Friday, December 6, 2013

Tribes on Campus

Last week at the University of Jordan, a professor (typically referred to as "doctors" here) was driving on the UJ campus (typically only doctors are allowed to drive on campus) and struck a female student, putting her in critical condition. According to one of my professors at UJ, the student is now in a coma. In the US this would be a terrible tragedy, but after some shows of support for family and possibly a lawsuit, the incident would likely be forgotten. In Jordan it's more complicated, because according to the campus rumor mill the girl and doctor were from different tribes.

I think tribalism is hard for many Americans to understand, and comes with many connotations of barbarism and backwardness. I think this is largely a product of most Americans' backgrounds: at some point your ancestors got off a plane, boat, or walked across the border to the US, and there was no tribe or family system in place to support them. They were forced to start over, and over centuries of upheaval, migration, and expansion to the West, North, etc., so were their ancestors. This stands in sharp contrast to the Middle East and other older societies, which have inhabited the same spaces for thousands of years. One of my Jordanian friends told me his tribe has more than 200,000 members, and that he knows 1500 of them. He can trace their history back to pre-Islamic times; about 2,000 years.