January 10

A refined Arab debate


Here is an amazing video (with subtitles) of an Arab talk show on al-Jazeera. The vitriol makes Sean Hannity at his all time worst look like Mr. Rogers. The transcript is here.
If this is typical of the dialog between these two branches of Islam, I don’t see any way out of the crisis in Iraq. It makes me realize the huge cultural divide that exists between them and us. They think differently, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s just that we can’t possibly understand where they’re coming from since we weren’t reared in that culture.
To show you what I mean, here’s a quote from the guy defending Saddam:

Mish’an Al-Jabouri: As you know, Saddam executed my own brother and many of my relatives. He executed the uncle of my children, but the way he was executed proved Saddam was a brave man. He has truly become our martyr, and we will visit his grave like the graves of the righteous.

Arabs obviously place a much higher premium on bravery and what they consider honor than we do here in the West. I can’t image honoring a person who had my brother, the uncle of my children, along with many others of my relatives executed irrespective of how bravely he went to his death. I would still think him a swine and would dance on his grave.
When the degree of animosity exists between the two groups of Muslims in Iraq that we see demonstrated on this video, how can we possibly bring these groups together to live in peace. They desparately want a religious war in Iraq; I say let’s hit the road and let them have it. I don’t believe Bush’s call for a ‘surge’ in troops is going to do the trick against these ancient tribal hatreds, so why continue to get our kids killed over there? Let’s get out and let them have the religious civil war they all seem to want so much.
I was for the war in the beginning (for humanitarian reasons, if nothing else), but I had made the mistake of thinking that people from a totally different culture would respond to the overthrow of a tyrant in the same way I would. Big mistake on my part. I was hoping the war would be a replay of our successful intervention in Bosnia to prevent the continued Serbian slaughter of Muslims (ethnic cleansing, they called it). So much for wishful thinking.

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  1. I hate to say this, but:
    #1 – Saddam was not entirely awful in a geopolitical sense. He was not an Islamist and before the first Gulf War was actually pretty progressive for the region. I buy the argument that you can’t have 10,000 white kids going downtown and asking every black person if they have any drugs without having an effect, and if you push a guy (fight Iran, because we hate them and we screwed up big time there… don’t fight Kuwait, because it will freak the Saudis… whoops, you’re evil now for fighting to stop the slant drilling of the Kuwaitis, and now you’re as evil as it gets), you’re bound to have an effect. In business, we call this the Pygmalion/Golem effect. As a bully in the region, he helped keep it stable. He’s gone and things are falling apart.
    2- I believe this: We shouldn’t have gone to Iraq, it was an adventure with no end and not many possible positive effects. Believing this, one would think I’m for withdrawal, immediate draw down, and lynching Bush. However, I also believe that when you make an oopsie, you make it right, or do whatever you can to. I feel for the Iraqi people (even if they are all nuts, which I don’t believe) who used to have a stable, if crappy, dictator. They might be gassed if they are the wrong ethnicity or beaten and killed by the police for looking suspicious, but that was alot more manageable than what they have now, with unsortable sects of violent Islamists and God only knows whatelse fighting for power, Balkanization, various Sharia interpretations and God only knows what else. They have this mess of roadside bombs, mosque fights, sectarian violence be WE (well, not me, but the Administration and the folks who run John Melancamp’s country) took away the keystone that kept things only mildly insane.
    3- One Last thing: 50 Years ago, there was an election in Iran. They elected a guy the CIA didn’t like. So, he got dead and replaced by a guy who was a jerk, but one the CIA did like. Funny thing though, the Iranians, mostly the students, but whatever, decided they would like a jerk of their own choosing rather than one picked by the CIA, so in 1979, Khomeni takes over and bad stuff happens, including a lot of state sponsored terrorism. While Saddam was never elected in any way that really meant anything, and he was a jerk, we set up an election and they picked someone that a large portion of the country probably doesn’t like, and probably thinks is the CIA’s jerk. I wouldn’t be surprised if, in a few years (especially if we “hit the road and let them have it”), we might see something we can call Khomeni, Mark 2. No guarantee that he will be a Shia Jerk like Khomeni 1.0, but we can pretty much rest assured that he will be a jerk of the first water and WE (again, Mellancamp’s Country) will likely reap the whirlwind on that.
    That’s a really long Blog comment, but really, Cut, Run and Leave Them To Themselves has never been a good solution (although with enough time, it may work pretty well in Vietnam). The Marshall Plan seemed to work a lot better.
    Hi Max–
    Thanks for the thoughtful comment. 
    I pretty much agree with you right down the line, except maybe for the part about if we broke it we need to fix it.  I would say we should try to fix it, but it the very people we’re trying to help won’t let us help them, then I say color us gone.
    I wish I hadn’t supported the war at the outset, but I did, and I can’t deny it.
    As I wrote in a post awhile back, only about half kiddingly: Maybe our best strategy would have been to give Saddam back the keys to his palace, tell him we were really sorry about his kids, and that we just didn’t understand what a chaotic situation he had brought some measure of control to. Go forth and rule.

