Sunday, December 19, 2010
Karama - The Arabic for Hubris
David Ignatius in the May / June 2009 issue of FP (Foreign Policy) stated that “Karama” the Arab word for dignity, offered the recurrent explanation for why the Arab world behaves the way it does towards the “other” (in this case the US and Israel). He suggested that the reason Arafat was never able to make peace with Israel was that he could only go so far without his dignity being offended. It is a bit more complicated than that.
A final deal would have made Arafat a hero to some and a traitor to others. But the tyranny of pride means the Arab / Islamic nation possesses an over-inflated and hence destructive vision of its superiority. It is why dictators are the only effective rulers of the tribal and intellectually frightened Arab world. It is why they worship saviors (prophets) whose proudest attributes are militancy, violence and death and it is why Islam is called a religion of submission. Those who do what they are told are heralded as heroes, those who question, are persecuted or killed. This is not a religion or region of love, or respect. It is one of fear.
If we want to ensure the dignity of our enemy they must first guarantee ours. If they are incapable of this because the dignity of one precludes the dignity of the other then the fault lies within the former and not the latter. Ultimately, no amount of either submission or appeasement by Israel, or America for that matter, towards the Arab world (or the greater Islamic world) will suffice to defang the demon of prejudice and militant triumphalism. We in the West are self critical (sometimes) because it represents the most cogent enunciation of our right to freedom of speech but too often because as a platform for self-idolization and self-promotion it is our most potent non-physical weapon. We can, and do, destroy with our words. We are driven towards the most extreme views by the most passionate and often most defective of human emotions; and sadly by the most charismatic and morally corrupt of human beings. In admiring intelligence we admire that which allows us to make informed choices without, paradoxically, thinking too hard about the consequences of those choices. To be told when to think and what to think but still be able to call one-self a modern man or woman is bliss. The rest is insecurity and fear.
President Obama, in his inaugural address to the nation stated “To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect” but in order to begin that dialogue we are going to have to confront the Arab and greater Muslim world. And they in their turn will have to explain and make amends for the demons in their own theology and world view. Only then will dignity become something that mutually benefits both sides.