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Adam Albrett: The Dueling of Nations

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  • ummyakoub
    Arabs, honor, shame, dueling, and the game of nations By Adam Albrett Now that the US is deeply engaged in the Arab world, generalizations about Arabs and
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 5, 2004
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      Arabs, honor, shame, dueling, and the game of nations
      By Adam Albrett

      Now that the US is deeply engaged in the Arab world, generalizations
      about Arabs and their "mentality" are common. The Arab world is
      characterized as being held in the irrational grip of a shame-honor
      code. The shame-honor code basically states that one is worthy of
      honor so long as one avoids being shamed and if one is shamed one
      redeems one's honor by demonstrating superiority over the person
      causing the shame. It is often said that the current Arab rage
      against the West is due to an irrational allegiance to a shame-honor
      code. While there may be a shame-honor code in the Arab world
      and I am not knowledgeable enough to say that one exists or does not
      exist, it is clear that the Arab reaction to the West's involvement
      in Arab affairs is not due to any shame-honor code.

      Why do I make such a claim? I say that because the shame-honor code
      is used to delegitimize the Arab reaction to Western involvement in
      Arab affairs. Delegitimizing labels are suspect. When the Vietnamese
      is described as a goon or the USSR is described as the evil empire
      the labels are not intended to clarify but to obscure an argument by
      appeal to emotions. It is quite interesting that irrational
      allegiance to a shame-honor code was not used to explain either the
      sacrifices of or delegitimize the Arab mujahadeen without whom the
      war in Afghanistan against the Soviets would not have been won. It
      was often said that the Arab mujahadeen fought in Afghanistan because
      Arab countries worked hard to prevent them from infiltrating into
      Israel and fighting there. Does anyone need to be reminded that the
      first Palestinian guerrilla died not at the hands of Israel but
      Jordan as he was returning from an operation across the Israeli-
      Jordanian border.

      Emboldened by their success in Afghanistan, the remaining Arab
      mujahadeen returned home and turned their focus to overturning their
      respective governments. Many if not most ended up in prisons where
      they were tortured. Interestingly, the rage of an Arab against a
      fellow Arab, who is the stooge of the West, is not mischaracterized
      as an illegitimate reaction due to a shame-honor code. This is so
      even if the stooge is punished because he and his government are
      convenient targets representative of the US.

      So what do we have here? Arab against Russian is cool. Arab against
      Arab is dandy. Arab against the non-Soviet West (really just the US)
      is wrong.

      Instead of using the words oppression, colonization, and interference
      I used intentionally the relatively bland word "involvement" to
      describe the interaction between the West and the Arab world.
      Imagine that we sat down and listed the acts that make
      up "involvement" and their effect on Arabs. Let's say that had it not
      been for the shame-honor code the Arabs would not have reacted the
      way they are accused of reacting. Assuming anything other than
      cooperation or resignation to their fate would be considered an
      illegitimate shame-honor code reaction, what other way would they have
      reacted? Perhaps they would have done nothing or they would have
      cooperated with the "involvement." How would we in the West perceive
      someone who reacts to our "involvement" by cooperating or doing
      nothing? Words such as contempt, scorn, sucker, fool, and puppet
      come to mind.

      Quite interesting, no? What is the justification for not going to war
      against Iraq after preparations start? It's too late to back down
      because other countries will stop respecting us. Why should we kill
      a few thousand here or there? So that other countries will take us
      seriously. The Arab is accused of being in the grip of a shame-honor
      code, but in reality it is the executors of our foreign policy who
      are blindly bound by a shame-honor code.

      Let's be honest with ourselves. Are we really any different from
      Arabs or perhaps we are even much worse? The mother of all shame-
      honor codes is the practice of dueling. Dueling is alien to Arabs
      but something that was practiced with the passion of a pervert for
      more than a 1000 years in the West. The US was not able to eradicate
      the practice until it had established a reliable judicial system, and
      in many cases, states had passed legislation making it a crime. The
      seventh President of the US, Andrew Jackson, killed in a duel a man
      who besmirched Jackson's wife with a slanderous remark. Alexander
      Hamilton, possibly the second most brilliant founder of the US after
      Thomas Jefferson and framer of the US Constitution, was killed in a
      duel by Vice President Aaron Burr. A former professor at law school
      who was also a political appointee to a senior government position
      told me that much of foreign policy is based on maintaining an
      image of superiority (i.e., worthy of being honored) and crushing
      those who interfere to make examples out of them. Former CIA bureau
      chief, Miles Copeland, in "The Game Of Nations: Amorality of Power
      Politics" describes a game that is unmistakably based on the shame-
      honor code. Why is that? Because the game of nations is not overseen
      by a supreme judicial authority. As pointed out earlier, in early
      America when there was no effective judicial system dueling's shame-
      honor code was honored (no pun intended) by the leading members of
      society and government. So why are the Arabs faulted for behaving in
      the manner expected by the game of nations and that is similar to the
      behavior of everyone else? Because we can and because delegitimizing
      labels are effective at stirring up people's emotions and obscuring
      unfavorable facts that are inconsistent with the moral pretensions
      made for local and foreign public consumption.

      Adam Albrett

      PBS's The American Experience: The Duel


      website dealing with dueling


      Death of Dueling Shows Power of the Law




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