice of verb is rather revealing? "Our process <b>allows</b> communities...". Do they require your permission? Why would any outside party presume the right to allow or disallow any other the ability to make their own choices? When we speak of <i>our</i> models, of giving and bringing and allowing and disallowing, does that not say something about our approach? How do we speak of empowerment in one sentence and in another speak of what we will <b>allow</b> others to do?

Again, responding to exactly what you write:

<i>The most important change involves the movement away from the preconscious, role-defined ways of living associated with traditional and tribal life toward consciousness and engagement, seeing people as people</i>

Who told you that tribal or traditional people are "preconscious"? What's the basis for that statement, or for your previous statements that such people are not fully alive? Do you really think that the application of such assumptions is a sound basis for an equal relationship with such communities?

In my experience tribal/traditional communities are every bit as "conscious" as you and I, and in their own physical and social environment they are often conscious of a great deal that we don't see.

If "role-playing" is a concern, do we not do it too, all the time? If we adopt the role of "saviour of the benighted" do we not then impose a role on those we propose to save?

<i>Dayuhan, if you think I feel contempt for the generality of tribal life, it is obvious that your contempt is for individual people in tribal societies, determined to keep them where they are regardless of what they want.</i>

My comment on contempt was a reaction to comments such as those quoted above. I can't interpret the references to pre-consciousness and being partially alive as anything but contempt, or at least a sense of superiority so extreme that it is equivalent to contempt.

I have no contempt for those who seek to obstruct change, or those who seek to promote it, as long as those forces come from within. Every society changes, and in every society - including ours - there are those who seek to promote and to obstruct various changes. Both are necessary. The interplay between the two is what allows a society to choose, on its own, what will change, and how, and when. When outside parties appear and take sides in that equation to advance their own agendas, that process is distorted.

<i>Your statements that people do not want choice is contradicted by the fact</i>

I never said people don't want change. I suspect, though, that most people want control over what changes, how it changes, and how fast. I suspect that most people would also prefer to see change initiated by them according to their values and priorities, not initiated by outsiders pursuing their own agendas.

<i> there has been no significant opposition to our program in even a single school. Since all you have seen is what others are doing, and you have not seen what we do, I might suggest that you come to Rajasthan and see for yourselves. </i>

I'd be glad to, if you'll pay for the ticket, but it would be a poor investment on your part. I am not in a position to make any relevant assessment, as I don't speak the language and I have no baseline experience to work from.

I've always found that one of the most revealing things about NGOs is their willing to discuss, analyze, and learn from their failures and mistakes. Everyone and every program has them: perfection is not a human characteristic. Groups that are willing to let them out in the open are generally more adaptable and show a greater degree of honesty than those who do not... perhaps you might want to tell us about some things that haven't worked, and what you learned from them?

<i>Most importantly, people feeling the pain of alienation from our modern, differentiated selves need to be cautious about denying tribal people access to the same development path that they (we) have walked. I don't know if these thoughts apply in any way to the two of you, but I would be interested to find out. </i>

I wouldn't want to deny anyone anything... certainly not my neighbors. In fact I'm not in a position to deny or allow anyone anything. They do what they want. The tribal society I live in is in many ways quite modern: the people around me are online, many have degrees, in many cases advanced ones. They are also tribal. They have been empowered... by themselves, not by any saviour. They have changed... at their own direction and their own initiation, for their own purposes. I would not deny anyone the right to do the same. Just over hte hill people live much more traditionally... but that again is mostly by choice.

I never felt terribly alienated by the modern world. I live here because it's beautiful, I like the mountain lifestyle, I appreciate the values and independence of the people, and the cost of living is low enough that I can work (online) a few hours a week and spend the rest of my time taking care of my kids, riding mt bikes, and paddling kayaks, which seems to me a lot more civilized than slaving away in some urban office and commuting to and from work.

Probably selfish of me, and if I were fully conscious maybe I'd be out saving the world... or maybe not.

It seems to me that our default position on tribal or traditional societies should be to leave them alone, unless they ask us for help in pursuing their priorities. That would change if they posed a direct threat to us, but they generally don't. If anything, we threaten them.

CBCalif (not verified)

Tue, 07/26/2011 - 2:44pm

Dr Chickering:

Too often discussions or debates, if one prefers, at the strategic or policy level descend into discussions over details that may or may not be pertinent or on point. Program cost or tactical result is not my issue, however, once again, I will in this form ask the question, Of what strategic benefit and gain to the United States is participating at the government financed level in an effort to promote some form of Western secular democratization in cultural areas of the world where this currently is not the norm? I presume this is the goal of your program? By gain to this country I mean providing an economic advantage to this country and to the citizens of this nation. Moral goals at the diplomatic level are intellectually wonderful, but if they provide no economic gain and only added costs to this nation, this is in all probability not the time for their implementation. Of course, this begs the question as to what right do those primarily of a European-American culture in this country have the ethical and moral right to even attempt to impose their behavior standards on other ethnic-cultural societies?

