In my honor-shame class today we read about honor-killings, and their role in restoring men’s sense of well-being by killing disobedient women. The discussion was very lively as we tried to figure out how to deal with the mutual contradictions between liberal beliefs about human nature, and the evidence from the dossiers on honor-killings that depict a profoundly cruel and tyrannical mindset on the part of the men defending their family honor, and — perhaps more distressing — the larger community supporting, if not demanding, their behavior.
As part of the exercise in dealing with the moral problems, I assigned the article below by Chris Seiple on how to dialogue with Muslims. At one point, a student made the classic liberal case that honor-killings are morally repugnant and wondered aloud how, given the peer-pressure involved, we can get Muslims to oppose them. I put to him the classic progressive challenge: isn’t that cultural imperialism? Who are you — we — to tell them what to do? In struggling with the problem, he ended up crying out “auuuugghhhh” in frustration.
Students laughed; some clapped. Exactly. What do we do?
I don’t have a clear answer to that now, but what I do think I have to offer is some thoughts about what we shouldn’t do. And I want to use the deeply well-intentioned Seiple’s meditations as guide to all the errors involved in the current fashionable approach (this one by a Nobel Prize winner) to dealing with Muslim honor: respect their sense of honor; do not engage in gratuitous provocation; avoid insult. Seiple’s essay highlights brilliantly how liberal thinking literally twists itself into its opposite and creates the Moebius Strip of Cognitive Egocentrism. Prepare to have your head hurt.
HT: Dan Pipes. See also Doc’s Talk
10 terms not to use with Muslims
There’s a big difference between what we say and what they hear.
By Chris Seiple
Christine Science Monitor
March 28, 2009 edition
ARLINGTON, VA. – In the course of my travels – from the Middle East to Central Asia to Southeast Asia – it has been my great privilege to meet and become friends with many devout Muslims. These friendships are defined by frank respect as we listen to each other; understand and agree on the what, why, and how of our disagreements, political and theological; and, most of all, deepen our points of commonality as a result.
I’d very much like to hear about those points of commonality, deepened by these discussions. I have difficulty understanding what “frank respect” means. We’re frank because we respect each other? Or we frankly (overtly, obviously) show respect for each other. I have difficulty, given the subsequent discussion, imagining Mr. Seiple being frank about anything.
I have learned much from my Muslim friends, foremost this: Political disagreements come and go, but genuine respect for each other, rooted in our respective faith traditions, does not.
Again, I don’t understand. Right now, I think there are some very long-term political disagreements. And one of them concerns just the topic he wants to oppose to what he considers transient political issues — the alleged tolerance and respect that Muslims [don't] have for infidels. How many of the Muslims that Mr. Seiple has met in his world travels, who expressed their respect for his faith, really meant it?
(I’m certainly not saying “none,” but I do think that any fervent Muslim will have difficulty feeling genuine respect for non-Muslims. As far as I know, there is no category in Islam as in Judaism of the “righteous gentile.”)
And while I am willing to believe that some of his interlocutors genuinely respect Seiple’s religion and outreach, I’m also fairly confident that a number of them told him what he wanted to hear and felt contempt for his lack of conviction in his own faith. Indeed, one of the things one must ask oneself is not, “what do these interlocutors say to may face?” but “what do these interlocutors say to their fellow Muslims behind my back.
(Again, I’m not even saying that in cases where they make fun of us to their fellow Muslims they do so because they feel it; it could be just yielding to [heavy] peer pressure.)
If there is no respect, there is no relationship, merely a transactional encounter that serves no one in the long term.
This is pure “positive-sum” thinking. If one rethinks this from a zero-sum perspective (i.e., pre-modern Islam [or Christianity]), the “merely transactional encounter” becomes a vehicle for manipulating the “other” into taking a submissive posture which a) forbids him to uphold his values or crticize mine, b) compels him to let me press mine without opposition, and c) creates a long-term advantage for my side, then it unquestionably serves me “in the long run.” Seiple assumes that his interlocutors share his deep mutuality (frank respect), and that they understand that only through that will the long run win-win occur.
