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Honour and shame as powerful emotive forces in the Muslim world

Country/Region: MIDDLE EAST

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Islam traditionally prizes power, domination and honour as accruing to it above any other religion because it is God’s final and victorious people of God (umma). As can be seen from the following media quotes, highly emotive concepts of honour and shame are still an important component of Islam and of Muslim and Arab culture. In most Muslim societies it is still true that only blood can really wipe out shame and humiliation. The greater the shame, the greater the bloodshed needed to wipe it out.

Muslims feel humiliated and shamed by the West which they consider has dominated, exploited, manipulated and betrayed them. The repeated defeats at the hands of the small state of Israel, perceived as a Western implant, is doubly humiliating. Jews in Muslim tradition and theology are not a worthy foe. They are a weak, humiliated and despised people under God’s wrath, who can only be tolerated as second class subjects (dhimmis) in a Muslim state, but should never be independent or rule over Muslims. Because of the shame syndrome, Muslim or Arab faults cannot be admitted to, and external enemies such as Israel and the USA are needed as scapegoats who can be blamed for all misfortunes that have befallen Muslims and Arabs and are demonized as evil incarnate, tools of the devil that it is legitimate to fight by all and every means.

Most Muslims accept it as natural that non-Muslims, including Christians, should be subservient to Muslims in state, politics, law and society. Attitudes of contempt and practices of discrimination against Christians are often accepted as normal. Their subservience to Islam must be enforced especially in the public arena. The honour of the Muslim community must not be sullied by any subordination of Muslims to non-Muslims in political authority and in other areas.

No matter what rationally might be the best policies for Muslim states and governments to pursue in the reality of the current complicated world scene, deep down in the psyche of most Muslims and Arabs lies a burning sense of humiliation and a burning desire for revenge. Any one who can hurt the despised enemy who has inflicted such shame on Muslims and Arabs is celebrated as a hero by the Muslim masses. This is why all over the Muslim world there is much admiration for Bin Laden, whose attack on the Twin Towers was seen as a just retribution for Muslim humiliations. Bin Laden himself stated:

“Without shedding blood no degradation and branding can be removed from the forehead . . . Death is better than humiliation! Some scandals and shame will never be otherwise eradicated.”


The following quotes from Middle East based media well illustrate the importance of the honour theme in contemporary Muslim society and the current crisis in Lebanon.
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