According to The Economist, polygamy is a key factor in civil wars and conflict. How convenient to blame it all on ‘the natives’ and their ‘backward’ customs, obscuring the role of the US and its allies in destabilizing regions.
In the 1930 Marx Brothers comedy Animal Crackers, Groucho Marx proposes to two women at the same time. One protests: “But that's bigamy!” Groucho replies: “Yes and that's big-a-me, too. It's big of all of us. Let's be big for a change. I'm sick of these conventional marriages!”
We know The Economist isn’t a great fan of Karl Marx, and it’s doubtful it would approve of Groucho much either – or at least the idea of him taking two wives.
You see, it would probably lead to armed conflict.
Forget the illegal invasion of Iraq, which led to one million deaths and turned the Middle East into a cauldron. Forget too the mass casualties of two World Wars. It’s polygamy that we should be focusing on to explain violence in the world. Run for your wives? More like run for your lives.
It’s fair to say that The Economist, the weekly Bible of Western neoliberal capitalism, is very keen that we get the Polygamy = Wars thesis. “Polygamy is still common in Africa, the Islamic world and parts of Asia. It makes civil war more likely,” we were told on Twitter.
This follows an article entitled ‘Why Polygamy breeds civil war,’ published on March 19, 2018, a piece by The Economist’s Foreign Editor Robert Guest entitled ‘Big Love and Big War,’ on January 12, 2018, which cited a 2009 study by Satoshi Kanazawa of the LSE, and another piece entitled ‘The link between polygamy and war,’ published in the 2017 Christmas edition.
“Wherever it is widely practised, polygamy (specifically polygyny, the taking of multiple wives) destabilizes society, largely because it is a form of inequality which creates an urgent distress in the hearts, and loins, of young men,” the last piece states.
The neoliberal Economist, which has championed all the Thatcherite reforms of the past 40 years, concerned with inequality? Why, you could have knocked me down with a feather!
The article also says polygamy “is one of the reasons why the Arab Spring erupted, why the jihadists of Boko Haram and Islamic State were able to conquer swathes of Nigeria, Iraq and Syria, and why the polygamous parts of Indonesia and Haiti are so turbulent.”
It adds: “Polygamous societies are bloodier, more likely to invade their neighbours and more prone to collapse than others.”
The Economist doesn’t blame polygamy for the recent heat-wave, but that’s probably coming up in next week’s edition. By way of evidence the magazine states that:
“The taking of multiple wives is a feature of life in all of the 20 most unstable countries on the Fragile States Index compiled by the Fund for Peace, an NGO.”
But if we look at said Index we see that a large number of the ‘top 20’ have been affected directly or indirectly by Western destabilization campaigns, or even – in case of Yemen (4), Iraq (10), Syria (6), Afghanistan (9) – by Western alliance invasion or bombing.
This is the ‘link’ that The Economist won’t mention because it has largely been in favor of these ‘interventions.’ Who can ever forget the way the magazine whitewashed the Iraq invasion with its ‘Sincere Deceivers’ cover featuring the warmongers Bush and Blair?
South Sudan and Sudan feature heavily in The Economist’s arguments – but again, the US role in sponsoring oil-rich South Sudan’s secession and creating instability in the region is not mentioned.
As for the ‘conquering’ by Boko Haram and Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) of ‘vast swathes’ of Nigeria, Iraq and Syria, who do we blame for that?
Here’s my fellow OpEd contributor Dan Glazebrook, writing about global famines:
“The situation in Nigeria is also a result of war, in this case the Boko Haram insurgency – an insurgency which owes its massive spread in recent years directly to the NATO destruction of Libya, which opened up the country’s weapons dumps to Boko Haram and its partners.”
A destruction of Libya which The Economist described as “a modest win for liberal internationalism.”
The Iraq War, also backed by The Economist, led directly to the rise of IS, while Syria whose polygamy rates are ‘N/A’ in the index, became a ’fragile state’ only because of the regime change operations of the West and its regional allies.
The more we analyse the global situation a very clear pattern emerges.
The US and its allies have targeted a succession of independently-minded resource-rich countries in strategically important parts of the world and, where they haven’t been able to directly invade, they’ve fomented civil wars to further their own economic and geopolitical interests.
A classic example was the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
Unilateral secessions were encouraged from the republic, in contravention of Article 5 of the Yugoslav constitution.
Separatist politicians and armed militias were backed, even if they were once classified as terrorist groups, like the Kosovo Liberation Army.
Attempts by local actors to sort things out peacefully were sabotaged, for example when US Ambassador Warren Zimmerman persuaded Bosnian separatist Alija Izetbegovic to renege on his signing of the EU-sponsored 1992 Lisbon Accord.
Then when things got out of hand, NATO powers could use the violence on the ground as an excuse for ‘intervention’ – with the aim of bringing the Balkans under full economic and military control.
In November 2012, The New York Times ran an article on how the ‘Americans who helped free Kosovo’ were returning there as ‘entrepreneurs’ to bid for privatized assets.
“So many former American officials have returned to Kosovo for business — in coal and telecommunications, or for lobbying and other lucrative government contracts — that it’s hard to keep them from colliding,” the paper reported.
The pattern has been repeated across the world.
In 2006, a cable from US Ambassador to Syria William Roebuck discussed “potential vulnerabilities” of the Bashar Assad government and the “possible means to exploit them.”
One of the “possible means,” as I noted here, was to seek to divide the Shiite and Sunni communities in Syria.
The US and its regional allies have flooded Syria with weapons and foreign jihadists in pursuance of their objectives. But hey, let’s blame N/A polygamy figures for Syria’s current ‘fragile state’, shall we?
It’s a very similar story in Afghanistan.
The late US diplomat and former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski was the architect of the US policy of backing Islamist fighters to try to “bleed” the Soviet Union, which supported the secular, left-wing government in Kabul.
As I commented in a previous OpEd, Zbig’s policy had far-reaching global consequences: “The Taliban and Al-Qaeda grew out of the Mujahedeen and then many years later, the US led an invasion of Afghanistan to try and get rid of the Taliban.”
In 1998 Brzezinski was asked: “Do you regret having supported Islamic fundamentalism, which has given arms and advice to future terrorists?”
He replied: “What was more important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some agitated Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?”
Today, we’re expected to put full blame on those ‘agitated Muslims’ and forget who got them so worked up and so well-armed.
We’re meant to see conflicts and civil wars in close-up and not in long shot. Where Boko Haram and IS get their weaponry and funding is not a question we’re supposed to ask.
Instead, let’s focus on cultural factors, ok? Let’s talk about marriage customs and not the numbers on the side of spent missile cases.
None of this, it must be said, denies agency to local actors, or excuses them from war crimes and atrocities committed once hostilities begin.
Nor is it a defense of polygamy. It’s up to each country to decide its own laws regarding marriage.
But it’s an intellectual cop-out to write about the world’s conflict zones and not mention the role that the West has played in fuelling the fires and the commercial interests that lie behind the wars and which profit greatly from them.
“Wars, conflicts – it‘s all business,” sighs the anti-hero Monsieur Verdoux at the end of Chaplin’s classic 1947 film.
It’s no great surprise that the organ espousing the ideology of elite Western business interests prefers to blame something else.