Gangs of Aleppo

Article excerpt

The Arab Spring succumbs to post-state violence

In the view of our Laputan foreignpolicy establishment, what is happening in Syria and elsewhere is a conflict between "democracy" and dictatorship. Valiant youths who fight for "freedom" are destined to triumph, bringing happiness and prosperity to their formerly oppressed lands. This is the Whig version of history- the progressive narrative. It bears little resemblance to reality.

A Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi came closer to truth. He was quoted in the New York Times as saying that Syria faces "gang warfare."

Gangs are one of die most basic, and most potent, building blocks of stateless Fourth Generation war. We commonly mink of gangs in connection with crime. But tiirough most of history, die line between crime and war was blurred, often to the point of vanishing. (See Barbara Tuchmaris A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century.)

It was the state that drew the line clearly, but today in much of the Middle East and elsewhere states and the state system are collapsing. What is succeeding die state looks much like die 14th century Europe Tuchman describes: people and regions are at die mercy of roving bands of armed men who hire themselves out as soldiers when they can and otherwise take what they want from anyone too weak to resist them. Their only loyalty is to each other - to their gang.

One of the characteristics shared by most disintegrating states is a vast surplus of young men who have no access to jobs, money, or women. Gangs are a magnet for them. We see mis in American contexts as well: in public schools, in ethnic neighborhoods, and in our prisons, most of which are controlled not by wardens but by racially defined gangs.

Young men are also drawn to fighting, which, conveniendy, is something gangs do. Much of what we see in states struggling for dieir lives such as Syria is supply-side war. Fighting spreads not because of some "cause" like democracy but because idle young men see a fight and join in. Why not? They have nothing to do, nodiing to lose, and dianks to dieir new gang and AK-47, lots to take: money, women, and fame. The New York Times reported from Aleppo:

Residents said there were not just clashes between the government and insurgents, but also rival militias from the countryside fighting for control of individual streets. …