Monday, February 19, 2007

Honor in Western Civilization

In our last post we discussed honor in Arab culture. A few brief remarks on the notion of honor in Western culture makes for an interesting contrast.

The dynamic of honor and shame originates in the tribal need to bind the individual to the group’s norms; it dominates in more primitive orders but still has a subsidiary role in all societies. In Ancient Sparta, a warrior was expected to return from a battle either with his shield or on his shield – implying that victory or death were the only honorable options. Fleeing a battle was a shameful act punished by ostracism, banishment, or even death.

For the Greeks, honor was purposeful; it had survival value for the individual or the group to which one’s fortune was bound. Honor in the Ancient sense meant honors bestowed by others. The Greek word, timê, means “the good opinion of others and the display of it in prizes, awards, and political offices.” [Joe Sachs p206] This concept excludes an individual’s personal honor resulting from the act of fidelity to one's ethical norms. Sachs notes that for the Greeks “the word honor always implies something external … it is called the greatest of external goods” by Aristotle. [1123b]

In the ethical systems of Plato and Aristotle, honor (the esteem of others) wasn’t the highest good . Aristotle argues [Book1:5] that honor fails the test of ultimate good: “it seems too superficial to be what we are looking for, since it is thought to depend on those who bestow honor rather than on him who receives it, but the good we divine to be something proper to a man and not easily taken from him.” This is accord to the modern sense that ethics and integrity are internal; fame, approval, and popularity are positive but can not substitute for the cultivation of one’s own character.

Aristotle describes in detail the nature of a self-respect, proper pride, and noble character of the “great souled” or “magnanimous” man – inadequate English translations of the Ancient Greek term megalopsuchia. This Ross translation [Book4:3] uses the word pride for a proper self-opinion of an honorable man in the sense of personal self-worth, self-esteem, and “greatness in every virtue.” Aristotle faults those who seek honor for the wrong reasons or take pride in the wrong matters or accepting honors without being worthy. For Aristotle the “great soul” is self-sufficient in character.

What did Aristotle think of shame? “Shame should not be described as a virtue; for it is more like a feeling than a state of character. It is defined, at any rate, as a kind of fear of dishonor, and produces an effect similar to that produced by fear of danger. … The feeling is not becoming to every age, but only to youth. For we think young people should be prone to the feeling of shame because they live by feeling and therefore commit many errors, but are restrained by shame; and we praise young people who are prone to this feeling, but an older person no one would praise for being prone to the sense of disgrace, since we think he should not do anything that need cause this sense.” [Book4:9]

The primitive honor/shame dynamic is replaced by an ethical worldview centered on the cultivation of individual character. The self-sufficient character of virtue, self-realization, and proper moral pride is not driven by the fear of dishonor that drives primitive tribal societies. The Hellenic philosophic outlook brings man to a level of moral maturity appropriate to a great civilization. This is our heritage.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Arab Honor and Shame

Stanley Kurtz has an article in the National Review on honor and shame in Arab culture. He notes that the preference for the marriage of cousins “serves as a fail-safe protective device to secure collective family honor, and linked the honor-based function of cousin marriage to a broader appreciation of super-charged, in-group solidarity as a social strategy.” Recently it was reported that approximately half of all Iraqi marriages were to cousins. It is worth reviewing the Islamic concept of honor and shame. I suggest everyone read the classic “The Arab Mind” by Rapheal Patai.

Patai starts by noting “Much has been written on the subject of honor (sharaf) among the Arabs. What has not been emphasized … is that there is a strong correlation between honor and group survival. Honorable behavior is that which is conducive to group cohesion and group survival. [p95] … Two components of the honor syndrome which have most to do with group survival are virility and kinship spirit. In the Bedouin hierarchy of values it redounds to the honor of a man to have many children, and especially sons. [p97] … [O]ne of the reasons for the general Bedouin preference for endogamy [marriage within the family]: the child-bearing capacity of its women must be preserved for the ingroup in order to make sure that all the natural increase or replacement thus obtained will take place within its own ranks rather than those of another, potentially hostile, group. [p98]

“Historically, the sense of honor was so much tied to the group spirit that both were (and still are) referred to by one and the same term, “`asabiyya,” which means primarily “family spirit” or “kinship spirit.” … Although Muhammad condemned `asabiyya as contrary to the spirit of Islam, this could not eliminate it from the consciousness of the Arabs. Ibn Khaldun, the great fourteenth-century theoretician of Arab history, even went so far as to uphold `asabiyya as the fundamental bond of human society and the basic motivating force in history.” [p99]

A group dynamic is at play in the psychology of shame. “Shame must, of course, be carefully distinguished from guilt. ‘Shame’ has been defined as a matter between a person and his society, while ‘guilt’ is primarily a matter between a person and his conscience. A hermit in a desert can feel guilt; he cannot fell shame. … What pressures the Arab to behave in an honorable manner is not guilt but shame, or, more precisely, the psychological drive to escape or prevent negative judgment by others.” [p113] Patai also covers the well known ethos of “sexual honor” which result in “honor killings,” in Chapter 8; [p126] This is widely known and requires no summary.

