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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Using the honor/shame culture to everyone's benefit

Last month I reported that an Egyptian court made marrying Israelis illegal. The ruling mainly affected Egyptians who married Arab Israelis.

Now, the Egyptian government is appealing that ruling:
The Ministers of Interior and Foreign Affairs appealed the verdict with the Supreme Administrative Court and demanded an annulment of the ruling, according to the official daily al-Ahram.

They appealed arguing that the issue did not fall within the jurisdiction of the administrative court, the Egyptian daily independent al-Shorouk al-Gadid reported Sunday.

On the other hand, the appeal added, implementing the verdict will negatively impact Egypt's image on the international level as it will appear as a country that does not respect human rights and personal freedoms.
Notice that the argument is not that the ruling restricts personal freedoms - it is that it makes Egypt look like it restricts personal freedoms.

A corollary to the Arab honor/shame culture is that appearances are more important than facts. The perception of morality is more important than morality itself. That is how honor killings can occur to begin with. When one's honor is the most important factor in determining how one acts, it allows him to act immorally in order to maintain honor.

Of course Egypt doesn't care about human rights or personal freedoms. That's almost axiomatic. But the world does, and Egypt is not well served in appearing to be immoral. As a result, actions aren't done for the sake of morality, but for the sake of the appearance of morality.

This will not change.

What we can learn from this, though, is that as Western ideals of morality pervade the world, honor/shame cultures can be shamed into at least forcing the appearance of acting moral. When it can be hidden - when there is no shame - there will be no morality in the Western sense, but Arabs can be prodded into acting in moral ways in public by being shamed into it.

This is why it is terrifically important to place the issue of how the Arab world treats Palestinian Arabs as high as possible in the public sphere. There is no excuse for the Arab world perpetuating a fake "refugee" crisis for decades, and the hypocrisy of saying that they do it for the Palestinian Arabs' own good must be exposed. They will not start treating millions of Palestinian Arabs better; they will not give them full equal rights and citizenship rights, unless they are shamed into it.

If the West would start making this into an issue, it would have a dramatic impact. It needs to be framed as a human rights issue, plain and simple.The Arab world chooses to discriminate against Palestinians and will not allow third and fourth generation Palestinian Arabs born in their countries to become citizens, although they do allow other Arabs to become naturalized citizens. The issue needs to be raised as much as human rights are a part of the conversations around China, North Korea and elsewhere.

Once the naked hatred and bigotry against those of Palestinian origin in the Arab world is publicized, the Arab world will at first try to deflect the issue towards Israel, but they would fail. Perhaps Israel can be blamed for the condition of some Palestinian Arabs in 1949 but what has happened to them since is simply the Arab world' s responsibility.

They will never take this responsibility willingly. But, as we have seen, they can be shamed into it.