The "Binemala" system and the degree of its success in Kurdistan

2 years agoJournals

By Sardar Aziz

The concept of family is not clear in Kurdish. As Kurdish is a speech-language before it is a language of philosophy, the deeper meanings and differences of words and concepts are not entirely clear. The idea of "Binemala", Kurdish for families, can also be translated as 'under-house. In Kurdish, it is used to describe those individuals that fall under a certain home. Sociologically the term "Binemala" can cover both 'patrimonialism' and 'dynasty'. Furthermore, in some instances, the term can be taken to mean "warlord". 
This article attempts to explain the concept of the "Binemala" political system and the degree of its success in Kurdistan.

"Binemala" and the paternal system
When we speak of the family as a political system or use the word "welcome" to that respect, it means that we are welcome, open to, or that era is in front of us, and we have no choice but to welcome it. The concept of 'welcome' has been the subject of much debate by French thinker Emmanuel Levinas (1).
These concepts each have a lot of history, meaning and use. In my opinion, we are not in the era of any of them. The use of the concept 'welcome' indicates that we are at the beginning or have just arrived at this era and that these concepts have yet to materialize.   
For Max Weber, the concept of paternal, or patrimonial, refers to the exercise of power over those outside the family as members of a family. In this sense, the prince, or the person in power, treats the subordinates as if they were his children, elevating the ruler to a father figure (2).
Foucault has but Max Weber's understanding under review, particularly his understanding of the concept of governmentality. However, what is important for this discussion here is that the father-child relationship within the family system is implemented within the family and symbolically within the community. The etherification of the ruler in the Kurdish world is one of the clear indications of this process.
In this regard, the 'Binemala' is similar to the paternal system in that it prevents the creation of citizens and sovereign citizens. The traditional understanding of the paternal system is such that when a person in power is seen as a father figure, he is expected to behave as a family patriarch. But when he doesn't act like a father, this creates upset.
It is not conditional that the 'Binemala' system be a patrimonial family system. However, it does implement a large part of patrimonialism. Escape from the patrimonial system is not easy. (3)