Honor and shame, for an Arab family/tribe is seen as a key survival factor. Dishonor brings physical danger to the family. Thus, the contempt an Arab/Muslim holds for the other is expressed by violence to the other’s family. In Israel the main targets of suicide bombings are not military but civilian. What is being expressed is “you brought shame and death to your family.” This isn’t a second best choice because of a lack of military power; this is an end in itself. Arab/Muslims know that Western morality inhibits retaliation in kind. Indeed, they’ll exploit such moral sentiments in the West whenever Arab civilians are inadvertently killed. No such complaint would be lodged against a fellow Arab.

Israel, for a time, had a policy of evicting families of suicide bombers. At least one such family turned in their son to prevent losing their home. However, Arabs quickly provided funds to reward families and neutralized this policy (Saddam was one such funding source.) No doubt if Israel killed the family of suicide bombers the shame/honor dynamic would diminish the high regard of being a shaheed and most likely end suicide bombings. Israel, of course, can’t do this. One Arab reporter, while gloating, told his American counterpart that "with all your technology you can’t respond to this manner of fighting." There is a perverse pride in being able to kill the families of civilized people knowing how difficult it is for them to do the same in return.

This, of course, is not true historically. In World War I, when Germany deployed chemical weapons to killing the allies, France and England put aside their moral reservations and engaged in similar methods. Given that the wind generally blows from West to East, this gave the allies a slight advantage. Consequently, the Germans didn’t make this mistake again in WWII. Hitler, however, believed his air superiority gave him an edge as he bombed civilians in London. He didn’t expect the British to acquire the capacity to bomb German cities. The UK accepted the practice of bombing populous cities far sooner and to a greater extent than the USA.

In war, moral sensibilities tend to move as the enemy lowers the bar. However, we are now fighting a war where, for the first time, a society accepts an absolute deontological prohibition against adjusting military technique given the enemy’s decent into savagery. No such barrier was everlasting for the UK in Europe or the USA in Japan. It is reasonable to hesitate to cross such barriers depending on the stage of the war, scale of the war and the costs of the war. But one wonders where the breaking point lies.

Returning to Patai he makes an interesting observation of what he calls “rhetoricism.” Quoting Edward Atiyah “It is a characteristic of the Arab mind to be swayed more by words than by ideas, and more by ideas than by facts.” Patai notes that “Some writers go so far as to postulate an inner relationship between language and manhood: strong manhood is co-extensive with strong rhetoric. … To the Arab mind, eloquence is related to exaggeration, which is not meant to be taken literally but which only serves the purpose of effect.” [p52] By the way, Patai died decades before Baghdad Bob.

“The psychological mechanism which produced all these untrue assertions was similar to the one which produces the typical dream of wish fulfillment: the strong desire that an event should take place … produces a verbal statement in which the desired event is represented as an accomplished fact.” [p54] We’d call that lying. Patai describes the “substituting words for deeds” as an Arab way of living. “The intention of doing something, or the plan of doing something, or the initiation of the first step toward doing something—any one of these can serve as a substitute for achievement and accomplishment. … By expressing the future act in the form of an intention, he achieves a measure of psychological relief; thereafter it no longer appears imperative to carry out the intended act.” [p67]

One of the failures of the current administration and our intellectuals is their inability to pass moral judgment. This first and foremost has a destructive effect on the cognitive clarity and morale of our fellow citizens. However, it also allows the enemy to fantasize that they are in the right and that they are honorable.

As I discussed in the past, I believe that verbal assaults could, in part, substitute for physical assaults in establishing a deterrent. Both the honor/shame mechanism and the rhetorical-substitution effect suggest we are denying ourselves the use of a very effective weapon.

Our current policy of appeasement and moral self-flagellation, earns the contempt of the enemy. Our morality makes us look weak. Our inability to proclaim our moral superiority convinces the enemy they are in the right. Our complete failure to extol the virtues of civilization and damn the savagery of these barbarians only emboldens them. Given our current course and their nature, we are headed for a great war once we reach the breaking point.

Update: For a better discussion on the military dimensions see Grant Jones.