Your education based approach is theoretically logical, the results would be more than positive if it could be implemented in that it would convert the affected area into a secular democracy over time. I just dont see how you can implement it in the lands where the religious fanatics or dictators control and they are more then willing to kill those suspected of attempting to change their culture and lessen their control and their marching either in place or to a desired world control. The people in that area of the world who would welcome you effort will not risk or sacrifice their lives to protect your group. They know what is up and who has the weapons and bombs and who are willing to use them and / or die in the attempt. The Kurds are an exception, but we never seem to adequately support that secular, business, and educated oriented group. The Christians, Sunnis, Druze and non-Shiite others of Lebanon are a lost cause and will not stand up to Hezbollah. As a well educated, economically successful, Palestinian Christian lady whom I greatly respect once told me, You [Jews] cant make peace with those [Muslim] peoples. No matter what they directly say to you, they have other objectives, your demise, in mind and will continue to work towards them. There may be Christians and others in that area, but they have almost all become culturally and intellectually Islamic over the centuries. Other than at the point of an American or Western bayonet, those people are not going to culturally change in the near, or perhaps any, future. And, this country will not retain a military presence in that area for as long as it will take. Good luck in your efforts if you go into that area of the world. Secular or [non-Muslim] religious missionary types do not do well there.
Leaving the above aside, at entering into the discussion at the isolated detail level, I again make the point that Turkeys "progression" into the secularized world did not result from democratization, but instead was imposed on the peoples of the Anatolian Peninsular by a military commander, Ataturk, (regardless of the governmental position he then held) and his army. It was imposed at the point of the bayonet, so to speak. Erdogan is attempting to reverse Turkeys secular march into the future and to Islamize that nation while sustaining its economic development. The economic development in that country is being maintained by those of a secular bent and they are the opponents of Erdogans program. If Erdogan succeeds it remains to be seen whether the secular business people and their economy will remain in its current state. Businessmen, engineers, and the like tend to flee nations run by religious fanatics and their following. Also, keep in mind that Turkey over the decades since 1918 has physically, culturally, and economically brutalized its minority populations. The once long term Greek community of the Anatolian Peninsular is essentially no more, over 40,000 Kurds have been murdered over the last two or three decades and attempts made to ban their language and culture, etc. There have been many periods over the past years when the military has run that country and disposed of the so-called elected government.

If statistics determined secularization or democratization, then looking at the per capita income of many Arab area states would lead one to believe they are secularized democracies including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, a number of the Gulf States, etc. The same holds true for any other investment data factors. Does the Chinese stock results, their number of well educated engineers, number of factories, economic growth etc. indicate some level of democracy in that country or in various Arab States?

I will leave this subject by asking the question, Why do you believe so many, perhaps a majority, of the Turkish population want a return to some level of Islamic fundamentalism instead of continued secular development and what does that bode for the relationship between that society and the west if the trend towards Islamic fundamentalism grows in power in that country? As many others have written in various journals, Erdogan and company clearly want to return their nations influence to the heady days of the Ottoman Empire.

Many leaders fail, but that doesnt mean their individual failure is indicative of the failure of a given organization model. Generally it reflects personnel failure. Mubarak stayed in power far too long and it is debatable what he relied on for a power base. Egypts military consists of draftees who apparently are not particularly well paid. If Mubarak had desired to die in office and used that force to secure his position he would have ensured they were a voluntary force and very well paid at all levels not just the officer corps; ensured his police were more numerous, well paid, armed in a military fashion; and moved their combined families into separate and nice areas with a life style depending on their leader remaining in control and his survival. Followers will willingly kill others of their culture to maintain an exceptional life style denied others. Instead Mubarak degenerated into someone with the mindset and decision making ability of Nicholas II of Russia or the Shah of Iran and he is paying the price.
Whether Egypt will end up as a secular, democratic, and modern nation remains to be seen. I listed to some rather foolish ethnically near eastern academics and one Egyptian businessman on C-Span expressing their belief that they could co-opt and liberalize through logic the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt if free elections and so-forth take hold there. It is always fascinating to see how often well educated individuals fail to understand that you can deal through logic with those of a Hitlerian bent on a logical basis and survive--a la Iran and the Mullahs or Lebanon and Hezbollah.

I notice that the example you gave of your program was in an Indian State, not one in the Arab world. I have know and had many technical/business colleagues from India, albeit all from their educated class, and if they reflect the mindset of the so-called lower economic class of their nation I can understand your programs success in that nation. How would you explain and install your program in the Hezbollah Shiite area of Lebanon, in Hamas controlled Gaza, in religiously conservative Yemen, etc. In these type areas they simply assassinate outsiders attempting to secularize their populations or to educate their women. Recall the recent assassination in the "more" liberal area of Palestine when several months ago a pro-Palestinian actor living in the Jenin refugee camp[p of Arab-Jewish heritage was assassinated for advocating peaceful resistance instead of encouraging violence.

As the saying goes, the proof lies in the pudding, to which I will add, not in the recipe. So far popular uprisings in the Islamic world have not produced a single secular style democracy with equal academic, economic, political and other rights for all its citizens. One would have thought it could or should have succeeded in Lebanon, by a long shot once the most secular of Arab nations, but alas look what happened. It is only a matter of time until Hezbollah absorbs all areas of that country under its forceful umbrella. What matters is not the uprising, but the end result.

Bill C. (not verified)

Tue, 07/26/2011 - 11:32am

Dr. Chickering: An example of my concern:

Over a long period of time, Christian missionaries came to China and offered the Chinese people "choices." Herein, the Chinese people, in certain cases, were free to accept or reject Christianity; the Chinese government certainly was not shoving Christianity down the people's throat.

Unintended consequences: The Taiping Rebellion of 1850-1864: 20 million people die.

Thus, "offering choices" -- which the people can, in some instances, feel free to accept or to reject -- should not be considered as a (1) completely benign or (2) purely beneficial concept.

It is, in all truth, like playing with gasoline, fire and TNT, an extremely dangerous undertaking. One that should not be attempted without due consideration of (a) unanticipated and unintended outcomes and (b) extremely grave and adverse consequences.

This, I believe, is what must be adequately and properly weighed against the status quo.


Tue, 07/26/2011 - 12:12am


Know that I do not belittle your attempt to make a difference in the world. You might take a breath however and try and keep in mind a couple of points: debate, a hallmark of both democracy and intellectual process, is not something to be feared: personal attacks as opposed to substantive debate regarding the topic at hand can be perceived as indicative of a weak or not yet fully developed concept. If your cause is true and robust than it will survive and thrive in the free market of ideas.

The study of demographics is an interesting subject. It's a way to examine the political, economic, cultural, and technical groups which influence our world. I have provided a thumbnail sketch of some of my observations regarding demographics in the Middle East and outlined some common business and engineering techniques taught in US universities that are used to analyze environments and predict outcomes. Business and engineering has been around for a few thousand years and over the course of this time myriad of the associated ideas and concepts have survived and thrived in the free market of ideas.