    It’s too late for that now.  Since the rush on the part of the Shiites to have him hanged ASAP, I wonder if that’s just what they feared.

  2. Oh boy, oh boy. Back to my cultural background. I’ve seen two Cubans or more act this very way in the middle of a political discussion–it was very sad and embarrassing when I realized that many of my relatives do not know how to have a civilized, impersonal conversation. No wonder they lost an entire country–you can’t govern with so much emotionalism and escalation, thinking that violence and retribution can bring long term success in anything.
    I don’t know when the English, French, Scandinavians and others in Western Europe taught themselves how to behave in an argument, but it became obvious to me growing up that the British, for instance, know how to talk over differences without resorting to personalizing and name calling. I call this being grownup. I call what the Arabs and Cubans do being juvenile, and dangerously so.
    And just so that everyone knows, the calmer that I would be in any of these discussions, the angrier my relatives would get–it became a no-win situation. As I write this, I now realize why my younger cousins in their 20’s and 30’s don’t engage in political talk with our older relatives–it gains them nothing, and upsets the elderly. The younger ones just simply vote Democrat without telling anyone! Thank goodness for the secret ballot!
    BTW, in the video, the one who called the other who left an “Iranian shoe” delivered a terrible insult. Things having to do with feet or shoes are considered unclean. Touching something or worse, someone with your shoe is one of the worst of faux pas in Arab society.
    Hi LC–
    I didn’t realize that Cubans were so hot blooded.

  3. Dr Mike, I think it may be the venue. Cubans among Americans would rarely act that way, knowing that they would be judged by “WASP” standards. It’s among themselves that they allow that sort of thing, and it benefits no one involved.
    Hi LC–
    You’re probably right.  For all I know, that could be a mild debate on al-Jazeera.  Compared to our talk TV, it looked pretty wild.

  4. I was just about to order two months of your great vitamins when I stumbled upon this post. You have just lost a customer, as I will not contribute any more money to a company that is in any way associated with such bigoted views.
    “A refined Arab Debate” Those Arabs, yelling at each other and disagreeing passionately over capital punishment and pre-emptive warfare. How Arab of them. Christians would never do that.
    ” . . . They think differently . . .” They do? Really? All of them?
    “Arabs obviously place a much higher premium on bravery and what they consider honor than we do here in the West.” How is this at all “obvious” from one Arab’s expression of his opinion? The “Arab” placement of premium on honor and bravery couldn’t be discerned from this statement of one Arab man’s views.
    ” . . . I had made the mistake of thinking that people from a totally different culture would respond to the overthrow of a tyrant in the same way I would.” You are only confused and mistaken because you refuse to factor in the thousands of civilian deaths caused by the invasion; the dismantling of major aspects of the society (remember that Iraq was a socialist state in which a plurality of adults were employed by the government)and the mass detention of innocent civilians who were held without charge, tortured and humiliated in Abu Graib, among other places, only to be released (if still alive) without charge. Why is Arab culture to blame for Iraq’s descent into violence and chaos given all of this? Are you sure that no non-Arab country would look the same given similar circumstances? If so, on what basis?
    I feel sickened by having read your post, but at the same time, I’m grateful for having read it because I would hate to think of continuing to support your company given your backwardness.
    Hi Janils–
    Sorry I got you upset. Let me point out a few things.
    First, I’ve written or co-written 14 books and have probably written at least 300,000-400,000 words in this blog since starting it, yet you choose about 100 of those words to condemn me as a bigot. Isn’t that the same thing you’re accusing me of doing? You don’t have a clue as to how I feel about much of anything.
    Second, the Arabs in the film were not “passionately” discussing capital punishment and pre-emptive warfare–they were hurling insults at one another, nothing more. Read the transcripts. What you say is true, that I have used this example to tar all Arabs with the same brush. Maybe these are the only two who behave this way. But then what about the 50-100 who kill one another every day in Iraq?
    Third, it’s not just one Arab’s opinion that bravery and honor are held in higher esteem there than here. That is probably written in any book on Arab culture that you might want to read.
    Forth, my comment about my making the mistake of thinking that people from a totally different culture would respond to the overthrow of a tyrant in the same way I would had no value judgment in it. I simply made a neutral statement. You’re the one that brought the value judgment to that statement, attributing to it pejorative intent, not I.

