Bible Commentator

Special Stories

Rabbi Moshe Reiss

moshereiss@moshereiss.org

ARAB CULTURE

INTRODUCTION:

The Arab culture has been particularly resistant to democracy and modernization. It is characterized by submissive collectivism rather than individualism; discouragement of innovation and social change, dissent and initiative and an emphasis on family, clan, tribe and ethnic cohesion,  region and lastly the State – in that order. Arab culture is not necessarily Muslim. There are Muslim, Christian and Jewish Arabs.

Arab culture is ancient and medieval and opposed to modernity; the latter is based on reason and not traditional culture. Arabs living in western countries have largely rejected this culture.

There are three aspects of the Arabic culture that are particularly tragic: One is the belief In Conspiracies and the Denial of reality; Second are Maximilization strategies and Third the importance of Honor, more than life itself. These refer to the Arab culture – and not necessarily to Islam. I also present an extreme version of that culture.

Abdul Rahman al Habib wrote ironically in the Saudi daily "When we, Arabs and Muslims, ask ourselves why we are behind in development, the answer is always satisfactory: because of the West and its agents, of course! And when we ask ourselves why the West is developed and advanced, the answer is always satisfactory: because the West stole the sciences of our ancestors and they are still plundering us to advance themselves! Can you find prettier, more populist answers than this?" (April 5, 2006).

1. THE WALL OF DENIAL AND CONSPIRACY THEORISTS:

A. September 11:

The world accepts that the World Trade Center and the Pentagon bombing on September 11 were committed by Islamic Jihadists. Many Arab websites as well as press media insist it was planned an executed by the Israeli secret service Mossad. Muhammad Hassane Haykal, Editor in Chief of Al Ahram, confidant of Gamal Nasser and sometime spokesman of the Egyptian government  stated that Sept. 11 was the work of the Serbs. Anis Mansour who claims to have written 177 books and translations from English, German and French into Arabic tells us it was the work of genies and devils.  I won’t bother with the Arab who claimed it was the American Seventh-Day Adventists.

All this imputing of blame to others comes from Al Ahram, a prestigious Egyptian Arabic newspaper.

Dr. Shahin is head of the Shari'a faculty at Al-Ahzar University, the most prestigious seat of learning in Sunni Islam has stated on Saudi TV "Our enemies weave many lies about us, which we are not necessarily aware of. For example: One day, we awoke to the crime of 9/11, which hit the tallest buildings in New York, the Empire State Building [sic]. There is no doubt that not a single Arab or Muslim had anything to do with these events. The incident was fabricated as a pretext to attack Islam and Muslims. I believe a dirty Zionist hand carried out this act”.

In writing about the July 23, 2005, terrorist bombing in Sharm Al-Sheikh Mursi Atallah another editor of the Al-Ahram wrote: “In the final planning stage supervised by the Mossad agents, and after it became certain that all Israelis were complying with warnings not to go to Sharm Al-Sheikh, they focused on killing as many Egyptians and foreign tourists as possible. This is because 'Israel' thought that the operation would serve Israeli goals, since the damage to Egypt's tourism and the undermining of its stability would compel it to capitulate completely to Israeli demands”.

Gen. Fouad Allam, former director of state security in Egypt, said, for example, that the attack on a Hilton Hotel in Taba (2005) - in which mostly Israelis were killed - had to be the work of the Israeli secret service, the Mossad. "It was very well planned, studied, professional, and with a very high capacity," he said. "We never had this kind of capacity over the past 50 years." That is of course an interesting observation about Arab competency.

