Islamic Honesty

 Posted by on 25 June 2002 at 7:39 am  Uncategorized
Jun 252002

A while back Andrew Sullivan pointed me towards this provacative quote found in an interview with Ehud Barak regarding Arafat and the Palestinian leadership:

They are products of a culture in which to tell a lie…creates no dissonance. They don’t suffer from the problem of telling lies that exists in Judeo-Christian culture. Truth is seen as an irrelevant category. There is only that which serves your purpose and that which doesn’t. They see themselves as emissaries of a national movement for whom everything is permissible. There is no such thing as “the truth.”

Clearly, Arafat is a lying sack of murderous shit. But does Arab or Islamic culture in general place less value on honesty and truth than does western culture? Based on the seemingly endless stream of absurd lies coming from that region, I suspect so. (Not that I think that Westerners hold truth and honesty in high enough regard, but that is another story.) And no, that’s not racism, it’s just not cultural relativism either.

One likely side effect of a culture of dishonesty with others is that it promotes a culture of self-deception. The fact that others frequently lie allows for a convenient escape hatch for any unpleasant facts that come your way, namely “Oh, they must be lying.” For example, when Osama bin Laden claimed credit for the bombing in the videotape, there was a great outcry from the Arab world that he didn’t do it. That denial makes sense, in a twisted sort of way. If your leaders lie to you all the time, then you definitely shouldn’t believe anything bad that they say. But, to be rational and honest and objective, you shouldn’t believe anything good they say either.

Here’s a related tidbit: According to anthropologists from and studying Iran, Iranians tend to say “No problem” to request for favors, even when they have no intention of performing such favors. It is generally considered rude to outright refuse someone. That seems to me to be a serious perversion of manners to me!

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