July 14, 2013

Honor and Compromise in Middle East Leadership

Cross-posted at Israel Thrives

This is a more a referral than a real post, to an informative article I read at Gatestone by Harold Rhode, entitled Honor and Compromise in Middle East Leadership.

Rhodes helps provide insight into the Islamic mind and the behavior of Middle East leaders in governing, exercising power and dealing with other states. It is sobering, to say the least, but information that is necessary to know for anyone that cares to make intelligent decisions with regard to that world and to help stem its violence and aggression.

Some excerpts:
In the Middle East, leaders almost never admit that they made mistakes: doing so would bring shame (in Arabic/Turkish/ and Persian - 'Ayib/Ayyip/Ayb) on them. Shame in the Middle East is about what others say about you -- not what you think of yourself. While to some extent this is true in Western culture, in general Westerners are more susceptible to feelings of guilt, rather than shame. The Western concept of compromise -- each side conceding certain points to the other side in order to come to an agreement -- does not exist in the Middle East. What is paramount is preserving one's honor (in Arabic: sharaf or karama). People will go to any lengths to avoid shame; they are prepared to go to jail, risk death, and even kill family members (usually females) to uphold what they perceive as their honor and that of their family. The consequences of dishonor are always permanent and always collective, often extending to the entire family and even the entire clan.
Westerners often succumb to "mirror-imaging" -- assuming that "all people are alike, so whatever they say resembles what we say" -- and assume that, as in the West, names of political parties in the Middle East reflect some sort of ideology. In reality, the ideologies for which parties supposedly stand are apparently mostly nothing more than words that the leader presumably hopes will enable him to justify his control over his people. Prime Minister Erdoğan and his clique, for example, belong to the AKP Party -- Turkish initials for the "Justice and Development Party," a name he my have chosen because it sounded positive, but which has little, if anything, to do with Erdoğan's subsequent actions: re-Islamizing the Turkish government and Turkish society. Egypt's deposed President Morsi's political party, the "Freedom and Justice Party," also seems to have a name chosen simply because it sounded good. How can anyone oppose "freedom" and "justice?" But millions of Egyptians, as we are now witnessing, evidently thought it insufficiently concerned with either freedom or justice.

Morsi was actually doomed from the start. He was faced with an impossible economic situation: an Egypt totally dependent on foreign subsidies, and having to import 55% of its food and much of its fuel. The military, who have in some way been ruling Egypt for almost 5,000 years, understood that if they had they taken over, they would have been blamed for Egypt's economic and political failures during the past year and a half. Instead, they allowed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood [MB] to rule and thereby take the blame for Egypt's impossible situation. Moreover, the Egyptian people also saw for themselves that the MB's view of the world could not work. The organization's motto, "Islam is the Solution," proved wanting, to say the least -- exactly as the military assumed would happen.

Other Middle Eastern leaders find or have found themselves in the same position as Morsi. Saddam Hussein in Iraq, for instance, faced with American orders, also could not back down either during the Kuwait war or the US liberation of Iraq. Unable, culturally, to compromise, Saddam had no choice other than to back himself into a corner and suffer defeat. An honorable defeat evidently seemed preferable to a dishonorable "success" -- one in which Saddam's honor might have appeared, to his citizens and fellow Arabs and Muslims, compromised.

The same holds true for the Palestinian Authority's current leader, Abu Mazen, to whom, later, Israeli Prime Minister Olmert offered an even better deal than had been offered to Arafat. Condolezza Rice, like President Clinton, also look on in amazement at Mahmoud Abbas's reaction. (For more on Rice's views on Abbas, see her book No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington)

The same condition continues to hold true today. Why Secretary of State Kerry and the Obama administration believe they can persuade Abbas sign an agreement guaranteeing Israel's right to exist in any form is astonishing. These leaders can lead only so long as they are not perceived as a shamed sell-out and traitor.
I also suggest two other articles he wrote last year: Can Muslims Reopen the Gates of Ijtihad? and Existential Questions Facing the Muslim World.

Some will say a so-called privileged white Western Orientalist is disqualified from speaking at all on these subjects. To many of them, we may only scrutinize ourselves, and until we are perfect we have no right to criticize or speak about others or how they may have acted, no matter how badly, because merely to do so is bigoted or racist. Hogwash! This mindset is simplistic and shuts down inquiry or discussion of issues not to its own liking. Besides, it's dangerous to ignore that which seems obvious from everyday events.

John Stuart Mill said: "He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that." For those that wish to be truly informed, it is necessary to read and consider those like Rhodes, agree with him or not.