In Egypt, Israel was also widely blamed for the bombing attacks in Sharm el Sheik (2005) and for the recent sectarian violence between Coptic Christians and Muslims in Alexandria. When Muslim residents of Alexandria in Egypt tried to attack a Coptic church last month after word spread that a play held in the church two years earlier denigrated Islam - and that the play was being distributed on videodisc - one local member of Parliament charged publicly that Israel was behind the strife. Syria accused Israel of assassinating former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

B. Temple:

According to some Arabs and to Arafat there never was a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. According to Jewish sources, Christian sources, the Dead Sea Scrolls and Roman sources there a Temple on what the Jews call  the Temple Mount and what Muslim call Haram al Sharaf. In an interview with the London based Al Hayet on October 5, 2002 Yasser Arafat claimed the Jewish Temple was never in Jerusalem.

“What has turned them away from their Qiblah which you used followed?” (Koran 2:143). A ‘Qiblah’ is a holy place. The next verse states ‘Turn then your face to a Qiblah that shall please you. Turn then your face in the direction of the sacred Mosque’ (Koran 2:144). Almost all traditional Islamic commentators state that the Qiblah they used to follow was the direction the Jews faced Jerusalem. The Jews faced Jerusalem due to the temple being there. They new direction was Mecca.

The Koran states that Muhammad went to the ‘farthest Mosque’ for a ‘night journey’ to heaven (17:1). All serious Muslim commentators consider this to be Jerusalem. There were no Mosques in Jerusalem at the time of Muhammad – Jerusalem was not conquered until after Muhammad’s death. During the early part of Muhammad’s life he had his people pray towards Jerusalem. The Jews prayed towards Jerusalem since it was where the Temple was before its destruction. Later on after the Muhammad’s conflict with the Jews Muslims changed the direction of prayer towards Mecca, the newly conquered Muslim capital.

C. Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion as a Zionist conspiracy:

The document was written by the Czarist secret police who were notoriously anti-Semitic. It may have been taken by them from an earlier nineteenth century French political satire (Norman Cohn, Warrant for Genocide). It became the core of Henry Ford's anti-Semitic program in the United States and of much of Mein Kampf. It continues to be a basic document for the right wing Christian Identity movements, the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi groups and holocaust deniers.

In a recent new translation of the Protocols into Arabic in Egypt the introduction stated as follows: ‘The Jewish threat is an evil which affects not only our country, but all the countries and nations of the world. We have no choice but to remain fully alert towards its machinations, and persevere in our holy war (jihad) against it, as best as we can. We warn against it, for it is a satanic force, which strives to corrupt the nations of the world and spread hostility and hatred among people both as individuals and groups. Their purpose is to gain sole control over the world and take advantage of all that is valuable in it’.

When the new Library of Alexandria was opened in November 2003 they exhibited at the manuscript museum section a copy of the protocols placed on a shelf of religious works next to a copy of the Torah.  

During Ramadan 2004 Egyptian TV created a televised version of the Protocols. It is divided into 41 episodes and will be shown nightly through the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which begins in about two weeks and guarantees maximum viewership because many Muslims congregate at home after breaking the daily fast. With Egyptian state television and other Arab channels broadcasting the series, the potential audience numbers in the tens of millions. Mr. Sobhi one of the producers and a popular Egyptian screen and stage actor stated in an interview on  Al Jazeera television that whether or not the "Protocols" was authentic, ‘Zionism exists and it has controlled the world since the dawn of history.’

It has been noted that the Protocols are popular among elites in both Japan and China. They are not however anti-Semitic; they largely believe in the Protocols and its power and wish to learn from the Jews how to control the world. This comes from a Jewish Western friend (whose Japanese wife converted to Judaism) who taught Japanese Literature in Japan for twenty years and from various academic colleagues in China.

D. In a June 15, 2005 an editorial titled "All the Evidence Proves that Al-Zarqawi is an American Agent," a leading Egyptian government daily Al-Akhbar states that Al-Zarqawi is working for America and is massacring Iraqis in an effort to extend the occupation in Iraq. The following are excerpts from the article:  

"All the evidence proves that Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi is working for America, because his victims are Iraqis and not [members of] the coalition forces under the command of the American occupation forces in Iraq. Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi's official title is 'leader of Al-Qa'ida's faction in Iraq.' Osama bin Laden is the commander of the Al-Qa'ida organization, and this proves that [Al-Zarqawi's commander,] bin Laden, has [also] been an American agent ever since he operated against the USSR forces in Afghanistan in favor of the Americans!