    Lastly, I deplore and condemn the treatment of innocent civilians who have gotten caught up in this whirlwind not of their making. But similar situations have existed before in other countries with different outcomes. The United States occupied Germany and Japan after WWII and dealt pretty severely with the civilian populations, who, in both those countries, had it much, much worse than the Iraqis. Yet these civilian populations didn’t form militias and kill their fellow countrymen over religious differences. Even the Serbs behaved after we occupied Bosnia and got rid of Milosevic.

  5. I condemned your statements as bigoted and backward, which I believe they are. Drawing a false equivalence between naming and condemning bigotry and bigotry itself is an enormous canard. Your feelings or general attitude about Arabs is not the issue here, your bigoted post is because whether or not it is in line with the rest of your views, it creates an atmosphere in which others feel more free to express their own prejudiced generalizations (see e.g. comment #2).
    Also, the comparison the Japan and Germany are flawed. The populations of those countries had invaded and conquered many other countries and in the case of Germany, had slaughtered thousands of innocent Jews and others in concentration camps. They accepted multilateral invasion and occupation as a consequence of that. The invasion of Iraq (along with the mass civilian detentions and torture that went and continue to go along with it) present a very different situation. Relatedly, the Germans and the Japanese didn’t formed armed militias to fight among one another, but in the case of Germany, they’d already tried to eliminate most of their religious and ethnic minorities (try blaming Arab culture for that) and in the case of Japan, there were almost no religious or ethnic differences to speak of (inside Japan, that is, but I’m sure you’re aware of the horrible civilian mass murder that Japan committed in some of the territories it has conquered over the years).
    Religious and ethnic warfare has occurred and continues to occur in Western, non-Arab cultures, including in the very examples you cite. There is absolutely no logical reason to believe that causes of civil war and religious violence present in Iraq can be traced to some defect in Arab culture.
    Hi Janils–
    “Drawing a false equivalence between naming and condemning bigotry and bigotry itself is an enormous canard.”  Say what?  I’ve read that sentence a half dozen times and still can’t figure out what you’re trying to say.  You’ll have to translate.
    So, you’re saying that my post “creates an atmosphere in which others feel more free to express their own prejudiced generalizations,” by which, I suppose, you  mean that I provide a forum for others to express opinions that might not jibe with yours.  Your opinions are the gospel–anyone else’s who might disagree with you are spreading prejudiced generalizations.  Have I got that right?
    Whether Germany and/or Japan killed millions of other people is immaterial since it wasn’t the civilians that did so, it was the military.  Yet the civilians suffered mightily under occupation, yet didn’t behave as the Iraqis are now doing.  Or are you saying that if a country’s military slaughters countless innocents in the name of whatever misbegotten ideology they pursue, then its okay for the occupying army to savage their civilians?
    Religious wars have indeed been fought by Western nations resulting in horrific casualties, but those were fought primarily pre-Reformation.  Occasionally a minor skirmish of such nature rears its ugly head in the West, but not too often.  In the Arab world it is de rigeur.  I don’t particularly think that is due to a defect in Arab culture, but more due to the fact that Islam has never gone through a Reformation as has the Christian religion.  Islam is still functioning in a pre-Enlightenment fashion.

