Monthly Archives: June 2014

Tablet Article: Arab World’s Emotional Nakba

Why the Arab World Is Lost in an Emotional Nakba, and How We Keep It There

By ignoring the honor-shame dynamic in Arab political culture, is the West keeping itself from making headway toward peace?

By Richard Landes | June 24, 2014 12:00 AM|Comments: 43

A Palestinian protester aims sparks from a flare toward Israeli security forces during clashes near the Israeli checkpoint in Hebron on Feb. 25, 2013. (Hazem Bader/AFP/Getty Images)
Anthropologists and legal historians have long identified certain tribal cultures—warrior, nomadic—with a specific set of honor codes whose violation brings debilitating shame. The individual who fails to take revenge on the killer of a clansman brings shame upon himself (makes him a woman) and weakens his clan, inviting more open aggression. In World War II, the United States sought the help of anthropologists like Ruth Benedict to explain the play of honor and shame in driving Japanese military behavior, resulting in both intelligence victories in the Pacific Theater and her book The Chrysanthemum and the Sword. Taking her lead, the great classicist E.R. Dodds analyzed the millennium-long shift in Greek culture from a “shame” culture to a “guilt” culture in his Greeks and the Irrational, where he contrasted a world in which fame and reputation, rather than conscience and fear of divine retribution, drive men to act.
But even before literary critic Edward Saïd heaped scorn on “honor-shame” analysis inOrientalism (1978), anthropologists had backed off an approach that seemed to make inherently invidious comparisons between primitive cultures and a morally superior West. The reception of Saïd’s work strengthened this cultural relativism: Concerns for honor and shame drive everyone, and the simplistic antinomy “shame-guilt cultures” must be ultimately “racist.” It became, well, shameful in academic circles to mention honor/shame and especially in the context of comparisons between the Arab world and the West. Even in intelligence services, whose job is to think like the enemy, refusing to resort to honor/shame dynamics became standard procedure.
Any generous person should have a healthy discomfort with “othering,” drawing sharp lines between two peoples. We muddy the boundaries to be minimally polite: Honor-killings, for example, are thus seen as a form of domestic violence, which is also pervasive in the West. And indeed, honor/shame concerns are universal: Only saints and sociopaths don’t care what others think, and no group coheres without an honor code.
But even if these practices exist everywhere, we should still be able to acknowledge that in some cultures the dominant voices openly promote honor/shame values and in a way that militates against liberal society and progress. Arab political culture, to take one example—despite some liberal voices, despite noble dissidents—tends to favor ascendancy through aggression, the politics of the strong horse,” and the application of “Hama rules”—which all combine to produce a Middle East caught between prison and anarchy, between Sisi’s Egypt and al-Assad’s Syria. Our inability, however well-meaning, to discuss the role of honor-shame dynamics in the making of this political culture poses a dilemma: By keeping silent, we not only operate in denial, but we may actually strengthen these brutal values and weaken the very ones we treasure.
Few conflicts offer a better place to explore these matters than the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The Media. If only…

H/T Ed Driscoll


See also, Roger Simon, IRS: Shame and Loathing on the Media Trail”

Table ronde à Jérusalem: Pourquoi le processus de paix échoue, voire nous éclate à la figure?

 Le mardi 24 juin, de 19h à 22h, à Yad Ben Zvi, 12 rue Abarbanel, Rechavia, Jérusalem.

Pourquoi le processus de paix échoue, voire nous éclate à la figure?

Répercussions des dynamiques d’honneur et de honte sur les relations israélo-arabes

Scholars for Peace in the Middle East présente une table ronde avec des experts internationaux au sujet des questions d’honneur et de honte dans la culture arabe, et du rôle de ces dynamiques dans l’échec perpétuel, voire explosif, des efforts pour arriver à la paix. A cause du “politiquement correct” qui considère de telles discussions forcément racistes, ces dynamiques élémentaires ne sont que rarement discutées. Les participants vont explorer comment, à partir d’une analyse de ces dynamiques, on pourrait améliorer les relations entre Israël et le monde arabe. 


Prof. Lucien Oulahbib, Université de Lyon

Jean-Pierre Lledo, cinéaste algéro-israélien

Dr.Harold Rhode, Gatestone Institute, ancien du State Department

Bassem Eid, Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group

Dr. Nancy Hartevelt Kobrin, psychoanalyste, Fellow, American Center for Democracy

Prof. Mordechai Kedar, Université Bar Ilan


Médiateur: Prof. Richard Landes, Boston University

Le mardi 24 juin, de 19h à 22h,

à Yad Ben Zvi, 12 rue Abarbanel, Rechavia, Jérusalem.

Une traduction simultanée anglais/français sera mise en place.

Le public pourra poser ses questions aux participants.

Pendant la pause, des rafraîchissements seront offerts.

Inscriptions et informations supplémentaires :
Dr. Jan Sokolovsky, [email protected] ou 0547-466-383.

Tous les bienvenus.

Why “Peace Plans” Backfire: How Honor-Shame Dynamics Affect Arab-Israeli Relations

Why “Peace Plans” Backfire

How Honor-Shame Dynamics Affect Arab-Israeli Relations

Scholars for Peace in the Middle East presents a panel discussion by international experts on the cultural issues of (gaining) honor and (avoiding) shame in the Arab society, and the role those cultural dynamics play in the current failure, even backfiring, of the “peace-process.” Since the politically correct consider such cultural discussions “racist,”, these critical dynamics rarely get discussed. Panelists will explore some of the ways that, by taking them into account, we can think effectively and creatively about how to improve relations between Israel and her neighbors.

 Tuesday evening, June 24, 7-10 PM,

Yad Ben Zvi, Abarbanel 12, Rechavia, Jerusalem.


Prof. Lucien Oulahbib, University of Lyon (French)

Dr.Harold Rhode, Gatestone Institute, formerly US State Department

Bassem Eid, Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group

Dr. Nancy Hartevelt Kobrin, psychoanalyst, Fellow American Center for Democracy

Jean-Pierre Lledo, Algerian-Israeli film maker (French)

Prof. Mordechai Kedar, Bar Ilan University

Chair: Prof. Richard Landes, Boston University

There will be simultaneous translation between English and French, opportunity for questions from the audience, light refreshments.

For registration and information, contact Dr. Jan Sokolovsky  [email protected] or 0547-466-383