   

Another question [to be raised] is: whether the world is so naive as to believe the American statements, which claim that Washington has allocated $25 million for Al-Zarqawi's arrest or for information leading to his arrest. [After all,] why arrest Al-Zarqawi and allocate all these millions while he is working for America? (Al-Akhbar (Egypt), June 15, 2005.)

E. The latest – Jewish Nazis

In an article in the English-language edition of the London Arabic-language daily Al-Hayat, columnist and former editor of the paper Jihad Al-Khazen claims after the Israeli war in Gaza and in Lebanon against Hizbollah that Israeli political military leaders are actually grandsons of Nazi killers who assumed Jewish identities and fled to Israel.

‘Historically, six million Jews died in the Holocaust, and 97.5 percent of the Polish Jews were killed in the gas chambers, and by other means. My explanation is that the number of the Jews who were killed might be higher. All the Polish Jews might have been killed, too, and the Nazi political and military leaders might have realized since 1944 that defeat was imminent and, therefore, assumed the identity of Jews and then fled to Palestine as Jews who had survived the Holocaust.’

2. MAXIMILIZATION STRATEGIES:

A. Camp David:

The proposal made by former Prime Minister Barak and revised positively to the Palestinians by advisors of President Clinton was apparently not good enough to even make a counter offer. The next offer by the Israeli’s to the Palestinians will be less. This reminds one of Abba Eben’s comment that the ‘Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity’.  

In fact every potential agreement since the Peel Commission (1937), the United Nations Partition Plan (1947), the borders after the 1948 Israeli war for Independence, the 1967 War and the Oslo and Camp David proposals have offered the Palestinian people less land than the previous agreement. This was an offer to end the game. According to Dennis Ross President Clinton communicated this to President Murarak of Egypt, King Abdullah of Jordan, Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Kind Muhammad IV of Morroco and President Abidine ben Ali of Tunisia. All thought it was an historic agreement. None have publicly denied these statements.  

He further said ’Every agreement he made was limited and contained nothing he regarded as irrevocable. He was not, in his eyes, required to surrender any claims. Worse, notwithstanding his commitment to renounce violence, he has never relinquished the terror card. Moreover, he is always quick to exaggerate his achievements, even while maintaining an ongoing sense of grievance. During the Oslo peace process, he never prepared his public for compromise. Instead, he led the Palestinians to believe the peace process would produce everything they ever wanted—and he implicitly suggested a return to armed struggle if negotiations fell short of those unattainable goals. Even in good times, Arafat spoke to Palestinian groups about how the struggle, the jihad, would lead them to Jerusalem” (Foreign Policy, Nov. 14).

Arafat never said Yes or No, he assumed more would come, he claimed compromise is not a valued concept among Arabs. Arafat had no interest in finishing this conflict which would create peace and a Palestinian State!

3. HONOR AND A DEATH WISH:

A. Suicide Bombing:

They wish to destroy the world in order to save it; that certainly is a lasting statement one could not make by continuing to live. They are abnormal and extreme and simultaneously normal in their culture. The best evidence that these terrorists are mentally competent is the planning and patience required for many of their missions. They are not socially dysfunctional. They see ‘martyrdom’ as the ultimate redemption. All Orthodox persons want to go to Heaven, they are just in more a rush than the rest of us. One couple married before they suicide bombed themselves in Jordan so that they could travel together (to Heaven?) and not travel unmarried – unmarried males and females traveling together is forbidden by the Sharia.

Can their mothers also be called ‘normal’?

One mother said of her 14-year-old Muhammad Sha'rawi, when speaking of her son who was killed in the conflict: "He had sought martyrdom and found it ... He always said he would die as a shahid and asked me not to cry for him or be sorry, because he was going to heaven" (MEMRI, June 25, 2001).

