Columnist Cal Thomas, in a recent article, echoes some strands of argument from my recent blog post in a manner I find most interesting. Here is part of his commentary:
How could this happen?” asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in response to the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three others.
The rioting by Muslims supposedly “inflamed” by a cheaply produced YouTube film about the Prophet Muhammad was cited as the reason, but we have learned the attacks may have been planned in advance, some to coincide with the anniversary of Sept. 11. What doesn’t Secretary Clinton get? The actions and statements of Islamic extremists have been visible for some time.
In his latest obsequious gesture to the Islamic world, President Obama wants to offer $1 billion in “debt relief” to the Muslim Brotherhood leadership in Egypt. The president apparently hopes Egypt’s leadership can be bought off and will then start behaving like us.
The president appears to ignore Egypt’s crackdown on political opposition, its sending tanks into the Sinai, in violation of its 33-year peace treaty with Israel, and the persecution of Coptic Christians who are fleeing the country in droves. This is what America got in Iran, Egypt and now Libya when we helped topple dictators who were then replaced by radicals.
That these and many other provocations against America, Israel and the rest of the West bring no credible response from the United States encourages and enables extremists to ramp up their violent behavior. “Paper tiger” is the term Mao Zedong used to describe “American imperialism” in 1956. “Spineless amoeba” might characterize this administration’s response to outrages performed in the name of Islam.
Just as the amateurish video was not the cause of the violent attacks, neither was Mitt Romney’s critique of them.
The Obama administration’s foreign policy has failed dramatically. A recent Wall Street Journal headline had it right: “U.S. Policy in Mideast Challenged by Assaults.” Coddling, understanding, bowing and submitting to extremists only leads to more violence. History has shown and common sense tells us they only respect and fear power and consistency. (Find the entire article here).
There are two comments that come to mind from this article which bear mentioning in the flow of communications that have been occurring on this blog. First a comment by way of disagreement with Mr. Thomas.
It is very easy for Americans, and it seems especially those on the Right, to simply get inflamed and outraged by Muslim behavior, and by President Obama’s alleged kow-towing to the Muslim world. While I myself have my problems with Mr. Obama, I also have problems with cultural naiveté which seems pervasive in America today. At the root of American naiveté is the assumption that, when all is said and done, all people, including Muslims, are just like us, or at least should be. This is both naive and false. It is a wishful carryover from post-Enlightenment and post Renaissance thinking which treats equality as axiomatic, joining it with sameness. While we may rightly say that “all men are created equal” this should not be taken to mean that all people, and all cultures, are the same. To assume this to be true flies in the face of the facts, and leads to cavernous naiveté, boorishness, or both.
Anyone with any cross cultural experience, intelligence, and sensitivity realizes that different people groups have different culture patterns. For those of you who doubt what I am saying, or for whom an explanation would prove helpful, consider Francis Ford Coppola’s brilliant emphasis on the theme of honor in the Godfather trilogy.
You may remember how the first movie opens up with a man named Bonasera whose daughter has been dishonored by two young men who beat her up in order to take advantage of her. Bonasera comes to Don Vito Corelone (played by Marlon Brando), the Godfather, for revenge. The dialogue, the very first in the movie, which sets the theme for Sicilian and Mafia culture, is all about honor.
In describing his daughter, Bonasera tells Don Corleone, “I gave her freedom, but — I taught her never to dishonor her family.” But things turned out terribly bad for her in her relationship with a boy who, with his friend, dishonored her, raping her, beating her up, even breaking her jaw. Don Corleone, introducing the theme of honor from his side says,
“Why did you go to the police? Why didn’t you come to me first? . . . We’ve known each other many years, but this is the first time you came to me for counsel, or help. I can’t remember the last time that you invited me to your house for a cup of coffee, even though my wife is godmother to your only child. But let’s be frank here: you never wanted my friendship. And uh, you were afraid to be in my debt. . . You found paradise in America, had a good trade, made a good living. The police protected you; and there were courts of law. And you didn’t need a friend of me. But uh, now you come to me and you say — ‘Don Corleone give me justice.’ — But you don’t ask with respect. You don’t offer friendship. You don’t even think to call me Godfather. . . . Bonasera… Bonasera… What have I ever done to make you treat me so disrespectfully? Had you come to me in friendship, then this scum that ruined your daughter would be suffering this very day. And that by chance if an honest man such as yourself should make enemies, then they would become my enemies. And then they would fear you.