The resilience of the "BInemala" System
"Binemala" is a system or institution. The concept of system and institution is not entirely clear in Kurdish. When we describe the "Binemala" system as an institution, we mean that it has many of the characteristics of an institution. The first characteristic is that it is an informal type of institution. That is to say, it is not an institution that has laws or one in which individuals are bound to it by law. Second, like an institution, it is supported by tradition because no institution can come to be without tradition, as Winstein says. (4)  
It can be said that the "Binemala" is an institution that has existed in Kurdish consciousness, history and memory, which is unlike other modern institutions such as Parliament, army, courts, taxes, and many other systems. This characteristic is important. While it is not necessary to explain the family to anyone, it turns out that there is no clear understanding available on contemporary institutions. For example, no one is confused by the questions, what is a university? What is Parliament? Or What is an army? But if one asks what a mosque is? This question is difficult to answer. This is the difference between a formal and informal institution.
This formality and informality are important in that it reveals peoples relationships, awareness and behaviours. The main characteristic of an institution is that it forms a part of the individual's behaviour. This character may answer the question of why the "binemala" easily became a supreme body in Kurdish politics when the anti- "binemala" has also been in existence. At the same time, if we were to act according to the theories of development, we would have expected Kurdish power to transition from the old to the new, from the closed to the modern, from the ancient to the modern. Has the trend reversed? Or is the situation more complicated?
This does not only relate to the Kurdish community, as the political family and 'binemala' has become a growing phenomenon across Iraq. After the fall of Saddam, a set of concepts such as the house, the kin, the sect, the Makun and the family, and several other similar concepts became part of the language of power.
Here rhetoric and reality and reality need attention. Why is the rhetoric of power modern, while the reality is pre-modern? It is easy to simply describe oneself as modern. However, in reality, the act of stepping back from power, meaning having the ability to practice power for a temporary period and then again becoming a normal person in the community, is not enjoyable or easy. The family guarantees the existence of power. It is the availability of power within the binemala that make it an agency. The binemala, therefore, establishes pre-modern values, the values of words, blood and relatives.
Therefore, the big difference between a modern state and a family state is ownership. In the family state, the state is owned and belongs to the family, but in the modern state, the state itself is the owner, in the sense that the relationships of the people within the state is not determined on personal relationship or ownership, but on work, skills and duties that are conducted within the rules and regulations. Francis Fukuyama (5)
Thus, when the state or government can be owned, those in power will not easily relinquish it. Therefore, the transfer from a state of ownership to a state of self-ownership is one of the most difficult stages of statehood. This transition requires changing the consciousness and mentality of the people on many levels, in their relationship with agency, values, public sphere, private sector, justice and many other fields. At the same time, it is clear that this transfer will not happen without pressure. But the pressure must not be in the form of a revolution but must be applied slowly.
There is a Dutch historian named Jeroen Duindam from the University of Leiden in the Department of History who works on the family in Europe and worldwide. In a well-known series from the University of Oxford for a brief and concise definition of concepts, Jeroen's latest book is a short introduction to the concept of family. (6)
Jeroen discusses the long history of the institution and the family system. In the history of the Kurds and the region, several concepts related to the family may be different from other places, for example, the relationship between the family and the tribe. This is not the case in other parts of the Middle East.
Both Kamal Suleimani and Ahmad Mohammadpour believe that the clan is a colonial era-inspired concept and have little to do with the reality of societies, including Kurdish society (7).
However, before we focus on the current state of the Kurdish "binemala", it would be helpful to say a few words about this concept in general. To Jeroen, this concept goes back to Aristotle. Aristotle's concept of dynasties, which is the basis of the concept of the dynasty in English, which comes to mean family, refers to the kind of system of government in which an oligarchy governs in a strict manner and above the law. To Greek philosophers, this was a bad example of governance, in which no family had legitimacy or legal backing to rule. 
But the "binamala" does not mean one-person rule; instead, it means a restrained oligarchy. This is one of the problems for governing families, especially when it comes to the question of power transfer. In today's sense, the "binemala", especially within a culture of democracy, means family.
The family may be an anthropological concept, so the root of 'family is also important. The concept of the house has also been an important feature of the "binemala" system. As Jeroen explains, in the history of Europe, the concept of 'house' has been of great importance. In Iraq today, we have the concept of "Beit". Although the concept has religious, sectarian, and other specific dimensions, it has, since 2003, become a fully-fledged political concept and does not have the meaning of traditional family.
Thus, a "binemala" is an agency comprised of family members and reside in a symbolic and financial home. In the past, amid Kurdish political culture, efforts were made to create new concepts for the "binemala" institution to differentiate between types of family linguistically to reflect their level of power and position. For example, "malbat" was used to describe a family smaller than a "binemala". Hence, the family does not have a specific concept of meaning, such as a state or a government. Rather, the concept has different meanings in the social, political, and historical contexts. 
Suppose the family is that social stage in which the dynasty, or "binemala", or the transfer of power and types of capital occur. In that case, It also exists in the UK, the United States, and many other countries. Bush, Clinton, and Mibiland are examples of these families. That "binemala" would not be possible without the family. The family also has several traits such as patriarchy, pyramidal relationships, and females' marginalisation, except when there is the absence of male substitutes. 
Furthermore, the "binemala" have different meanings within different political systems. The "binemala" in democracy is separate from the "binemala" rule. The democracy "binemala" is the transfer of a set of power structures, such as name, experience, capital, network, and some other characteristics that make it easier for a family member to take the same path to power as other previous members of the family. Although this is a form of monopolization, it is different from traditional family monopolization. In this state, what is being created is a political "binemala", not a "binemala" rule. Studies on countries with political "binemala" show that the existence of these types of families changes the nature of competition and undermines the nature of democracy. Pakistan is one such country that is widely cited as an example within Kurdish politics. (8)
The traditional "binemala" that is becoming more prevalent in our society is closer to its Aristotelian definition. The accumulation of power by a small number of family members makes the exercise of power always based on toughness.
By the tough principle, we mean that it is contrary to the main character of the modern age, in which everything dissolves within it, as Marx describes it in the Manifesto. (9)
The "Binemala" rule wants to create certain tough principles. Running hard means that it does not change and is stuck and as it is, meaning that these principles become unchangeable. Here the political community is divided into actual power holders with power accumulators. Rulers do not hold power in isolation and away from others. Others, who are often described as being without power, are both the beneficiaries of power and passively practice power. 
Therefore, political participation in such a political environment does not include being active in the public sphere for the public good. Rather, it is about participating in a system of power in which the role of individuals has been marginalized. Foucault's view is more espoused and argues that the concept of powerlessness is meaningless (10).
Here I would like to provide a definition of politics put forward by Hannah Arendt in contrast to the family. According to Hannah, politics is based on the fact that human nature is plural. (11)
In this sense, politics is the act of dealing with the fundamental differences that humans have in different areas of life. Thus politics is the activities of dealing with these differences through the tools of convincing, compromising, speaking, and acting. This form of politics cannot take place in the "binemala" system. The "binemala" cannot be plural. . This brings us to the main argument of both Acemoglu and Robinson, as detailed in their book Why Nations Fail. (12)
In their view, an open economic system and a closed political system cannot co-exist because politics and the economy are different sides of the same coin. Thus, if you have a closed political system, then you automatically also have a closed economic system. This is evident in Kurdistan, with both the political and economic spheres being closed to a select few. 
The "binemala" has almost become the dominant political institution. The formation of this institution was easier than other with other modern institutions, such as the Parliament, the national army, the modern judiciary, the rational bureaucracy, the open monetary system and liberal capitalism. This reveals the ease in which traditional institutions can take hold, even when the majority does not support it. 
Political "binemala" are not suitable for Kurdistan because, by its very nature, the political "binemala" has several problems. As the history of the Emirates shows us, the political "binemala" or ruling families lack vision for national security. Instead of to them all security is the "binemala" of family's security. In this way, a nation cannot be created. 
"Binemala" rule cannot establish a military force on civil, military, or democratic principles. The "binemala" wants the army to be its own and not an independent force of its own agency and governed by law and order. 
From the perspective of survival and security: political "binemalas" do not survive without external roots. This reality undermines the relationship between the outside and the inside. Here we can argue that there is no such thing as a nation when the internal and external relations have not been ordered. The basis of the nation Is uniting the internal and differentiating the external. The "binemala" system united the outside and the inside to ensure the survival of the "binemala", In a way that neither nationalist sovereignty, national sovereignty, nor the sovereignty of citizens can exist. At the same time, outside forces also favour the "binemala" system, allowing them to consider all other institutions as weak and lacking. The "binemala" only provides stability, security to stakeholders. When the line of succession is known, and those who can influence the line are known, the "binemala" system is seen as more appropriate. Democracy is deemed as inappropriate as it contains the element of surprise and does not allow for the management of the line of succession. 
The "binemala" has its own internal political ethics. Each "binemla" system has a unique way of regulating internal succession to maintain an internal balance. However, it must also be noted that the process of transferring power within the family is not also without a problem. Within the "binemala," there is also much violence. The "binemala" utilizes the modern environment and modern tools to strengthen itself. The vast oil wealth and salary system and the lack of need for people are the basis of many of the Middle Eastern "binemalas".

