Friday, July 12, 2013

Honor and Compromise in Middle East Leadership (Revised)

by oldschooltwentysix

This is a more a referral than a real post, to an informative article I read at Gatestone by Harold Rhode, entitled Honor and Compromise in Middle East Leadership.

Rhodes helps provide insight into the Islamic mind and the behavior of Middle East leaders in governing, exercising power and dealing with other states. It is sobering, to say the least, but information that is necessary to know for anyone that cares to make intelligent decisions with regard to that world and to help stem its violence and aggression.

Some excerpts:
In the Middle East, leaders almost never admit that they made mistakes: doing so would bring shame (in Arabic/Turkish/ and Persian - 'Ayib/Ayyip/Ayb) on them. Shame in the Middle East is about what others say about you -- not what you think of yourself. While to some extent this is true in Western culture, in general Westerners are more susceptible to feelings of guilt, rather than shame. The Western concept of compromise -- each side conceding certain points to the other side in order to come to an agreement -- does not exist in the Middle East. What is paramount is preserving one's honor (in Arabic: sharaf or karama). People will go to any lengths to avoid shame; they are prepared to go to jail, risk death, and even kill family members (usually females) to uphold what they perceive as their honor and that of their family. The consequences of dishonor are always permanent and always collective, often extending to the entire family and even the entire clan.
Westerners often succumb to "mirror-imaging" -- assuming that "all people are alike, so whatever they say resembles what we say" -- and assume that, as in the West, names of political parties in the Middle East reflect some sort of ideology. In reality, the ideologies for which parties supposedly stand are apparently mostly nothing more than words that the leader presumably hopes will enable him to justify his control over his people. Prime Minister Erdoğan and his clique, for example, belong to the AKP Party -- Turkish initials for the "Justice and Development Party," a name he my have chosen because it sounded positive, but which has little, if anything, to do with Erdoğan's subsequent actions: re-Islamizing the Turkish government and Turkish society. Egypt's deposed President Morsi's political party, the "Freedom and Justice Party," also seems to have a name chosen simply because it sounded good. How can anyone oppose "freedom" and "justice?" But millions of Egyptians, as we are now witnessing, evidently thought it insufficiently concerned with either freedom or justice.

Morsi was actually doomed from the start. He was faced with an impossible economic situation: an Egypt totally dependent on foreign subsidies, and having to import 55% of its food and much of its fuel. The military, who have in some way been ruling Egypt for almost 5,000 years, understood that if they had they taken over, they would have been blamed for Egypt's economic and political failures during the past year and a half. Instead, they allowed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood [MB] to rule and thereby take the blame for Egypt's impossible situation. Moreover, the Egyptian people also saw for themselves that the MB's view of the world could not work. The organization's motto, "Islam is the Solution," proved wanting, to say the least -- exactly as the military assumed would happen.

Other Middle Eastern leaders find or have found themselves in the same position as Morsi. Saddam Hussein in Iraq, for instance, faced with American orders, also could not back down either during the Kuwait war or the US liberation of Iraq. Unable, culturally, to compromise, Saddam had no choice other than to back himself into a corner and suffer defeat. An honorable defeat evidently seemed preferable to a dishonorable "success" -- one in which Saddam's honor might have appeared, to his citizens and fellow Arabs and Muslims, compromised.

The same holds true for the Palestinian Authority's current leader, Abu Mazen, to whom, later, Israeli Prime Minister Olmert offered an even better deal than had been offered to Arafat. Condolezza Rice, like President Clinton, also look on in amazement at Mahmoud Abbas's reaction. (For more on Rice's views on Abbas, see her book No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington)

The same condition continues to hold true today. Why Secretary of State Kerry and the Obama administration believe they can persuade Abbas sign an agreement guaranteeing Israel's right to exist in any form is astonishing. These leaders can lead only so long as they are not perceived as a shamed sell-out and traitor.
I also suggest two other articles he wrote last year: Can Muslims Reopen the Gates of Ijtihad? and Existential Questions Facing the Muslim World.