I measure your claims and conduct against this backdrop.

Lawrence Chickering

Mon, 07/25/2011 - 3:17pm

I had one other philosophical thought I wanted to add here. I believe that decisions made consciously are more significant -- morally and spiritually significant -- than decisions made by unconscious habit. I think this distinction is related to the reasons why A and E left the Garden of Eden -- a decision that was not a sin but was *in our nature*. Tribal life is Connected Life, and that, I think, is what makes it so appealing to highly conscious, modern people torn by the alienation of modern life. How can one not long for Connected Life? The (for many, very unhappy challenge) is now to rediscover Connection, but *consciously*. This is the central message in the mystical traditions of all religions. When a modern, conscious person chooses to live in a tribal society, she is making a decision involving very complex issues. Most importantly, people feeling the pain of alienation from our modern, differentiated selves need to be cautious about denying tribal people access to the same development path that they (we) have walked. I don't know if these thoughts apply in any way to the two of you, but I would be interested to find out.

Lawrence Chickering

Mon, 07/25/2011 - 2:08pm

Dayuhan and Bill C.,

You are both criticizing what many, if not the great majority, of NGOs are doing in tribal societies. They deserve to be criticized. It has nothing whatever to do either with what I have written or what Educate Girls Globally does. Our process allows people who do not want to change to continue as they are. This is true in Rajasthan, one of the most tribal states in India; and it will be true anywhere we work. I am growing weary of responding to statements that make no effort to honor what I have written. I will add one additional thought, which may explain the irritation I feel that neither of you is paying any attention to what I am writing.

By giving people a choice, our organic process allows people a choice not "to change", but *to BEGIN to change*. Moreover, the nature of the change is more instrumental than substantive. The most important change involves the movement away from the preconscious, role-defined ways of living associated with traditional and tribal life toward consciousness and engagement, seeing people as people and allowing girls (for example) to go to school because individually they *want* to go to school rather than being kept out of school because of the habit that "girls don't go to school".

Dayuhan, if you think I feel contempt for the generality of tribal life, it is obvious that your contempt is for individual people in tribal societies, determined to keep them where they are regardless of what they want. In EGG's process many things in tribal lives do not change substantively, but in consciousness they now do them by choice rather than dictated by role.

Your statements that people do not want choice is contradicted by the fact that EGG is now working in thousands of schools serving hundreds of thousands of children, and there has been no significant opposition to our program *in even a single school*. Since all you have seen is what others are doing, and you have not seen what we do, I might suggest that you come to Rajasthan and see for yourselves.

One final point. Our approach is so powerful in its impacts that the government of Rajasthan is now paying 50% of the cost of the program, and there is little doubt that in 3-5 years governments everywhere will pay 100% of the costs.

Bill C. (not verified)

Mon, 07/25/2011 - 11:05am

And, to add to what Dayuhan has said:

I personally can think of no better or faster way to start wars, disrupt societies, cause famines, make refugees, alienate populations, invite disease, destroy trade, and limit or preclude access to resources than to go into someone's else's home and start telling them how they should or could live.

This tends to instigate and set the stage for a conflict between those neophetes advocating "change" and a majority who tendancy is to have greater faith and confidence in the time-tested status quo.

Thus, playing with gasoline, fire and TNT. (Gets a lot of innocent people killed and can have many negative, unanticipated and unintended consequences, to wit: the "road to hell is paved with good intentions" logic.)

Dr Chickering:

Your contempt for the tibal cultures of the world seems a bit jarring to me. That's not "disengaged, arm-chair philosophizing", either: I live in a tribal society in the developing world, and have for the last decade. I have a huge amount of respect for that culture. It's held people here together and given them the cohesiveness and strength that's allowed them to resist intrusion by people who would have displaced them, exploited their resources, and left them scattered and marginalized if given the chance.

To put it bluntly: what business is it of yours or mine to go into someone else's home and "promote social development and change".

Again, to be blunt: we can speak all day of "empowerment" and "choices", but if you start presenting "choices" with a preconceived idea of what choice is the right one, that's not empowerment, that's imposition. If you show up at a meeting with tribal people with a predetermined idea of what you want the outcome to be, instead of finding out what outcome they seek... again, that's not empowerment, that's imposition.

If our engagement with tribal people, at any level, doesn't start with respect for the people and their culture, we might well consider staying home until we learn some manners.

I don't think we can afford the luxury of holding onto our long-standing habit of barging into other people's lives and telling them what choices they need to make, telling them they need to change, telling them (or ourselves) that their cultures are inferior or destructive, and generally trying to tell other people how to live... and let's not kid ourselves, when we decide that other people need to change their cultures, that's exactly what we are doing.

I apologize if that sounds harsh, but it's a bit close to home for me. In my little corner of the tribal world we like to be left alone to run things our own way. I suspect that sentiment prevails in a few other places as well.

Lawrence Chickering

Mon, 07/25/2011 - 7:37am

CBCalif and Surferbeetle,

The larger architecture of your perspectives is that the only relevant forces in the ME are large aggregations of people -- tribes and governments especially -- that move in ways, often in conflict, that are predictable according to simple Newtonian causation. In your deterministic framework, passivity and fatalism are the dominant sentiments except the calls for smarter and larger military action to maintain our interests in the region, especially oil.

There is no space for optimism in your vision because you have made no effort to move beyond the very limited boundaries of your deterministic world. With so much at stake, including oil and nuclear weapons, it is hard to understand your unwillingness to engage my call for engagement in a very different way with these societies, a way I believe has the potential to promote social development and change far more quickly than occurred in the West during the period between the end of the Middle Ages and the 18th century, when democratic institutions and values started to take root.

