Gangs of Aleppo: The Arab Spring Succumbs to Post-State Violence

By Lind, William S. | The American Conservative, September 2012 | Go to article overview

Gangs of Aleppo: The Arab Spring Succumbs to Post-State Violence


Lind, William S., The American Conservative


In the view of our Laputan foreign-policy 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 the most basic, and most potent, building blocks of stateless Fourth Generation war. We commonly think of gangs in connection with crime. But through most of history, the line between crime and war was blurred, often to the point of vanishing. (See Barbara Tuchman's 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 the state looks much like the 14th century Europe Tuchman describes: people and regions are at the 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 this 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, conveniently, is something gangs do. Much of what we see in states struggling for their 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, nothing to lose, and thanks to their 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. … 

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