Saturday, July 27, 2002

Truth and Islamic Culture

The western mind, or the mind of a person brought up in one of the democracies of Western Europe and North America, is formed in culture that reveres life above all, and truth not far behind. I've got a western mind, and the preservation of life, mine and others, is my primary consideration in a tight spot. Truth is, to me, an absolute requirement of civilized discourse, even though truth can be hard to find, sometimes hard to recognize when it's staring you in the face. Freedom is maybe the third most important to at least this western mind. In my country, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness have been declared to be the highest goals to aspire to.

The Islamic mind, or the mind on a person brought up in one of the predominately Muslim societies, is formed in a culture where the primary consideration is submission, of giving one's self up entirely to the will of God. My understanding of this in not academic, for I have lived among them for long periods of time. I have spent many hours in debate with Muslim friends and acquaintences over the question of the difference in our priorities. Against my love of life, the Muslim will place several considerations above it, as we have seen so much in recent months. To die in the service of honor, God, family, or country is a higher aspiration than successfully raising a family. Death is preferable to shame or dishonor. This may sound noble, but what westerner would rather die than be laughed at?

In war, a western soldier will fight to survive, and to keep the guy next to him alive. In islamic warfare, the fighters want only to kill, and death in this pursuit is considered the highest possible outcome. The Islamic concept subordinates the individual to the nation totally. Life, liberty, and happiness are optional, and maybe not even desirable.

Truth, to the Islamic mind, is a tool to be used, a frangible substance that can be used as a weapon against those who can be made to believe. This was stated beautifully be former Israel Prime Minister Ehud Barak (the one who offerred Arafat an almost total capitulation to Palestinian demands and was rebuffed) when he said:
"Palestinians have no compunction about telling lies and see truth as irrelevant They are products of a culture in which to tell a lie... creates no dissonance," Mr Barak says. "They don't suffer from the problem of telling lies that exists in Judaeo-Christian culture." "Truth is seen as an irrelevant category," he says."There is only that which serves your purpose and that which doesn't. They see themselves as emissaries of a national movement for whom everything is permissible. There is no such thing as 'the truth'."
They have a different sense of honor as well. In Afghan society the greatest champions of their national sport, Buzkashi, won by cheating, which is considered more praiseworthy than merely being the best. I could not find a suitabl link for this contention, but, believe me, I have attended at least a dozen games, and, in a game apparently without rules, the sneakiest moves are cheered the loudest, and the story of their national hero, whose name escapes me, revolves around his winning of the once a year Royal Buzkashi by violating the two rules that the game does have. He was also a lone rider in a team sport. I repeat, this is their national hero. My western mind found this very hard to understand at first. But I came to understand the Afghan ways, and to this day Afghanistan and its people are very dear to my heart. In the 1970's, this Jew found many friends among the Afghans, and Afghanistan is considered the most devout of Muslim countries. I cry for the children of Afghanistan, and pray that their condition improves, and am proud that it is my country that is trying to help.

But the Afghans are not out to kill me. The Arabs are. They laugh at the way we, and I include the people of Israel, believe their bald lies, their profession of a desire for peace, when anyone can see that they want only death, first to their enemies, and then themselves, if need be, to accomplish their aims. Their willingness to sacrifice does not make them more noble, only more dangerous. They exploit the cultural differences between us to destroy us. We allow dissidents among us to hold publicly funded professorships, while their dissidents are shot down and dragged through the streets. That's why the friendly fire casualties over Shehada's death are cause for deep soul searching amongst the Jewish people worldwide, while the Arabs gloat with joy over the dissonance caused in the camp of their enemy, achieved with the unimportant lives of a few of their replaceable children (their sentiment, not mine!).

For those who want to study the culture of our enemy, I found a great resource at Philosophy in Wartime,a great reading list of online source materials. Unfornately, I get a lot of my sources from books and personal experiences, both of which are very hard to link to. If you like to read books, I highly recommend The Dream Palace Of The Arabs, by Fouad Ajami, and anything by Bernard Lewis.