Your passivity, stuck in old ways of thinking and unwilling to reach outside your comfort zone, is a testament to the power of *habit*. My belief is that with so much at stake in this region, we can no longer afford the luxury of holding tenaciously onto these habits.

Lawrence Chickering

Mon, 07/25/2011 - 7:08am


This is a response to your comment posted on July 23.

Your realpolitik argument is of course a restatement of current U.S. policy toward the region, which policy you want to continue. This position depends on several assumptions: first, that these societies will not change; second, that the oil rich states will be able to remain in power and maintain order for the indefinite future without serious reform; and third, that insurgent and terrorist incursions from other countries will not destabilize anybody. These assumptions are, at best, subject to serious doubt.

I am grateful to Surferbeetle for mentioning Turkey as a positive counterexample of your suggestion that these societies will not change. I would add that both because of the internet and because of deliberate actions of their leaders, interesting and significant changes are occurring in many of these societies, including -- in some ways, most interestingly -- Saudi Arabia. The assertion that the oil rich states will be able to maintain order by military without significant change is a statement that many people made about Egypt until last winter.

Among dangerous societies, I would mention the obvious examples of Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan (if we pull out abruptly) as very destabilizing potential bases for insurgent and terrorist initiatives into neighboring oil rich countries. As I have already mentioned, Pakistan will be the most troublesome case if/when the mid-level military leadership launches a successful coup and brings to power a radical Islamic government with nuclear weapons.

I have proposed an alternative way of viewing the challenge of maintaining order and transition to democracy in these societies, which alternative you say is "unproven". Of *course* it is unproven! EGG has demonstrated the transformative power of its model in only 2,342 schools (moving now into 4,500 schools), serving 260,000 children in one of the most tribal districts in the whole of India. I wrote the article to relate the extraordinary potential the model has for promoting change in these societies, which, many of them from Pakistan to Morocco, may become failed states. I am proposing experimentation with the model in other places, including the most difficult, Islamic societies. The risks of such experimentation, if conducted appropriately, will be minimal.

You are concerned about the costs of such experimentation in nation-building. Compared to what? EGG's model costs about $1.50 per child per year for the two-year program. Its extraordinary impact has been verified empirically on a variety of different issues from promotion of community projects to the psychology of tribal girls to learning. Current programs, both military and USAID-funded, many of which cost vast sums, are failing.

None of the examples of change you cite in different countries present counterexamples to my analysis because all represent mechanical actions without any of the personal engagement promoting organic change that is in EGG's model.

I agree with one-half of your basic argument, which half is in fact the heart of my overall argument. This is in your assertion that these societies cannot evolve into democracies because they lack values that are essential for democracies. Among them, you emphasize breaking religious control. My response to this is that *religious control* is not the essential problem. The real problem is *tribal culture*, which leaves people passive and powerless to resist religious revolutionaries. My call for social development is precisely a call to empower people to reduce the influence of tribal culture by personal engagement, which EGG's experience in more than 2,000 schools suggests may hold the key to movement toward secular societies free of influence from religious revolutionaries. This latter point requires much more discussion, and I may devote an entire article to it.

To do what I have proposed will require getting out of our disengaged, arm-chair philosophizing, ceasing our breezy, impressionistic assertions about these societies, and committing ourselves to powerful, personal engagement with them, focusing on the grass roots, where real change needs to happen. While this will be difficult for a culture (our own) that has devoted all of its energy to relationships with governments, which are weak and fragile in these countries, we need now to reach beyond governments and engage the non-state, societal sectors of these societies. This will be essential both to serve our national security narrowly understood and to serve the highest ideals for which our country was founded.


Sun, 07/24/2011 - 9:17pm

And after advocating for including the Turks I go and forget to mention the Turkomen...


Sun, 07/24/2011 - 8:11pm


Although John J. Mearsheimer has provided me with an excellent academic accounting of realist thought (The Tragedy of Great Power Politics), there is nothing to compare with the lessons to be gained by sallying forth into the hot sun of Arabia with a national geographic map, a civilian gps, a positive attitude, and of course several guns and with friends who have guns. Power flows from the end of a gun. Death can be both a positive and a negative motivator. At the other end of things Life offers the same possibilities. Power also flows from knowledge. Duality; the flip of a coin... stochastic processes... .fascinating stuff.

As we are both aware no one country, or leader who manages to embody a country (or a geographical space) for a brief time, will stop the flow of history. It is helpful to observe and describe the contours and obstacles of the main channel and floodplain though and, to continue the metaphor, to remember that hydrology drives hydraulics. So, for this particular point in time you have covered whom I see to be the big influential ground owners (or stakeholders to use the current vogue): Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Turkey (we will skip Egypt at this point in time with the awareness that they will return to our calculation later). Patrons must also be accounted for, since their 'energy inputs into the political, economic, cultural, and technical spheres (security and otherwise) of the ME are not insignificant. The US, China, Russia, France, UK, Italy, and Germany all provide measurable inputs into this particular regional 'control volume we call the ME. You have also covered the main groups we encounter living in the ME: Arabs, Israelis, Kurds, Persians, and Turks who are of the Sunni, Shia, Jewish, Christian, and Yazidi persuasions. The Yazadi that I encountered would correct me here and insist that they are not to be grouped with the Kurds and are in fact, a group apart. We could continue on and note the distinctions between the Sunni (Sufi, Wahabbi, Hanafi, Hanbali, etc,) , between the Shia (twelvers, seveners, quietists, etc), between Sunni and Shia (Feyli) Kurd, take note of the various Christian denominations (Assyrian, Chaldean, Mandean), and note that Zoroastrian rites continue (and that perhaps there is more to this story), in order to provide for a fuller accounting of the forces involved in our calculation. We are both wise enough to know that our calculation only provides a glimpse of what occurs at a discrete moment in time, the measurements taken are imprecise, our analytical methods are empirical, and that we must employ a large safety factor in order to account for our uncertainty. Nonetheless, we know that water does in fact run downhill ;)

In a future post I will share some thoughts with you regarding the process of globalization, and compare this paradigm with some of my observations gleaned from spending a couple of years in Iraq and over a decade in Europe. Suffice to say that changes, larger than usual, are indeed occurring and that I believe the overall direction to be positive at this time. The employment of more efficient centrifuges... not to mention a breakdown in American Democracy, the failure of the EU experiment, or retrenchment in China... could of course derail things however.