But what if they’re not thinking that way? What if they’re in the “I win only if you lose” game? Whatever any individual Muslim may be thinking, I suspect that if you present Seiple’s message — only through deep mutual respect for our differences and commonalities, and an acceptance of each other’s “otherness” will peace come to our sorely troubled planet — and get a candid response from the majority of Muslim leaders around the world today, you’ll get either outright laughter or profound hostility.
As President Obama considers his first speech in a Muslim majority country (he visits Turkey April 6-7), and as the US national security establishment reviews its foreign policy and public diplomacy, I want to share the advice given to me from dear Muslim friends worldwide regarding words and concepts that are not useful in building relationships with them. Obviously, we are not going to throw out all of these terms, nor should we. But we do need to be very careful about how we use them, and in what context.
If I understand correctly, Seiple’s now offering us a list of terms that he feels are likely to hurt efforts at “building relationships” with Muslims, and that he learned this from his “dear Muslim friends” — i.e., those he believes have a deep and frank respect for him and his own religious convictions.
1. “The Clash of Civilizations.” Invariably, this kind of discussion ends up with us as the good guy and them as the bad guy. There is no clash of civilizations, only a clash between those who are for civilization, and those who are against it. Civilization has many characteristics but two are foundational: 1) It has no place for those who encourage, invite, and/or commit the murder of innocent civilians; and 2) It is defined by institutions that protect and promote both the minority and the transparent rule of law.
This is an amazing passage… conceptually breathtaking in its disinformation. Let’s begin with the confident assertion: Invariably, this kind of discussion ends up with us as the good guy and them as the bad guy. On the contrary, for those Muslims who view this as a “clash of civilizations,” it’s a no-brainer: they’re the good guys and we’re the bad guys. They care about honor and morality, and we’re a bunch of corrupt, self-indulgent sinners.
This statement betrays how little Seiple actually empathizes with (he overflows with sympathy for) his Muslim interlocutors, and only sees things from his own perspective… which, great-souled man that he is, he will gladly renounce (i.e., the sense that his civilization is better), for the sake of mutual respect (a characteristic Western idea).
But it gets better. Seiple then sets up the opposition between those in favor of civilization and those against it, and defines civilization quite explicitly. 1) It has no place for those who encourage, invite, and/or commit the murder of innocent civilians; and 2) It is defined by institutions that protect and promote both the minority and the transparent rule of law.
Mr. Seiple apparently has no knowledge of civilizations — including European — before the latter half of the 20th century. His first condition is clearly aimed at denouncing terrorism. Of course, unless you insist that civilians are only “innocent” under certain specific situations, we have a Muslim world which is almost unanimous in its approval of killing “non” innocent Israeli civilians, and many more who approve of killing civilians — infidels and Muslims — for political ends. In addition to the “tiny minority” who actually attack civilians, there are widening gyres of Muslims who encourage and invite it.
But the second definition is even more striking and contradictory. This is a purely self-referential Western (or democratic) definition of civilization. Transparency is a modern notion, reinforced by a free press which can report without fear the transgressions of those in power (including judges). As for protecting and — especially — promoting minorities, that is a peculiarly post-WWII phenomenon, fruit of a world aghast at the Holocaust, legislating Geneva Conventions for the world, instituting the United Nations, promoting human rights around the world. No earlier civilization promoted minorities. On the contrary, they saw their authority as a license to put minorities in their place.
Islamic “civilization” (the scare-quotes are in application of Seiple’s definition) does not make the grade here. Dhimmi may mean “protected” (and Seiple may have that in mind), but anyone who knows anything about Islam knows that a) the protection was from the choice of conversion or death, b) there were other groups (pagans) who were not so “protected,” and c) that “protection” involved not promotion but systematic humiliation and subordination.
So what Seiple’s done here is a classic inversion of meaning. In defining “all” civilizations, he’s done just what he said we shouldn’t — made a Eurocentric (Occidento-centric) value judgment that “we are better” (i.e., our values are better than any other; indeed they are the very measure of civilization). But to avoid the “clash of civilizations” he’s granted “civilized” status to everyone else. “They” are civilized like “us.”