Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Folkways of the Pathan, Law and Humanitarioimperialism

The Economist publishes two thick issues at the end of each December. "The World in ---- [next year]" invariably sucks. But the Christmas double issue is snooty English journalism at its best.

This year, they had a must-read article (subscribers only) on the customary law of the Pushtuns (formerly Pathans), the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, and the source of the Taliban.

Why is it a must-read? Well, I have some legal positivist readers (BKN and Fred S.) who think that law is the command of the sovereign, and it would be good for their souls to read about a longstanding legal system that functions without any sovereign at all. I don't want to spoil the ending, but customary arbitration can be pretty hardcore.

Not to say that all is well. Any paleo-anarcho-libertarian readers would also benefit from reading about how the Pathan clans resolve their disputes -- first by killing each other in nasty ways and, once they have tired of that, by trading their women.

But the most important audience would be the naive democracy promoters. I, for one, would be happy to have the Pathans continue in their folkways. Those folkways are the main obstacle (and main target) of the legalistic and textual Talibs. But those folkways are obviously a million miles from our ideas of human rights. The Taliban, unlike the tribes, are connected into an international jihadist network that would like to kill you and me, gentle reader, so I see some point in fighting them. But we shouldn't get all moralistic about it. The society they are reacting against is just as foreign to us as they are.

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