Evidence that Democratic Values can Trump Honor-Shame: Arabs react to Olmert’s Woes

Khaled abu Toameh, perhaps the single best Arab journalist working today, has a fascinating piece on the Arab reaction to Olmert’s difficulties as a result of a corruption scandal which, they admit, would not even register in their societies. Despite their “hatred” of the “Zionist entity” they find themselves filled with admiration for a system that really works. It’s a remarkable piece of evidence that, even in cultures replete with honor-shame dynamics, there’s a secret admiration for the workings of the “rule of law.” (Hat tip: Noah Pollack)

May 30, 2008 0:04 | Updated May 30, 2008 8:58
‘No one is above the law in Israel’
By KHALED ABU TOAMEH

The corruption case against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has earned Israel tremendous respect throughout the Arab world, where many have called on their leaders to benefit from Israel’s democratic system and independent judicial system.

‘It’s ridiculous for politicians to receive cash from US donors’
Words of praise for Israel are a rare phenomenon in the Arab media. But judging from the reactions of many Arabs to the corruption case in the past week, the trend appears to have changed.

Even some Arabs who describe themselves as “sworn enemies of the Zionist entity” have begun singing praise for Israel.

Over the past week, the corruption case against Olmert received wide coverage in the mainstream Arab media, prompting an outcry about the need for transparency and accountability in the Arab world.

“Show me one Arab or Islamic country where a prime minister or a senior government official was ever questioned for financial corruption or bribery,” said a reader who identified himself only as Majed.

Majed, like many others, was responding to a news story on an Arab Web site about the testimony in court of American philanthropist Morris Talansky, who told police he had given Olmert more than $150,000 in cash over the course of some 14 years.

Another reader, Sami, commented: “The Israeli regime with all its defects is better than all the Arab ‘democracies’ and still changes ministers and governments every few years.”

A Saudi national named Abdel Karim urged his Arab brethren to stop criticizing Israel and learn something about its democracy. “Before we curse Israel, we must learn from the democratic and judicial system in Israel, where no one is above the law,” he wrote.

Khaled, another Saudi national, chimed in: “Although we are talking about Israel, which I have always hated very much, there is still no one above the law there.”

Mahmoud al-Bakili of Yemen posted the following response on one of the Web sites: “We want this kind of accountability and transparency in the Arab and Islamic world.”

And there was this comment from an Arab who described himself as a Syrian Voice: “Despite my strong hatred for the Zionist regime, I have a lot of admiration and respect for this entity because there is no one above the law. In the Arab world, laws are broken every day and no one seems to care.”

Egyptian writer Abdel Aziz Mahmoud said he doesn’t believe the day will ever come when an Arab leader will be put on trial for sexual harassment or financial corruption.

“I don’t think we will live to see the day when the police interrogate an Arab leader for sexually harassing his secretary or receiving bribes,” he wrote. “Nor will our children and grandchildren live to see that day. What happened in Israel can never happen in any Arab country.”

Some Arabs went as far as condemning the Arab people for failing to rise against their corrupt dictators.

“There is corruption in Israel and the Arab world,” wrote Abu Hadi from Iraq. “But the difference is that the Israelis hold their leaders accountable, while we the Arabs remain silent about corruption.”

Jamal, who described himself as the Madman, wrote that “the reason why Israel has lasted for so long is because of its independent and fair judicial system. I challenge the Arabs to have such an independent judicial system.”

Many of the readers found it quite ironic that Olmert was being questioned because of “only” tens of thousands of dollars he allegedly received from Talansky.

“They say he received something like $3,000 a year,” said Abu Atab from Morocco inaccurately. “This shows that Olmert is a decent man. This is a small sum that any Arab government official would receive on a daily basis as a bribe. Our leaders steal millions of dollars and no one dares to hold them accountable.”

Touching on the same issue, a reader from Algeria posted this comment: “In the Arab world, our leaders don’t accept less than $1 million in bribes; the money must be deposited in secret bank accounts in Switzerland. Olmert is a fool if he took only a small sum.”

Another comment, this time from Ahmed in Jordan, also referred to the alleged amount: “Only a few thousand dollars? What a fool! This is what an Egyptian minister gets in a day or what a Saudi CEO gets in 45 minutes, or a Kuwaiti government official in five minutes. This is what the physician of the emir of Qatar gets every 30 seconds.”

One Arab commentator who identified himself as Jasser Abdel Hamid advised Olmert to seek citizenship of one of the Arab countries. “Why don’t you seek Arab citizenship?” he asked sarcastically. “There you can take as much money as you want. Even if they discover the theft, they will erect a statue for you in a public square.”

The following are more comments that appeared in recent days in the Arab media:

Mohammed in Lebanon: “Can you imagine if there was an investigation against an Arab or Muslim leader? Do you know how much money they would discover?”

Abu Yusef in Egypt: “Unfortunately, this is the real democracy. Our enemies are very good in practicing democracy. In the Arab world, our leaders steal everything and no one ever dares to ask a question.”

Rashid in Saudi Arabia: “Despite all our problems with the Jews, they are much better than us in fighting corruption and revealing the truth.”

Israel Lover in Saudi Arabia: “Israel is a state that deserves to exist. It deserves our profound respect. I wish I were a citizen of this state.”

Hani in Ramallah: “This is democracy at its best! Enough of dictatorship in the Arab world! Let’s learn from the Israeli example. Let’s benefit from Israel’s democracy.”

