It’s all over the news that “we have lost Afghanistan to the Taliban.” True, but Afghanistan today is much the same as it has been for thousands of years – an ever-shifting (and ever-warring) collection of tribes and territories, each with its own ethnicities, cultures, customs and religions. Similar conditions exist in Iraq, Iran, Syria and much of the Middle East, for that matter.

We enlightened Westerners are fond of drawing neat maps, showing clear boundary lines and naming each piece thus demarcated a “country” or a “nation” and giving each one membership in a largely useless organization called the United Nations.

Africa – with a few exceptions – is another example of continual ongoing tribal unrest. One of the many unfortunate legacies of the European colonization of Africa was that when the European countries abandoned their former colonies, one of the things they did leave behind (along with greatly improved infrastructure) was the naïve notion that each of those former colonies would somehow magically form and then become a stable democratic republic of some sort. Our own egos pretty much made us think this would happen.

Tribes do not behave that way. They revert to their tried and true, millennia-old ways of picking chiefs, kings, even emperors, and the warring traditions continue. Oh, they may hold farcical elections and call the winner “president,” but free and fair elections are a product of our western enlightenment and do not transplant well around the globe.

Russell Frank