CBCalif (not verified)

Sun, 07/24/2011 - 3:31pm


Perhaps we can hope that Turkey's Ataturk era history can provide a catalyst for the secularization and modernization of "Arab" cultures, but recall that he was a soldier, had the backing of his army, and in a combined effort they "imposed" secularization on their country. Today, Turkey appears to becoming more Islamic and it remains to be seen where they will end up. Of course, Erdogan's dreams of being the local era power will be crushed by the fact that Iran when it becomes a nuclear power they will be the king pin of that group, and he is learning that the Arabs are using him, but not controlled or awed by his leadership--as Assad and Company are clearly demonstrating. There is no love lost between Persians, Turks, and Arabs who despise each other regardless of any temporary relationship based on some perceived short term need. My vision of that world does not come from books, campus bound professors, or the vague thoughts of the foreign service types who are at best embassy bound with temporary short trips to local dinners. It comes from having been intimately immersed in that culture, which I certainly enjoyed.

Regardless, although the election results stopped Erdogan and the Islamists from taking complete political control of Turkey, it remains to be seen where that nation will end up.

From a more recent historical prospective, do not forget the lesson of Lebanon. So many took to the streets to drive out the Syrians it led the great (Hotel bound) news pundits of the world to declare secular democracy and western style economics once again alive in that country. They, however, discounted Hezbollah and the power in that part of the world of the muslim radical men with the guns and bombs who are willing to use them on an unfettered basis and die if necessary--as compared to the pro-secularists who are not so willing. Look at the continually timid and cowardly reaction of the Christian community in Lebanon for proof of that comparison.

At least historically, major changes in the cultural control and path of near eastern nations has occurred from application of strength, the men with the guns. Time will tell, but the jury is still out on whether there is an Arab spring leading to democracy in some countries of that area or whether it is simply a rusty spring on an old car.

I prefer realist to pessimist because if the Arab world remains culturally as is it is of no strategic loss to the US, so long as we act as needed to insure the free flow of oil from that part of the world and prevent through whatever means necessary, including force, to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power--which we probably will not do. Then we will see if the concept of mutually assured destruction will stop muslim radicals from acting foolishly given their professed and demonstrated eagerness for a trip to heavenly virgin land. A concept not worth commenting on.

Lawrence Chickering

Sun, 07/24/2011 - 3:58am

Bill C,

You lead your appeal for tribalism by the ironically modern device of posing the issue in harshly dualistic terms. The choice, you say, is either tribalism or modernity. This is a false alternative, which derives from a strongly mechanistic (hence, modern) perspective. When you pose the issue this way -- staying with tribalism or moving mechanistically to modernity -- I have to agree that our mechanistic efforts to sell these ideas, in complete alignment with your posing the issue in terms of "either-or" does, push many tribal and conservative people into revolt against modernity and against the West.

This, however, is not the choice I am posing for the most conservative and tribal elements in these populations. I am proposing opening spaces for people to reach out to each other beyond the roles that confine traditional life. In doing so, I do not need to defend what others are doing in this realm, whether successfully or not. I only assert that in the case of my own organization, Educate Girls Globally, the most tribal people are choosing to start to move away from their static roles toward greater freedom. We have measured this empirically, and the results are overwhelming -- when the process is organic.

Your claim that the unrest reflected in the Arab Spring is caused by resentment against the modernity is badly mistaken. The key mistake is the failure to differentiate between the political activists who are leading the Arab Spring and who are largely, themselves modernists and the really traditional parts of the society who are not participating in the unrest and may be largely unaware of it.


Sat, 07/23/2011 - 1:03pm


Interesting and well written as always, but perhaps yours is an analysis leaning towards the pessimistic side of things?

What of Turkey? Both energized and hobbled by their Ottoman history and their function as a bridge between Western and ME culture, they nonetheless function as a catalyst.

Turkey has energized a significant geographical and intellectual area within the ME (and elsewhere) for some time. Furthermore, the catalyzing role of the internet and, by extension, globalization should not be discounted by your analysis.

There are signs that the ME is in the process of rejoining the global economic sphere. Business metrics regarding energy useage by ME states is but one place to look....

CBCalif (not verified)

Sat, 07/23/2011 - 7:45am

America's involvement in the Middle East or in any other area of the globe should be based solely on securing this nation's vital strategic interests, not on the costly task of nation building which never pays dividends and certainly drains one's treasury. This country's vital strategic interest in the middle east is to insure the so called free flow of oil to the industrialized West and specifically to this country in the volume needed, at the timing needed, and ideally at a reasonable price. We currently have a second tactical objective for our presence in the [territorially ever expanding area entitled the] middle east--preventing terrorist groups from there establishing or maintaining secure bases from which to plan and conduct operations or to enable us to use the terrorists location as a killing ground, thereby allowing the elimination of a somewhat concentrated collection of terrorist enemies.

Strategic objectives which require an American presence of some degree and quantity in that area and our establishing relations based on mutual needs with only a small number of middle eastern nations and leaders and helping ensure they remain sufficiently strong enough to control their nations.

The Saudi and Kuwaiti ruling families are prime examples and each is capable of controlling by force if necessary their land and people. Their rulers need the money our purchases of their product provides. It fuels their lifestyles and provides funds for well paid and equipped security forces, if they are smart, and money for their populations.

