Friday, July 09, 2010

Honor/shame and Saudi child abuse

By Khalaf al-Harby, in the Saudi-based Arab News, and article that would be considered "Islamophobic" if it had been written by a Westerner:

Two studies have been issued on the issue of child abuse in the last two months. The first one, conducted in the United States, claims one in six children would be subjected to sexual abuse.

The second study, conducted in Saudi Arabia by Dr. Nura Al-Suwaiyan, director of the family safety program at the National Guard Hospital, revealed one in four children is abused in the Kingdom.

This clearly shows that children are far more likely to be molested in the Kingdom than in the United States!

I know that such a result will shock many of us who believe that we are living in utopia, while American society is devoid of any ethical values. These people will reject the results of these studies or at least doubt the credibility of the researchers. They are dreaming. They are determined to provide a picture of our society as one that is completely flawless.

As it is useless to talk to these dreamers, I will address citizens with a more realistic outlook in our society and tell them that child abuse rates in the US will come down with time, while it will increase in our society.

The reason for this is the way each country deals with the problem. From a legal point of view, while sexual harassment against children in the US is considered a heinous crime, we look at it as a mistake or a wrongdoing, not as a crime, unless the child has been raped.

The child molester in America is considered a dangerous criminal while for us he is a man who committed a mistake that does not necessarily entail informing the police!

In the US, there is a detailed description of child harassment. Showing a pornographic picture to a child or talking to him about sex in the US is considered molestation, while in the Kingdom sexual harassment cannot be considered abuse unless actual sex act has taken place.

From a social point of view, it is a duty of parents and adults in America who notice their children being abused to inform police, but in our society parents would feel ashamed to tell officers if their son or daughter has been molested!

The Americans can confront this problem because they know that they are human beings and hence liable to make mistakes, while those in Saudi Arabia are unable to deal with this problem because they want to adhere to the imaginary idea that we are the purest society in the whole world.
This is a classic example of the differences between an shame culture and a guilt culture.

According to the writer, Saudis are too ashamed to tackle the problem because their honor would be besmirched by association. Of course they love their children, but personal honor is in some ways more important. In other words, the primary concern is based on others' perceptions of reality, not on reality itself.

A classic overview of these concepts can be seen in the 2005 posting by Dr. Sanity.

The good news is that before the Internet, it would have been inconceivable that such an article would have been published in Saudi Arabia. At least some of the better parts of Western culture are slowly seeping in, much to the consternation of the traditionalists who are believe that the negative influences of Western culture are far more pronounced than its positives.

The fact that such an article can be written in The Arab News (and apparently Okaz, the Saudi news agency) is a step in the right direction, but unfortunately the number of those who can write such articles are dwarfed by those who need to read them.

The mindset of an honor/shame culture will not disappear, but the ability to use it for everyone's good is there. In this case, simply publicizing the fact of prevalent Saudi child sexual abuse can be made more shameful than the benefits of hushing it up. And shaming Arabs is probably the best way the West can get them to do what is for everyone's benefit - and not only in this particular example.

(h/t Arthur G in the message board)