Some will say a so-called privileged white Western Orientalist is disqualified from speaking at all on these subjects. To many of them, we may only scrutinize ourselves, and until we are perfect we have no right to criticize or speak about others or how they may have acted, no matter how badly, because merely to do so is bigoted or racist. Hogwash! This mindset is simplistic and shuts down inquiry or discussion of issues not to its own liking. Besides, it's dangerous to ignore that which seems obvious from everyday events.

John Stuart Mill said: "He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that." For those that wish to be truly informed, it is necessary to read and consider those like Rhodes, agree with him or not.


  1. Western morality/guilt culture differs dramatically from the Oriental honor/shame culture.

    It basically comes down to initiative, accepting responsibility and taking the blame when things go wrong. This is part of our Western culture. In the East, there is a preoccupation with preserving honor, erasing shame and not questioning anything that either reflects on honor or which could result in a shameful situation.

    The two sets of priorities complicate reaching an agreement. But because they're so completely different - Jews and Arabs might as well be living on different planets. And if you don't take this into account, the cultural obstacles are in and of themselves enough to guarantee that peace is stillborn.

    I don't think John F. Kerry knows what he's up against and in the Middle East, he's fighting a losing battle.

    1. This is one of the main hurdles far too many people do not understand, that this dichotomy exists.

      It took a lot of effort to discover this, one that most do not wish to engage, and then an open mind to seeing what exists and to be wrong about one's suppositions.

      Too many believe it is bigoted to point these matters out, even when they are rather obvious, and that is a further impediment.

      There will have to be more turmoil for the West, aside from its postmodern members, to see for itself and adopt a more constructive approach to the problem.

    2. One of the mistaken motifs of multiculturalism is the assumption every one wants freedom for the same ends. There are people in certain parts of the world who will happily accept freedom to enslave and to kill you! Pointing that out can get one in trouble. No - they are not like us. We just don't want to face the truth that every culture on earth since the beginning of time has been divided between civilized men and barbarians. Good and evil is part of human nature and certain parts of the planet are beyond our help.

  2. It seems to me that those of us who grew up in the west, post-Vietnam, were very well trained not to broad-brush entire cultures and if we do so we are likely, as School warns, to get lambasted as "racist" by much of the prevailing left.

    The problem is that individual cultures do, in fact, have distinct characteristics - not all of which are admirable - and are not identical with other cultures. If it is true that Arab-Muslim cultures are dominated by the honor-shame ethos then there is, as Ted Belman says, no diplomatic solution.

    So where does that leave us?

  3. There is a tribe in the isolated highlands of PNG that was decimated by a terrible disease known as kuru, a neurological disorder that is endemic and is related to CJD and mad cow disease.

    In the fifties it was proven that the spread of the disease is related to the cultural practice of eating the raw brains of deceased relatives as a funereal rite showing respect.

    Some cultures are doomed not to survive. History is full of examples that fell by the way side. The task is to limit the damage they can do especially to the rest of us before this happens.

    It is not in the slightest way racist to point this out. On the contrary it is racist to treat these people like children who know no better and never will.

  4. This why in many ways watching them embrace Bronze Age Fundamentalism isn't an entirely bad thing. Their societies are so irredeemably backwards they are, in effect parasitic. They can only exist by virtue of what they can buy or steal from us braced by their cultural hatred of having to do that coupled with using as a whip for the mob to distract from how bad things realy are. The key is to understand how to build a firewall around them so that when it all goes pear shaped the damage doesn't spill over to us. The population of the Arab region could nearly double in the next ~30 years. Right when the easy to pump oil and easy to farm land runs out. Right when the population skews to where almost everyone is too young or too old to work, or a woman. The male workforce will be largely illiterate and unskilled.

    Good luck with that.