Absent those objectives we should carefully review whether expending effort on the yet as unproven beliefs that sustained "evolutions and revolutions of governance [are in fact] underway in the Middle East {which will] will shape our future, and that of the people of this region and the world," or "that [there is either] a common force driving unrest that is spreading across the region [consisting of] the desire of tribal people for freedom ... to abandon lives rigidly defined by traditional roles, freedom to participate actively in their own economic and social progress, freedom from dictators and freedom to participate actively in civic life."

It would take to much time and space to describe the limitations placed on the intellectual development of those members of middle eastern "culturally muslim" societies engrained into them by the environment in which they have lived for centuries--whether the members of those societies practice the Islamic or Christian faiths. Establishing truly democratic and economically vibrant societies requires the presence of a secular and free thinking society. Outside of the Kurds [and in Israel for Jews, Christians, or Muslims] that degree of free secular type thinking is generally not present in the middle east and probably will not be for centuries to come, if ever.

The disturbances in Bahrain were an attempt by the Shiites to replace the Sunnis; in Syria it is a revolt by the Sunni majority to replace the Alawite minority ruling sect and their Shiite bother supporters; in Lebanon the Hezbollah Shiite movement has all but displaced what could have been an economically vibrant and secular society of Arab Christians, Druze, Sunnis, and other immigrant communities; and in Iran the educated secular oriented minority are kept in check by the religiously and culturally fanatic elements of that society. The unrest and revolt in Libya is a tribal conflict, not necessarily a struggle for inclusive democracy. In Egypt it appears to have originated due to the economic needs of an educated or commercial class not being met, but recall what happened when that politically naive group rose up in Iran and were overwhelmed post-revolt by religious and cultural fanatics willing to employ violence. And let us not forget the destructive influence of Hamas on what could have been a vibrant Palestinian community in Gaza.

Democracy requires the breaking of religious control over a society; the implementation of a non-prejudicial educational system free of the teaching of ethnic and cultural hatred; the removal of cultural barriers imposing restrictions such as dress codes only on one group such as women; etc. Elements of democracy not present in almost all middle eastern States. The oft stated declaration that the middle east muslim nations will establish their own form of democracy is a non-starter. Democracy has minimal standards, else it is not democracy.

So far the only lessons from the middle eastern disturbances are that NATO remains inept absent American fire power, Arab armies employed by absolute rulers can control so-called popular movements, the populations in that world remain vehemently divided based on tribal affiliations or membership in religious sects, and whether democracies will result is as yet unproven. The only capital the US should invest in that area is to encourage unrest in Syria even to the point of providing small arms and anti-tank weapons to those revolting against Assad as that has the potential of breaking Iran's lines of communication with their western client states in Hezbollah and Hamas Land and if possible to help establish alternatives to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Bill C. (not verified)

Fri, 07/22/2011 - 4:20pm

Coming full circle:

Dr. Chickering's position would seem to be that the common force driving unrest in the Middle East today is the desire of the population(s) to (1) shed the restrains of tribalism and to, in their place, (2) put on and embrace the garb of modernity.

My concern is that the common force driving unrest in the Middle East today is the threat presented to these states, to these societies and to the international community as a whole, by the "choices" being presented to these populations by the offer and possibilities of modernity and reform.

Herein, I have suggested that the common and classic mistake that can be made is to:

a. Overestimate the appeal of our "liberal" concepts and way-of-life (constitution, democracy, elections, human rights, freedom of religion; and, in general, states and societies made more "open" and more accessable to foreign actors, foreign markets and foreign ideas.) And

b. Underestimate the deeply engrained conservatism of the subject populations and the degree to which they might see "a" above more as a "disease" rather than as a "cure."

As to these two suggestions re: "the common force driving unrest in the Middle East today" (the appeal of modernity -- or -- the threat posed by modernity); which one, do we believe, is more likely to render the negative outcome offered by Dr. Chickering, to wit:

Islamic revolutionaries coming to power in WMD-armed Pakistan?

Lawrence Chickering

Fri, 07/22/2011 - 12:07pm


Let me start with your last two grafs. I agree completely with you here. If you look at what many -- perhaps the great majority -- of NGOs are doing, they talk empowerment and they act very differently. You and I have exchanged thoughts on this more than once. It bothers me a lot. It is not, however, my position or the position of my organization, EGG. If you have not read it, I would encourage you to read the interview in the SWJ with Roger Hardister, Director of the Global Partners for Afghanistan. Read the last graf: there are very few NGOs doing what is really needed. GPFA is one of them, and so, I believe, is EGG.

On your opening graf, my point about not being fully alive comes from my efforts to understand why, when we present choices to people, the great majority go toward empowerment and "life". I hope that is not patronizing -- any more than offering people who are going blind the choice to have a cataract operation to restore their sight.

Robert C. Jones,

I agree with everything you say. If there is a difference between us, it lies in your emphasis on political evolution and mine on social development, strengthening basic values of trust, citizenship, etc., that will facilitate political evolution. I believe political evolution will be very difficult to achieve in any reasonable time frame without social development. My experience is that few people know anything about it because everyone is focused on the state, on political development. Everything I am writing about focuses on social development because so little attention is given to it.

Bill C,

a. Choices are good because they empower people to control their own lives, control their own destiny. They only have this if they have choices. I believe strongly that choosing one way will point them toward progress, while refusing to choose will leave them where they are. *I* don't want to "fix" them, but I definitely want to help them fix themselves if that is what they choose -- these are two very different things.

I do not at all agree that we are the problem, and they are not. Of course we both have problems, and we need to work on ours But tribal societies have huge problems -- treatment of women, health, inter-tribal conflict, etc. -- and not acknowledging them, as you seem to do, would strike most people as bizarre. If you don't think (for example) it would be a problem if Islamic revolutionaries came to power in Pakistan and controlled nuclear weapons, then I can't imagine what you might regard as a problem (accept, of course, our failure, imitating every other country, to solve global warming).

