Tuesday, 30 August 2011

What it takes to make a sheikh

Further ideas from Honor & Shame by Roland Muller...

What makes a man honourable enough to become a sheikh?

- Money. There is great respect for wealth and to use it to help a good cause (the poor) is considered very honourable. It allows hospitality and generosity – the two things that can obliterate shame and restore honour. It can cover a multitude of sins.

- Heritage. Great leaders in one’s history are an advantage while shameful characters are expelled/killed to preserve the tribe’s honourable heritage.

- Wisdom. Elders are listened to with respect as repositories of wisdom. They are the traditional counsellors and are often wealthier than their younger family members.

- Charisma. Good looking, confident, such leaders have often accomplished something of note and capitalised on it. Often they are also good communicators and shrewd politicians, finding honourable solutions to difficult problems.

- Physical strength. Arab lore is full of heroes and Arab boys are brought up to highly value manliness and strength. Physical strength + charisma + financial strength = winning combination!

- Alliances. Strong alliances give influence and can give an individual great power. Combined strength can be relied upon.

- Bravery. The act of bravery is honourable in itself, though Arab stories often have the hero overcoming overwhelming odds.

- Loyalty. Loyalty to the family/tribe is paramount in order to maintain family honour. The tribe sticks together in order to survive and the rightness of the elders (and the tribe) is never publicly questioned.

- Violence. ‘Life is a fearful test, for modern Arab society it is ruthless, stern, pitiless. It honours strength and has no compassion for weakness.’ Violence is a way of demonstrating honour and removing shame from the tribe.

Most societies accept that everyone has to deal with a measure of shame – how it is dealt with is the revealing thing. And can a person move from a position of shame to one of honour? Arabs would agree that you cannot honour yourself – someone else has to honour you and this seldom happens without a cause.

To be concluded...

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

It would be an honour...

Further ideas from Honor & Shame by Roland Muller...

Honour for an Arab is the absence of shame - every Arab desires and strives to be more honourable. Honouring elders has a high value – exemplified by the story of two sons, each asked by their father to go and fetch water. The elder says no, the younger says yes, but does not go. In western eyes both have dishonoured the father while in eastern eyes the younger is seen as the better son for saving face for his father.

Honourable acts would include hospitality, flattery and gift-giving. Hospitality is one of the most important ways of showing honour – it honours the guest and covers any shame the host may have. It is the aim that any visit to an Arab home will honour the guest. The opposite is also true – a visitor kept at the door will be shamed for all to see. They will not return. Flattery meanwhile honours the recipient and is a public display of honour from the flatterer. As far as gifts are concerned, if you admire anything in an Arab home the hosts will be quick to insist that you receive it as a gift. Even if you don’t admire something gifts will be offered and the host will insist that you eat and drink – this is considered an obligation by the host. The guest must be willing to accept such hospitality.

Family history accrues honour and it is the duty of the eldest son especially to maintain that honour.

Education bestows honour and many poor families sacrifice almost everything, parents working endlessly to help an elder son receive a higher education thus elevating the status of the whole family and tribe.

Marriage brings honour - but if the behaviour of a wife injures a man swift judgment will result. The arrival of the first son brings higher status to the couple and so to the wider family.

Honour in the Arabic language: Arabs will wish each other joy on three specific occasions – the birth of a boy, the coming to light of a poet and the foaling of a noble mare! Language is so powerful that Arabs will listen intently to someone speaking well – whether he speaks the truth or not. Arab poetry is full of vainglory – the Arab hero is defiant, boastful and will fight to the death for his women!

To be continued...

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Further things that matter in Arab society

Further ideas from Honor & Shame by Roland Muller...

Shame is not only an act, but the discovery of the act by outsiders. The view here would be, ‘he who has done a shameful deed must conceal it, for revealing one’s disgrace is to commit another disgrace’ and ‘ a concealed shame is two thirds forgiven’. The shame that comes from failure produces an unwillingness to accept challenges and responsibilities while an Arab out of his own safe context can change temperament drastically. Outside influences will be blamed for failure, and anger, resentment and violence will be displaced. It is easy to offend an Arab – they have a detailed code of conduct which includes pouring too much coffee or making a visit too short. Shame will result for an Arab when he is not made a special case – rules are expected to be bent for his convenience and he will expect to be the favourite, with friends constantly reassuring him that he is preferred above others.

