RE: Culture of honour

From: Jay Lemke (
Date: Mon Jan 12 2004 - 18:54:55 PST

Jeeeeez ... and this is what passes for reason today? A few fanatics who
can kill thousands here and there is more dangerous than the people who
made the holocaust, or who might have partnered with us in exterminating
most life forms on this planet?

I feel a lot more certain danger from the political nazis who exaggerate
terrorism as an excuse for curtailing the liberties of their potential
(domestic, nonviolent) opponents. If trust is being squeezed out of US
society, it's being done by _us_, not by the terrorists. I lived in New
York for the year or two after 9-11. The hysteria was entirely generated by
the media and the politicians, at least after the first few weeks of shock.
It seemed as if every time people were about ready to start feeling OK
again, some just-in-time new "scare" appeared in the media ... and none of
them were real.

So the reason these people hate us is ... totally irrational? Not something
we ought to try to pay any attention to? They're not the only ones who
hate us, just the only ones desperate enough to do something about it.
Terrorism is not a form of madness. It is an extreme, and deliberate,
response to intolerable injustice. They don't hate us for being christian,
or even for having somewhat morally lax lifestyles. And they're going to go
on hating us until we take a really good hard look at ourselves ... and at
what our powerbrokers have done in our name for decades and centuries.

Who exactly is missing the inhibitions of shame ... someone willing to give
their life to strike out against their real and powerful oppressors ... or
someone who is ready to lie his country into an unjust war? Someone who
kills the innocent, thinking them guilty ... or someone who kills the
"guilty", knowing them innocent?

At this point I think I'd prefer emotion to such a masquerade of reason.


At 03:04 PM 1/8/2004 -0500, Peter Smagorinsky wrote:
>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.

Jay Lemke
University of Michigan
School of Education
610 East University
Ann Arbor, MI 48104

Tel. 734-763-9276

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