Bill C. (not verified)

Wed, 07/20/2011 - 11:49am

Dr. Chickering:

To me, your argument (at 07-18 8:45 PM above which I responded to at 07-19 10:18 AM) was that outside parties should consider that they might render/achieve significant societal change much quicker and much easier via the "organic" method.

Because of this, I perceived that your overall goal, in touting the benefits of the "organic" v. the "mechanical" approach (speed, etc.) was, fundamentally, the same as other outsiders who desire, for various reasons, to "fix" or change others.

Based on your subsequent comment, let me ask this:

a. If we have no desire to "fix" and "transform" other societies, then why would we need to go about offering them "choices?"

b. If we agree that the central problem(s) relate primarily to "us," rather than "them," then should we not focus our attention on and devote our efforts toward developing and offering "choices" to ourselves -- and leave others pretty much alone?

Bob's World

Wed, 07/20/2011 - 7:11am


Everybody wants it, but it means something different to every culture. For a prisoner in solitary confinement, getting an hour in the yard once a day may seem a satisfactory granting of liberty. But if merely told to shut up and take what the Warden gives him; or if the Warden denys the yard time but grants extra dessert or tv time instead the quest for liberty will remain.

This is much how the populaces of the Middle East feel. There are two types, those in revolt, or those plotting revolt. Now they are connected to each other and drawing courage from the example of their peers. Plans are turning to action and will continue to do so.

The west does well to consider:

That few, if any, of the popualces across the greater Middle East (each diverse in their own right) have the degree of liberty they reasonably yearn for.

That hundreds of years of Ottoman, European and American influence over this region have served to disrupt and retard natural processes of political evolution toward sustainable forms of governance and liberty.

That simply opening the prison gates to a world of "pure democracy" is a disater equal to that of reinforcing the Warden to build his security capacity to keep the inmates in check.

(A favorite quote on that point: "We are now forming a republican government. Real liberty is neither found in despotism or the extremes of democracy, but in moderate government." Alexander Hamilton, June 26, 1787 )

Evolution of government is always better than Revolution of government; but one or the other must occur. The status quo is not sustainable in nature. Be it a form of governance in one particular country designed for a pre-information age, or be it a form of foreign policy designed to contain a Soviet threat that no longer exists.

Dictators who are our "friends" are still every bit the dictator as those who are our "enemies"; but twice as problematic because of that friend status.

Al Qaeda and similar non-state actors branded as "terrorists" by those formal state bodies dedicated to sustaining an unsustainable status quo are symptoms of the problems of the era, and are not the problems in of themselves.

Populaces held trapped in unsustainable conditions will accept support from anyone willing to help them, that does not mean that they share ideological beliefs or political goals. AQ wages UW, and we damage our own cause when we brand the nationalist insurgents who join with AQ as their only option as terrorists as well. The intel community is dead, dead wrong in how they look at this.

The US is at a cross roads. How we manage the many evolutions and revolutions of governance underway in the Middle East that we have developed ties to over 60 plus years Western leadership will shape our future, and that of the people of this region and the world.

Arab Spring is a glimpse at the beating heart of the causation behind the attacks of 9/11. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 ever; and Afghanistan only in the first year. THIS IS THE REAL MAIN EFFORT. We should act like it. Pull the pin on military sideshows, and refocus on the hard policy and political work necessary to wend our way through a complex maze of diverse political evolution.

De Oppresso Liber.


I spoke of a "broad ranging effort to transform outlier societies" referring to Bill C's thesis, not yours.

The question I asked about your comment referred to the suggestion that <i>It is impossible to say that people living only through roles are fully alive; the power in engaged relationships is that people are alive in ways they were not before.</i>. That seems to imply that the people with whom we work in these cases are somehow less than alive, and require our intervention in their world to bring them to full life. That sounds, honestly, a rather patronizing attitude. I hope it's not intended in that way, but it certainly comes across that way.

It's always good for people to have choices about how (and whether) to "improve" their lives, but my own (fairly extensive) experience with NGOs has been that the NGO typically approaches a situation with specific changes in mind that the NGO is encouraging or is prepared to support. That does not foster free choice on the part of the community. Free choice would be when the community reaches its own decision about what it wants changed, without input from outside agents, and the outside agents support what the community decides, whether or not it coincides with their priorities. Few NGOs or other development agencies, of course, work this way.

I've sat through many.many meetngs and "consultations" between both NGOs and formal aid agencies and tribal communities, and despite prodigious rhetoric about empowerment and self-determination it always seems to come down to the NGO or agency deciding what the community is going to support. I confess that experience has left me skeptical of such rhetoric, possibly to excess.

Lawrence Chickering

Wed, 07/20/2011 - 1:56am

Bill C:

While I know that you intended your statement to counter my argument, you have not represented my position at all. In fact, it may distress you to know that I agree with almost everything you have written here. You have stated the position of many people and many organizations. It is not, however, my position nor the position of my organization, Educate Girls Globally (EGG).

I do not believe we have any business "fixing" or changing other people. You may see no difference between organic and mechanical approaches, but trying to change people is mechanical. I believe we should create spaces in which they can see alternative ways of being and make changes, as you say, when THEY feel like it. That -- which is our position, yours and mine, is organic. This is only egocentric if you don't believe people should *have* choices. If one of the ways you think we should fix ourselves is to stop trying to fix others, then I agree with you. We will further improve ourselves, in dialogue, is to stop imputing other people's ideas (as you are doing) to me and focus on responding to the ideas being expressed (my ideas).


There is nothing "broad-ranging" about the position I am proposing. Following EGG's model, it is focused on creating spaces for people to have choices about how they might improve their lives. In our model, it works village-to-village, and it results in great improvements in learning, school infrastructure (clean water), and increased self-esteem especially of tribal girls. If this sounds "broad-ranging" in your conception, I would hope everyone would embrace it.

I would like us to introduce the approach I have described to replace the "fixing" programs that are widespread in Afghanistan, and I would also like to see it in other countries as well -- not just in countries that threaten our security.