Another mother of two sons killed on the same day from the village of Ya'bad describes how religious belief helps her overcome the pain: "During the day, when I try to forget and calm myself. I read the Koran and thank Allah and ask for forgiveness for my children, and especially when I hear that the shahids [belong] in heaven. I ask Allah to forgive them and recite the verses of the Koran that I know by heart. However, when I am alone even for some moments, I live with them and imagine all their movements; then I feel the pain exhausting me" (MEMRI, June 25, 2001).

Another mother whose son was killed describes the feelings she experienced when she received the news of his death: "I felt deep sorrow, but the fact that my son died as a shahid cooled the fire in my heart and alleviated my pain" (MEMRI, June 25, 2001).

Recently they have changed their enemies: It used to be Palestinians killed Israelis and Chechen’s killed Russians – now Muslims kill Muslims. It is clear that the enemy is not the point, their own death is!

In some cases the ‘shahids’ may be brainwashed. Ayatollah Khomeini purchased hundred of thousands of plastic keys manufactured by Taiwan. The keys were hung on the neck of children so when they martyred themselves against Iraqi land mines and machine gun bullets they would know that the keys guaranteed that the gates of Heaven were open to them. (Approximately 10% survived having to wait for heaven another day.) The Ayatollah stated that the war was a ‘divine blessing’. A wonderful ‘horseman on a magnificent steed would suddenly appear on the front lines. His face--covered in phosphorous--would shine. His costume was that of a medieval prince’. (By child warrior Reza Behouzi told to and documented by Freidoure Sehabjam; quoted in the New Republic April 21, 2006 by Mattais Kuntzel). These children waning in their desire to rush to Heaven ran quickly into the death traps. This strategy twenty five years later is still considered appropriate. The intentional death of children is still not considered a shame in this society. The surviving children, now a war generation, are led by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wish to destroy Zionism, Israel and the West. The major Shia festival commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Hussein (seventh century) in one where hundred’s of thousands flagellate themselves close to death with whips, chains and knives as a form of a near suicide experience.

B. Women:

The idea of the honor of women was many centuries ago understood differently in western societies than in the Middle East and Asia. (The deaths of Romeo and Juliet are tragic but not considered martyrdom.)This is not only an Arab and Islamic problem, it is also prevalent in Hindu society as in Islam. It is in societies that are patriarchal and where women are disrespected as valuable members of the society; where gender equality is not approved in the society regardless of its legality.

‘In the Arab countries, the cycle of discrimination against women begins when they are still in utero. It continues when they emerge into the world, and goes on until death. According to the male interpretation, women are always 'lewdness and pudenda' and part of the time 'impure'. (Wajiha Al-Huweidar)

According to Shadia Sarraj of the Women's Empowerment Project at the Gaza Community Mental Health Project ‘The honor of a family is very dependent on a woman's virginity. A woman's virginity is the property of the men around her, first her father, later a gift for her husband; a virtual dowry as she graduates to marriage’.  

Years ago, Kamel Hader who lives in West Bank killed his unmarried sister when she came home pregnant. Today, he vows he would do it again. ‘If a woman does something wrong you are supposed to kill her to regain family honor, otherwise we live in shame’.

CONCLUSION:

Sheikh Ikremeh Sabri, the highest-ranking cleric in the Palestinian Authority preached in al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem: ‘They think they scare us. We honor death.’

Or bin Laden said in his address to the West, 'you love life, while we thirst for death.' This is an integral part of Arab heritage... This is why preachers in the mosques glorify death [in their sermons] to young people, [teach] them to hate life, and encourage them to carry out jihad terrorist operations..." (MEMRI, June 21, 2006)

Honoring death is another form of denial of reality and maximilization.

See Iraqi Reformist on Arab Society and Social Schizophrenia;

Dr. Abd Al-Khaleq Hussein

http://www.memri.org/bin/opener_latest.cgi?ID=SD119006