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Friday, July 29, 2005

The flip-sides of Arab honor

One of the driving factors of Arab behavior is a twisted, almost perverse sense of "honor."

You will see Arabs talking obsessively about honor, including bizarre concepts about their "honor" of women. (The fact that something called "honor killings" exists at all is powerful evidence to this.)

Beyond that, the entire idea that the concept of hated Jews owning their own land in the Middle East being so unacceptable is mostly because of this twisted sense of honor - the very existence of Jews controlling land that once was administered by Muslims is an affront to their honor. It is no coincidence that Bin Laden referred to Andalusia as well, as the 15th century eviction of Muslims from Spain was a similar offense to Islamic honor.

I can see a few corollaries to such extreme concepts.

One is that, since the Western world has so completely dominated the Islamic and Arab worlds in all spheres of influence (miltarily, culturally, scientifically), it is inevitable that a people obsessed with honor would get a massive, cumulative inferiority complex, and have an extreme need to "prove" themselves over and over again that they are still relevant. Hence, things like suicide bombings against Western targets are in some ways a way to grab the world stage, to show relevance of a culture that has been utterly and repeatedly defeated.

Another corollary is that Muslims will obsessively use Western concepts of freedom to protect their "honor," demanding rights for themselves in the name of their religion when in fact these rights are meant to protect honor. Examples would include the fight over the hijab in France and the idea that Muslims should be able to have public calls to prayer in Western cities.

A third, and under-reported corrolary is that a people obsessed with honor will inevitably want to use honor to humiliate their enemies. What is a beheading if not a way to humiliate one's enemy? And here is a story, mis-reported by the Reuters' Arab correspondent, which is ultimately about honor:

Tens of thousands of white-black-green-and-red Palestinian national flags are being sewn in workshops in Gaza City to fly over the 21 settlements, hated symbols of occupation, once the pullout starting in mid-August is complete.

Abu Dayya said the Palestinian Authority had ordered 60,000 flags for the pullout. Workers at one factory have been sewing some 3,000 pennants a day, labouring to meet an Aug. 7 delivery deadline.

Some 35,000 other flags will carry the logo of President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah movement and 20,000 will be imprinted with white-and-black headresses and pictures of Abbas and the late Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat.

Abu Dayya said sales at his PLO Flag Shop increased during the revolt, thanks to orders by Palestinian militant groups for national flags and banners bearing the symbols of armed factions. He also sold Israeli flags to be burnt at anti-Israeli rallies.

What is not reported is the fact that thousands of Palestinian flags flying over Jewish-built homes is not only meant to instill Arab pride, but more importantly it is to humiliate Israel.