Friday, February 16, 2007

It Takes An Individual

In a review of Ayaan’s autobiography, Claire Berlinski writes: “The curious thing, however, is not that Ms. Hirsi Ali came to reject Islam and embrace modernity, but that she seems to be one of so few immigrants to Europe to do so.” Why is this odd? Dogmatic religion is antithetical to independent thought. Muslims around the world maintain a duty-bound slavish devotion to their religious authorities not because of ignorance – they know what the West stands for – but out of choice. A life-time of submission and self-renunciation will be a stronger chain than any slave-master could hope to forge. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a rarity.

Ayaan has not merely rejected Islam but all religion. This poses an interesting problem for Berlinski as it does for Lawrence Auster. Berlinski writes: “But her metaphysical vision of the alternative to Islam is hardly seductive. Many people, I suspect, would prefer to live in chains than to believe that nothing awaits them after death. … And this is why the West's only hope is not the dismantling of Islam, but its reformation, a reformation that will perhaps be analogous in its contours to the Christian Reformation.” The Reformation led to a century of intolerance and brought wars of religion that were shocking in their savagery and slaughter. The Enlightenment – best exemplified in Britain and America – brought toleration, liberty, and set the stage for an unprecedented prosperity.

Of course, there will always be slackers who will be Muslim in name only, colonial Muslims who will water-down their Islam, and those who are ignorant about their religion, as is often the case with any religion. But Islam and the example of Mohammad will always remain a doctrinally malignant force that easily underwrites an illiberal imperialist warrior ideology. Combine that with the blind-faith and self-renunciation of a extremely dogmatic religion – sanctioned by the supernatural hope of reward in an afterlife – and you have the worse of all worlds.

Ayaan chose this life and is fighting for a just order in this world. We all must. It starts with one person.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Denmark the Model

Over at Gates of Vienna, the dynamic duo has been blogging on the anti-Islamic resistance in … Denmark. There may be those that would write-off Europe as hopelessly submissive in the face of the Islamic threat (i.e. Mark Steyn) or fearful that Europe will become a repeat of the 1930s (i.e. Ralph Peters). A more likely course of action is emerging in Denmark.

In “The Danish Model” the Baron notes that “The Danes are light-years ahead of the rest of the West when it comes to dealing with Islam, multiculturalism, mass immigration from the Third World, and all the other issues that generate PC plaque and clog the arteries of the body politic.” (Ignore the two who’ve hijacked the thread in the comments section.)

In “Slow Down! Watch Carefully!” the Baron describes the unique methods that the Danes employ to retain their culture. The Swedes don’t seem to appreciate the humor. But Danish-Swedish relations have been strained in the past. The Baron considers a possible replay here.

In a journalistic scoop, the Baron brings SIAD, the Danish anti-Islamic resistance groups, to an American audience. Kudos to the Baron and his Queen (Dame Dymphna!)

Update: They've long noted the difference in Denmark. For example. And this.
Update2: Comments on SIAD at Jihad Watch
Update3: You're quite welcome!
Update4: Follow-up on SAID

Friday, February 09, 2007

Why do we fund Islamic terrorists?

“Hamas and its rival movement Fatah signed a deal on Thursday … hoping this would lead Western powers to lift crippling sanctions imposed on the Hamas-led government …” the New York Times reports. Why is our government contemplating funding these savage Islamic terrorists?

Remember when our government was going to turn over port operations to a UAE subsidiary? There was an instant outcry. How can the media, pundits, and our politicians remain silent as our government contemplates funding bin Laden’s colleagues?

Victor Davis Hansen asks the same question. I asked it long ago. The policy of putting the desires of our most vicious enemies first is clearly the most abject altruism possible. This is what Ayn Rand vilified as a ‘morality’ of self-renunciation and self-immolation. You wouldn’t believe it if it were fiction … well, perhaps a great writer could …

Update: Condi still doesn't get it.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Russian Bear Opens an Eye?

The New York Sun argues that Russia is returning to her old ways by embarking on a weapons build-up and by returning to domestic repression of dissent. Unable to embrace a liberal order, Russia needs to lessen the disparity between her corrupt post-Soviet society and the prosperous West. Russia’s humiliating failure to re-establish hegemony over the Ukraine and her failure to aid fellow Slavs in the Balkans only adds insult to injury. By supporting Saddam and now Ahmadinajad, Russia shows her intention to use proxies to bleed America. The Sun may be right that we are seeing a turning point in European history as the Russian bear re-awakes.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Islam Tops List

I reported that communism was responsible for the deaths of 148 million people. Now Bill Warner of the Center for the Study of Political Islam says "Approximately 270 million nonbelievers died over the last 1400 years for the glory of political Islam." Hitler comes in third.