RE: Culture of honour

From: Peter Smagorinsky (
Date: Thu Jan 08 2004 - 12:04:22 PST

At 02:32 PM 1/8/2004 -0500, you wrote:
>I don't think we can blame the shame culture or the system of honour for

An interesting perspective from Thomas Friedman of the NYT, who assumes the
opposite, i.e., that absence of shame contributes to violence:
War of Ideas, Part 1

Published: January 8, 2004

Airline flights into the U.S. are canceled from France, Mexico and London.
Armed guards are put onto other flights coming to America. Westerners are
warned to avoid Saudi Arabia, and synagogues are bombed in Turkey and
France. A package left on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
forces the evacuation of 5,000 museumgoers. (It turns out to contain a
stuffed snowman.) National Guardsmen are posted at key bridges and tunnels.
Happy New Year.
What you are witnessing is why Sept. 11 amounts to World War III the
third great totalitarian challenge to open societies in the last 100 years.
As the longtime Middle East analyst Abdullah Schleiffer once put it to me:
World War II was the Nazis, using the engine of Germany to try to impose
the reign of the perfect race, the Aryan race. The cold war was the
Marxists, using the engine of the Soviet Union to try to impose the reign
of the perfect class, the working class. And 9/11 was about religious
totalitarians, Islamists, using suicide bombing to try to impose the reign
of the perfect faith, political Islam.
O.K., you say, but how can one possibly compare the Soviet Union, which had
thousands of nukes, with Al Qaeda? Here's how: As dangerous as the Soviet
Union was, it was always deterrable with a wall of containment and with
nukes of our own. Because, at the end of the day, the Soviets loved life
more than they hated us. Despite our differences, we agreed on certain
bedrock rules of civilization.
With the Islamist militant groups, we face people who hate us more than
they love life. When you have large numbers of people ready to commit
suicide, and ready to do it by making themselves into human bombs, using
the most normal instruments of daily life an airplane, a car, a garage
door opener, a cellphone, fertilizer, a tennis shoe you create a weapon
that is undeterrable, undetectable and inexhaustible. This poses a much
more serious threat than the Soviet Red Army because these human bombs
attack the most essential element of an open society: trust.
Trust is built into every aspect, every building and every interaction in
our increasingly hyperconnected world. We trust that when we board a plane,
the person next to us isn't going to blow up his shoes. Without trust,
there's no open society because there aren't enough police to guard every
opening in an open society.
Which is why suicidal Islamist militants have the potential to erode our
lifestyle. Because the only way to deter a suicidal enemy ready to use the
instruments of daily life to kill us is by gradually taking away trust. We
start by stripping airline passengers, then we go to fingerprinting all
visitors, and we will end up removing cherished civil liberties.
So what to do? There are only three things we can do: (1) Improve our
intelligence to deter and capture terrorists before they act. (2) Learn to
live with more risk, while maintaining our open society. (3) Most
important, find ways to get the societies where these Islamists come from
to deter them first. Only they really know their own, and only they can
really restrain their extremists.
As my friend Dov Seidman, whose company, LRN, teaches ethics to global
corporations, put it: The cold war ended the way it did because at some
bedrock level we and the Soviets "agreed on what is shameful." And shame,
more than any laws or police, is how a village, a society or a culture
expresses approval and disapproval and applies restraints.
But today, alas, there is no bedrock agreement on what is shameful, what is
outside the boundary of a civilized world. Unlike the Soviet Union, the
Islamist terrorists are neither a state subject to conventional deterrence
or international rules, nor individuals deterred by the fear of death. And
their home societies, in too many cases, have not stigmatized their acts as
"shameful." In too many cases, their spiritual leaders have provided them
with religious cover, and their local charities have provided them with
money. That is why suicide bombing is spreading.
We cannot change other societies and cultures on our own. But we also can't
just do nothing in the face of this mounting threat. What we can do is
partner with the forces of moderation within these societies to help them
fight the war of ideas. Because ultimately this is a struggle within the
Arab-Muslim world, and we have to help our allies there, just as we did in
World Wars I and II.
This column is the first in a five-part series on how we can do that.

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