‘Ask’ and ‘tell’ are the same word in Arabic – so I don’t ask you to lend me something, I tell you, as it would be shameful to be refused such a request. When such a thing is ‘asked’ the claim of the tribe is greater than the opinion of the owner of the object.

Revenge – eliminates shame and is sanctioned by the Quran. Payment of a blood price (agreed between the two parties) can be substituted for bloodshed. Honour killings, especially of women who are deemed to have dishonoured the family/tribe with unsuitable relationships would come under this heading. Increasingly, younger Arabs who have been educated in the west, where such treatment is viewed with horror, are questioning the appropriateness of such killings and are demanding that the criminal code and justice system should reflect this.

Peace – has a secondary value in Arab culture in comparison to shame and revenge. Thus the western impression has grown that in the Arab context, peace is the temporary absence of conflict. The permanent state of peace is reserved for the Islamic community and jihad for the non-Islamic states. ‘There is honour within Islam and shame without’.

To be continued...

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Why these things are important in Arab society

Further ideas from Honor & Shame by Roland Muller...

Dr Sania Hamady (Arab scholar and authority on Arab psychology) states that the three fundamentals of Arab society are shame, honour and revenge and the following issues are important to consider.
  • group mindset – the extended family is the key unit and all relatives are part of the tribe and are defined as ‘near’ or ‘far’. Marriage and adoption can bring someone ‘near’ and a foreigner adopted as a son of the tribe is greatly honoured. For those who are ‘near’ a high level of conformity is demanded – it brings honour, social prestige and a secure place in society, those who do so receive support against outsiders and help to further his own interests. 
  • relationships – Arab society is permeated from top to bottom by a system of rival relationships and there is great value and prestige placed on the ability to dominate others. Rivals will seize on any ‘shame’ to destroy the other’s influence and picking off individuals and targeting them will often be a successful ploy with the whole tribe responding on either side of the situation. Arabs fear isolation as one on his own can be overcome and enslaved by others while there is protection in the company of others – knowing who to trust is a matter of family/tribe ties.
  • shame – failure to conform leads to shame for the wider community – a damning indictment. Westerners with their high value on individualism fail to understand that the meaning of Islam is conformity to the point of submission, with public prayers and universal fasting as powerful means to that conformity. Few things are right or wrong – those that are acceptable or unacceptable being so defined by society. Contravention may result in acting shamefully but not necessarily wrongfully in God’s eyes. Muslim men living in western cultures will use this to justify sexual escapades and indulgence in alcohol as the new society does not define these things as shameful. So ‘where you are not known, do what you like’ is the order of the day.
To be continued...

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Why 'The Godfather' is powerful

Further ideas from Honor & Shame by Roland Muller...

Separation from God takes place because God is honourable and man is shameful. The whole message of the gospel revolves around the restoration of that relationship – one where man cannot elevate himself. Only God can restore man and He used a mediator – one who must be able to speak equally with God and man. For this reason Jesus became human to mediate between us. Once the relationship is restored we have access to the throne room of God. Jesus bestows on every believer the honour and glory that the Father bestowed on Him but humility is called for – God does not honour the proud.

In the guilt/innocence, shame/honour, fear/power world views some cultures operate almost totally just within one, others have a dominant and a secondary influence while others are a mixture of all three. At the same time cultures are changing as their history rolls on. The Roman Empire was founded in a fear/power setting with a pantheon of gods to be appeased. As it developed, law became an important foundation and it moved to a guilt/innocence dynamic. Over the following period shame and honour began to dominate – as embodied in the Godfather movies. Muller observes that southern European culture has lost the guilt/innocence dynamic. In fact cultures are increasingly a mixture of all three paradigms and any clash of cultures often comes down to guilt/innocence v shame/honour – such would be the clash between Christian and Muslim cultures.

To be continued...