To anthropologists, vengeance is a restoration of balance among tribes, a closely choreographed effort to right old wrongs without creating new ones. In post-tribal Libya, the possible execution of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi by rebels who took him alive threatens to have the opposite effect, by rousing old feuds and undermining the newborn democracy that promised to bring him to trial.
Until Thursday, Libya was a model of democratic revolution against tyranny. Now it has become an anthropological case study in the disruptive effects of revenge served hot. The killing of Col. Gaddafi "establishes the legitimacy of the old tribal allegiances that are destabilizing of state structures," said Ronald Niezen, chairman of anthropology at McGill University in Montreal.
"The danger is the complete destabilizing of the fledging state, because the institutions on which it depends for stability are weakened by that informal sphere of tribal alliances."