Later in the scene, Bonasera calls Corleone “Godfather” and kisses his hand. Corleone says, “Good,” and consents to do what Bonasera asks, to have the young men killed . . . and why? Because Bonasera has shown honor to him, and in order to restore honor to Bonasera’s family.
Elsewhere in the film, the theme of honor comes up again, when Michael Corleone, cooling his heels in Sicily, sees a beautiful girl, whom he wants to have as his own. His henchmen think that he should simply go and take what he wants, but Michael is more savvy than this. He goes through an elaborate social ritual of honoring the girl’s family in order to win their consent that he marry her.
One would certainly be a fool to imagine that one could navigate Sicilian, and especially, Mafia culture without regard to honor. In the scene with Bonasera, Vito Corleone, the Godfather (Brando) argues just this point, that Bonasera can only get what he wants if he plays by the rules of honor. But when he has not shown proper respect, he can expect nothing and is entitled to nothing. Michael clearly understands that he is dealing with a highly traditional, honor-based culture, and that he must show proper deference if he is to get anywhere.
The point then, whether dealing with the Mafia, or with your other-culture neighbors and business people, or with international relations with other nations and people groups, is to take the trouble to know and to respect their cultural themes, their rituals of relationship. Anyone who cannot be bothered to do so is either naive, lazy, arrogant, stupid, or to put it most charitably, unaware.
Whether we like it or not, we must accept that Muslim/Arab culture is no less an honor culture than is Francis Ford Coppola’s Sicilian landscape. And American politicians and governmental agents who refuse to learn the honor-courtship rituals of Muslim culture can expect as little progress in dealing with Muslims as Bonasera could expect from Don Corleone. Some people may not like this, and many do not. Some may feel it demeaning to play by someone else’s rules. But they are wrong. It is like courting a girl: do you take her to the kinds of movies and restaurants she likes, or do you just say, “She’ll have to accept whatever I decide.” People who take the latter approach have short relationships! And governments that despise or ignore cultural factors are fools.
It is a point of high honor for religious Muslims that others show respect for their religion, their holy book, and their prophet, all of which they believe are God-given. Anyone who cannot bother to keep these matters in mind should expect no progress, and much explosive reaction from offended Muslims. For them to ignore the offense is for them to themselves dishonor their faith, their holy book, and their prophet, which is out of the question.
Therefore, Cal Thomas is wrong if he imagines that the alleged disrespect shown to Muhammad had nothing to do with the recent riots. It had everything to do with them.
Yet. there was something else at work, and in this, I find myself agreeing with Thomas’ critique. That something else is the intentional use of riots and mayhem as an instrument of political coercion in the Middle East. As I pointed out in my previous posting (see here), political entities in the Arab world have long used these seemingly, but only seemingly, spontaneous riots as a means of political power and coercion. One need only think about the Palestinian Intifadas, and how Yassir Arafat orchestrated them as instruments of coercion, to get the point.
So on the one hand, let’s not be proud: for too long the United States has demonstrated too much cultural boorishness, pride and stupidity in its dealings with cultures different from our own. But on the other hand, let’s not be stupid: these riots are not simply spontaneous demonstrations by an offended populace. They are also cunning and manipulative tools in the hands of cynical power brokers.
We need to be wise as serpents without becoming snakes, and harmless as doves without becoming pigeons.
Be careful out there.