Bill C:

I don't think the thesis of a broad-ranging attempt to transform outlier societies is really supported by observed evidence. Our default course with the vast majority of these societies is to contain and ignore them. That prevails even when they are causing significant problems, such as piracy in Somalia. Afghanistan is an exception, not evidence of a trend, and until 9/11 the contain and ignore policy was applied to Afghanistan as well. It was only 9/11 that changed that.

Do you see anyone trying to transform Somalia, Chad, North Korea, Myanmar, the DRC, Haiti, etc? I don't.

Bill C. (not verified)

Tue, 07/19/2011 - 11:18am

Dr. Chickering:

I, like possibly others on this site, believe that our central idea, to wit: that we need to devote ourselves to changing the ways-of-life of other people (generally so as to meet our society's wants, needs and desires -- not theirs) is, quite simply, a selfish and ethnocentric view and an unvalid concept; one which constantly gets us into all kinds of trouble and ruins the lives of countless other people (causes/aggravates civil unrest and wars).

The goal of all our endeavors, it would seem -- whether "organic" or "mechanical" -- is to "open up," "transform" and "incorporate" people who would seem to prefer a life which is more self-sustaining, more insular, more unique and more excluse and who -- should they desire to make any change -- would prefer to approach this endeavor if and when THEY felt like it.

Thus, my suggestion that our society must be so wasteful, so destructive, so inefficient and so unrealistic as to its wants, needs, demands and expectations (example: re: "growth") that such causes us to (1) not look at what we should actually be doing (fixing ourselves) and focus, instead, on (2) "fixing" others (which, per my thinking, is not the way to correct what potentially is the real problem (to wit: our unsustainable way-of-life and lifestyle).

Accordingly, do you believe that a much greater effort should be made on "fixing" ourselves and a much lesser effort made on "curing" others. (A "Physician: Heal Thyself" approach to international affairs.)


Mon, 07/18/2011 - 10:52pm

Bill C:

<i>Do you believe that the dynamics of the present age (US/China cooperation/competition; globalization, urbanization, climate change, population explosions, resource demand, etc.), may preclude the ability to allow for such an organic (gradual) change?</i>

Why should any of that preclude anything? Afghanistan and the AfPak frontier, like most of the world's marginal areas, has little or no impact on any of that, except to the extent that they provide a refuge for disruptive actors. There's no economic opportunity or economic relevance, no resources worth the bother, really no significance at all. There's nothing for anyone to gain by "opening up" Afghanistan, or Yemen, or any of a half-dozen other similar places. They are backwaters for a reason.

Dr Chickering:

<i>It is impossible to say that people living only through roles are fully alive; the power in engaged relationships is that people are alive in ways they were not before. </i>

I am not convinced that the assumption that the people we work with are not fully alive, or that they require the intervention of the almighty westerner to bring them to full life, is an entirely valid basis for intervention in the affairs of others. As for living through roles, is not "saviour of the benighted" a role we embrace, sometimes a bit too eagerly? We play roles too, though the roles played by others are perhaps more obvious... to us, if not always to others..

Lawrence Chickering

Mon, 07/18/2011 - 9:45pm

Bill C.,

While mechanical change is theoretically faster than organic change, I have found two things *in practice*: first, organic change, as in personal engagement of people, can produce very rapid changes because there tends to be no resistance to it. (One can see profound changes in EGG's process in 4-5 minutes: you can see the changes on the men's faces.) On the other hand, mechanical change, being convulsive, tends to produce huge resistance and -- no change at all. Think of all the big proposals for public school reform in the U.S. -- all in the traditional mechanistic public policy model. With what result? Nothing. Then look at real experiences in organic change, and you can find really big changes, sometimes implemented rather quickly.

Moving to an organic change model means surrendering to very large differences in roles, authority, engagement of people -- many things. I think people would be astonished how quickly change would move if we started experimenting with organic change models.

Bill C. (not verified)

Mon, 07/18/2011 - 11:37am

Dr. Chickering:

Do you believe that the dynamics of the present age (US/China cooperation/competition; globalization, urbanization, climate change, population explosions, resource demand, etc.), may preclude the ability to allow for such an organic (gradual) change?

And that, because of these circumstances, we may need to (a) accept this possibility and (b) gird ourselves for the requirements of and necessity for (1) "mechanical" change and (2) the resistance that, as you note, is part and parcel to such a process?

Lawrence Chickering

Mon, 07/18/2011 - 2:59am

The "liberal" ideas Bill C refers to are the defining ideas of all major ideologies in American politics, of both "conservatives" and "liberals". My conclusion about the desire of tribal people to become more modern is true if they can make the transition organically (gradually). If they are exposed to Western ideas mechanically -- and they feel assaulted by them -- they will, it is true, see them as a threat. My organization, Educate Girls Globally, working in the most tribal state in India, Rajasthan, has developed an organic model for people to move beyond traditional roles to engaged relationships, first with their daughters. Our program is in more than 2,300 schools serving 260,000 children, and there has been no conflict or opposition in any of these traditional communities to moving into more engaged (modern) relationships. It is impossible to say that people living only through roles are fully alive; the power in engaged relationships is that people are alive in ways they were not before. For most people, this is a very powerful reason to change.

Bill C. (not verified)

Sun, 07/17/2011 - 9:02pm

Dr. Chickering seems to suggest that the primary wish of the people of the Middle East is to become "de-tribalized," to wit: to rid themselves of the trappings of their present, more-traditional way-of-life and to adopt the more-modern way-of-life of we foreigners.

This (the desire to become less-tribal and more-modern), he says, is the "common force driving unrest that is spreading across the region."

Should we agree?

Or might we consider that the common force driving this unrest is the threat posed by modernity and reform.

Herein, the classic mistake that seems often to be made is to (1) underestimate the deeply engrained conservatism of a population and to (2) overestimate the power and appeal of "liberal" ideas.