Rashid Bohairi in Kuwait: “I swear Israel is a state that will succeed. They are prosecuting their prime minister because of tens of thousands of dollars. What about the millions of dollars that Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority stole? How come the Palestinian people are still hungry?”

12 Responses to Evidence that Democratic Values can Trump Honor-Shame: Arabs react to Olmert’s Woes

  1. oao says:

    instinctive reactions:

    1. how representative are these of the entire arab populion? my guess is, not much.
    2. when push comes to shove does the admiration override hatred?
    3. admiration for infidels is a dual-edge sword: it’s also cause for envy and cognitive dissonance relative to the indoctrination of muslim supremacy.
    4. it’s not so much the admiration of israel as it is hate of their leaders.

  2. E.G. says:

    Saddening counter-evidence:

    “Outrage as French judge annuls Muslim marriage over bride’s virginity lie”
    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/europe/article4034908.ece

    oao –
    Before you use this example to strengthen your “advancing Jihad/Sharia” argument, please note the public and political outrage it stirs.

    see: (or the French press)
    http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601085&sid=aTMul4r4PHac&refer=europe

  3. oao says:

    Before you use this example to strengthen your “advancing Jihad/Sharia” argument, please note the public and political outrage it stirs.

    1st, the sheer fact that the judge did that means sharia is advancing. would you have believed this could happen, say, 20-30 years ago?

    2nd, I have not gauged the outrage and I dk who exactly was outraged.

    3rd, at issue is what the public will DO in the face of such advances, short of expressing outrage?

  4. oao says:

    “The cultural jihadists have enjoyed disturbing success. Two events in particular—the 2004 assassination in Amsterdam of Theo van Gogh in retaliation for his film about Islam’s oppression of women, and the global wave of riots, murders, and vandalism that followed a Danish newspaper’s 2005 publication of cartoons satirizing Mohammed—have had a massive ripple effect throughout the West. Motivated variously, and doubtless sometimes simultaneously, by fear, misguided sympathy, and multicultural ideology—which teaches us to belittle our freedoms and to genuflect to non-Western cultures, however repressive—people at every level of Western society, but especially elites, have allowed concerns about what fundamentalist Muslims will feel, think, or do to influence their actions and expressions. These Westerners have begun, in other words, to internalize the strictures of sharia, and thus implicitly to accept the deferential status of dhimmis—infidels living in Muslim societies.

    Call it a cultural surrender. The House of War is slowly—or not so slowly, in Europe’s case—being absorbed into the House of Submission.”
    –Bruce Bawer, An Anatomy of Surrender
    http://city-journal.org/2008/18_2_cultural_jihadists.html

  5. E.G. says:

    Reply to oao comment #3,

    1. Gulp, yes. I was too young and naive 20-30 years ago to have even imagined such an event. Apparently, older persons were no less naive since the news is received with shock.

    2. The public (posting comments on articles), politicians (right and left), and journalists, express outrage. Not all on the same line, though. For most, the ruling challenges the principle of equal rights. Very revolting for the generation who faught for the (r)evolution of sexuality, female rights and feminist ideas.

    3. I dare predict the public will do nothing, save from some venting privately. And no politician or lawyer will ever state that this is a Sharia compatible ruling. As a matter of fact, this kind of ruling (despite being strictly civil) has made it possible for Catholics to separate without getting divorced. So this is not and will not be framed in “separation of religion from state” terms. If any action is taken, it’ll be a low-profile, lengthy, amendment to the law.

  6. E.G. says:

    Readers of this site will greatly appreciate comment #5 on this article:
    http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/989017.html

  7. oao says:

    Apparently, older persons were no less naive since the news is received with shock.

    You’re missing the point, which is that whether anybody is shocked or not, sharia IS advancing.

    The public (posting comments on articles), politicians (right and left), and journalists, express outrage.

    I am not convinced that this is enough to stop the process.

    I dare predict the public will do nothing, save from some venting privately … If any action is taken, it’ll be a low-profile, lengthy, amendment to the law.

    Exactly my point. As to the law, I’ll believe it when I see it, and even then the process will continue elsewhere. It’s a creeping process.

  8. oao says:

    Readers of this site will greatly appreciate comment #5 on this article

    which validates the point i, bawer and others make that the west is already internalizing sharia values and don’t even realize it. the cultural jihad is very effective due to cultural egocentrism.

    in france, of all places, the commenter has now internalized the notion that a demand of virginity and a lie about it is ground to ask and obtain an annullment. i would not be surprised if the commenter deems himself a progressive too.

  9. E.G. says:

    Exactly my point. As to the law, I’ll believe it when I see it, and even then the process will continue elsewhere. It’s a creeping process.

    I sadly agree.
    But it does not and should not make us believe we’re doomed to that fate.

  10. oao says:

    The nice thing from the muslims’ perspective is that sharia and dhimmitude are self-enforced by the west. The judge in France is just a mild example of that.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/2058935/Police-advise-Christian-preachers-to-leave-Muslin-area-of-Birmingham.html

  11. E.G. says:

    oao,

    Didn’t you have a little schadenfreude giggle for the French commentator complaining about disinfo in an Israeli newspaper?

  12. oao says:

    But it does not and should not make us believe we’re doomed to that fate.

    We are doomed not because of fate, but because of our oown actions, which I don’t see wiill change before it’s too late.

    Didn’t you have a little schadenfreude giggle for the French commentator complaining about disinfo in an Israeli newspaper?

    I should have, but these things are no longer funny.

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