Saturday, September 15, 2012

Muslim Hypersensitivity

As the Obama-Clinton foreign policy goes up in smoke, or is it, down in flames, we are watching a failed civilization reacting to a failed policy.

Barack Obama claimed that Muslims would have warmer feelings toward the United States once he became president. After all, he had lived in a Muslim country. He felt their pain. They would see him as one of their own and that would immediately calm their fevered jihadi impulses.

Recent events have given the lie to Obama’s presumptuous naivete. Anyone who was even tempted to believe that Barack Obama, become therapist-in-chief, would assuage hurt Muslim feelings should hide his head in shame.

As should anyone who was even tempted to believe White House Press Secretary James Carney’s spin: “This is not a case of protests directed at the United States.”

The American government sees terrorists attacking our embassies and consulates, murdering our diplomats, and burning our flag. The best they can do, as an official statement is to say that the protests are not directed at the United States. They are directed at a film director.

If the American people buy it, they will deserve what they get.

In the meantime, one of the most authoritative voices on the Muslim sensibility, Fouad Ajami raises an important question this morning in the Washington Post.

Why, he asks, are Muslims so sensitive to slights, to insults or even to blasphemy? The recent outburst of worldwide rage reveals a hypersensitivity that borders on the pathological.

Ajami explains that it has been produced by a failed civilization. Islamic civilization has been seriously defeated in the competitive arena. The modern world has left Islamic cultures behind. It resents anyone trying to tell it what to do because it feels like outsiders are trying to show them up.

In Ajami’s words:

Even as Arabs insist that their defects were inflicted on them by outsiders, they know their weaknesses. Younger Arabs today can be brittle and proud about their culture, yet deeply ashamed of what they see around them. They know that more than 300 million Arabs have fallen to economic stagnation and cultural decline. They know that the standing of Arab states along the measures that matter — political freedom, status of women, economic growth — is low. In the privacy of their own language, in daily chatter on the street, on blogs and in the media, and in works of art and fiction, they probe endlessly what befell them.

This is certainly true as far as it goes. Unfortunately, it does not go far enough.

The real issue is not how much shame anyone feels, but how your culture teaches you how to deal with it.

There is no rule in human psychology that prescribes mindless expressions of anger as the cure for humiliation. Making a public spectacle of your rage does not restore your self-respect. On the contrary, it diminishes it.

People fail all the time. It’s part of life.

The real question is: how do they overcome it?

If we were talking about an individual we would say that someone who strikes out in the clutch can go try to improve his game. We would not advise him to try to soothe his shame by blowing up the stadium.

How people deal with failure depends on how their culture teaches them to deal with it.

By all accounts something in Islam tells its adherents that they should not try to overcome failure by learning how better to compete.

It tells them that if they have failed the game must be rigged and must be destroyed.

It tells them that if their neighbor builds a better house than they have, they should not try to build a better house. Thus must burn down their neighbor’s house. It tells them that their neighbor only built the better house because he wants to humiliate them and their god.

It tells them that if they fail they must, as a matter of honor commit an act of unspeakable violence, thus to double down on failure.

Islamic culture seems married them to the notion that if you cannot build anything as grand as your neighbor you are morally bound to destroy what your neighbor has built.

Some people want to be respected; others want to be feared. One can only wonder when the Muslim world will understand that you only gain respect by working for it. Being feared does not make you respected.


Anonymous said...

Stuart, I don't doubt the importance of this subject, and there seems little doubt that Islam is used by many to act our their destructive revenge fantasies. But your conclusion is less that satifying "Being feared does not make you respected." Being feared makes you respected BY THOSE WHO CAN'T CONTROL YOU (yet).

For instance, Iran and North Korea want Nuclear weapons because they feel threatened, that a superior enemy can end their reign, and they learned that lesson from US, since we have nuclear weapons and someday someone is going to use these weapons again, and it won't be the respect-through-fear Iranians or North Koreans, but probably our own hubris, to think we can play with matches and not be burnt. Little Islamic terrorist can't touch our death fantasies. And of course you deny that, and so I do, but the problem is the 1-10% who cause all the trouble, and it doesn't matter whose side you are on, or whose religion your are mis-interpreting, as long as we use "respect through fear" as our moral code, we're just begging for our own destruction.

I don't have a political answers. I just hate the false division between the powerful and the weak for their different tactics.

When I was a kid, I had an adopted bigger brother who'd was very physical and would get into fights, and once I threw a knife towards him, intentionally off, but wanted him to know I was crazy. OTOH, he really was a poor street fighter, and yet I remember once he used his size to take a temporary beating by numbchucks before he disarmed his opponent and threw them in a tree, and I was glad for his size then, and proud of his willingness to take pain.

Learning how to deal with aggressive feelings in the best of childhoods is hard. Maybe we should blame a specific culture or religion, and pretend its someone else's problem, because the disrespected men don't see what is obvious how to gain esteem, but maybe we don't see the obvious - self-destructiveness doesn't care. It will gain positive or negative attention with equal rigor, or die trying.

Malcolm said...

Michele Bachmann has an excellent speech regarding Islam.