This article is a starting point for the discussion of the "binemala". This phenomenon and concept are both old and new in Kurdistan. While the "binemala" has existed within Kurdish consciousness and culture, its current utilization is a new phenomenon, particularly as the arrival of leftist thought in the 1960s established an anti- "binemala" mentality. 
The re-emergence of this concept today is cause for attention; however, it appears normal in the community. The "binemala" as a system cannot respond to the demands of today's Kurdish society today. The "binemala" enshrines the principle of continuity as the main mechanism of politics. It is clear that the "binemalas" cannot all change the political system or change themselves to meet the needs of the democratic process. All systems require elements of continuity and change. Continuity in modern political systems is the constitution, institutions and rules. The article has shown that the "binemala" is constantly unstable with internal conflicts and unhealthy relationships with the outside. As a result, the borders between inside and outside have dimmed, preventing external and internal interests from being separate. 

1. JACQUES DERRIDA From Adieu à Emmanuel Levinas، Research in Phenomenology, 1998, Vol. 28 (1998), pp. 20-36 
2. Andrew Eisenberg Weberian Patrimonialism and Imperial Chinese History، Theory and Society, Feb., 1998, Vol. 27, No. 1 (Feb. 1998), 
3. Francis Fukuyama the Origins of Political Order Profile Books Ltd, London. 2011 
4. Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Philosophical Investigations. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1958
5. A conversation with Fukuyama.
6 . Jeroen Duindam 2020 Dynasty: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford 
7. Soleimani, Kamal & Mohammadpour, 2019, Interrogating the tribal: the aporia of 'tribalism in the sociological study of the Middle East, British Journal of Sociology, vol 0, Issue 0. 
9. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels 1848، Manifesto of the Communist Party، February 1848.
10. Michel Foucault 1982 The Subject and Power، Critical Inquiry, Vol. 8, No. 4 (Summer), pp. 777-795 
11. Mahrdt Helgard (????) Hannah Arendt and the Notion of Plurality
12. ACEMOGLU, Daron; ROBINSON, James. 2012 Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty. New York: Crown.

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