  6. Someone explain to me please, how dragging patients and doctors straight out of the hospital to kill them constitutes bravery and honor? There have been approx 2000 doctors killed in Iraq since the start of the war over sectarian differences, and the number of patients can’t even be accounted for. Janils, the only thing comparable that comes to mind right now is Mao’s Cultural Revolution in which millions lost their lives, and all the civilized countries condemned that without question.
    Part of the problem for me in having conversations with someone like Janils, is defining what are bravery and honor. Dragging doctors and patients out of hospitals in order to shoot them cannot in any way constitute an honorable action. The killing of female relatives over a perceived sexual transgression called “honor killings” cannot in any way be considered honorable OR brave.
    In one year in the kingdom of Jordan, with a population of 5.9 million, an estimated 40,000 honor killings took place. That’s .0068 of the population. Comparing to the US population, that would be two million, forty thousand women killed BY THEIR RELATIVES in one year.
    Being bi cultural, I understand the need to cultivate understanding between cultures, but that can never be done without looking at both the positive and negative aspects of each. As a woman, I was distressed over Arab customs long, long before the Iran hostage crisis of 1979-80, let alone what’s happening now.
    Once again, I must point out that Arab cultures are tribal cultures that have yet to have gone through something like the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason. And yes, that makes a great deal of difference in how we perceive each other’s cultures and how we must deal with each other.
    Hi LC–
    Great extrapolation of the Jordanian statistics to the US.  That really puts the honor killings in perspective.  And it’s not just the killings.  I’ve read that in many Islamic societies young women who surreptitiously date the ‘wrong’ boy and are found out are encouraged to kill themselves to save the family’s honor, and many comply.  Far from what I would consider an enlightened outlook.

  7. There’s something everyone forgets about Saddam Hussein as a dictator. It was his ugly extreme methods of ruling which kept Sunnis and Shiites from killing each other. By removing him, we have removed the only brake they had from the sectarian violence.
    In my previous post I stated that two cultures must learn both the positive and negative aspects of their respective cultures. Well, we as arrogant Americans injected ourselves into a situation we knew nothing about, not the politics,the factions,the language, the culture. For this, we have now destabilized a nation and perhaps, an entire region. I consider it a negative aspect of our culture that we went in there as know-nothings expecting a better outcome. Wiser societies than ours, like France, tried to tell us how it was going to end up, and we didn’t listen.
    Hi LC–
    I agree with everything except for the part about France being a wiser society than ours.  France didn’t want us adventuring in Iraq because France had many, many business interests there that would be at risk.  They had been trading with Saddam for years.  You can’t mistake wisdom for greed.  And just because the advice was correct, in my opinion the rationale wasn’t.

  8. If you’re contending that the Holocaust was purely a military phenomenon, there’s nothing more to say.
    Was Japan a perpetrator of the Holocaust?  And there is some debate, i.e. it’s not cut and dried, as to how much the average German civilian knew about the Holocaust as it was taking place.

  9. Janils, German civilians didn’t engage afterwards in continuing to kill Jews, Gypsies, Russians, etc. German citizens didn’t engage in sectarian murder as individuals the way Iraqi citizens are doing right now. No one is saying that Germans as a people aren’t responsible for the Holocaust. Their bigotry paved the way for Hitler’s military government to get away with what they were doing for as long as they did. It’s just that the individual German didn’t take it upon himself to continue during the Allied Occupation the way the individual Iraqi is doing.
    Dr Mike, any nation who has business interests somewhere and is a major ally, has some expectation of having our government’s ear, no matter which administration is in power. Their business interests are supposed to be safeguarded by our alliance as it would be vice versa. I consider France’s admonitions both pragmatic and wise, a combination that the French do very well. Unlike the US, of late.
    Hi LC–
    Right on about the Germans.  As to the French, I think that pragmatism played a much larger role in their lack of support for the Iraq invasion than did their wisdom.  Now that it’s obvious that the whole thing is a disaster and has been totally mismanaged, the French (and anyone else who opposed the invasion) looks smart.  If the French were truly smart they wouldn’t have the screwed up bureaucracy that they do, Napoleonic (guilty until proven innocent) laws, and a ruinous tax system that drives anyone with any innovation from their country. And if they didn’t have the above, they wouldn’t have horrendous unemployment problems and an economy that’s been in a recession for the last 10 years.


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