Somali boys are taught by their parents to hit first whenever someone insults or taunts them. So explained Ayaan Hirsi Ali to a social worker when she was a translator and student in the Netherlands (see her book, Infidel). In the West, this is a recipe for juvenile delinquency and prison. But in a Patriarchal Honor/Shame (henceforth PHS) culture like Somalia’s, this is how boys are taught to defend their honor.
Three recent so-called “Islamic” terrorist events of high enough profile to be mentioned in Western media include
- April, 2014. Boko Haram abducted 276 students from a rural school for girls in Nigeria. They were forced to convert from Christianity to Islam and marry to their abductors. So much for #Bring Back Our Girls.
- December 2014. The Pakistan Taliban gunned down 132 children at the Army Public School in Peshawar.
- January 2015. Three self-radicalized gunmen killed more than a dozen people at the offices of a satirical magazine called Charlie Hebdo in Paris.
While the perpetrators of these three atrocities are all self-professed Muslims, the common thread of religion running through these events diverts our attention from the more critical common thread of PHS culture. Women are objects for men’s gratification, perpetual minors who cannot conduct business without a male escort, even if he is their minor son. PHS values are the only true values, no others shall be taught. PHS Girls shall not be educated. PHS boys strike first.
The conflation of culture with religion is almost universal, because culture seizes upon religion for support. Medieval Christendom imagined that its hierarchy imitated and emanated from the hierarchy in Heaven. The current example is the use of Islam by some adherents of the world’s PHS cultures. They claim that Islam is more than a religion: it is a total way of life, i.e. they claim their PHS culture is mandated by Islam, and is therefore identical with Islam. Indeed, the idea that a satirical cartoon or essay depicting the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) needs to be answered with violence is equivalent to claiming that God participates in the Honor/Shame culture of the perpetrators. This is idolatry, even in Islam, because Allahu Akbar, God is greater (than everything). God is greater than any culture or its values, including PHS culture.
Modern, Western cultural influences are everywhere. Ayaan Hirsi Ali tells of how liberating it was to read trashy romance novels in English when she was growing up in Somalia, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria in her book Infidel. Western cultural ideas were leaking into PHS cultures even before the internet. Now the leak has become a flood.
And so the boys of PHS culture strike first. It is incorrect to ridicule Islam and its Prophet. The boys of PHS culture, who remain too immature to contain their own lust, and make women do it for them by concealing themselves from society – those are the ones who need to be ridiculed.
We are having a clash of modernity with Patriarchal Honor/Shame cultures. Although this clash should be a conversation within Islam, the terrorists drag the rest of us into it. The ideas of a clash of civilizations or religions are simply diversions from the underlying reality.
Last week Russian President (probably for life) Vladimir Putin saw fit to warn Western powers obliquely that they had better not intervene to help Ukraine as his troops invade it. He said “Thank God, I think no one is thinking of unleashing a large-scale conflict with Russia. I want to remind you that Russia is one of the leading nuclear powers.”
Mr. Putin should realize that Americans and Europeans have never for a moment forgotten that fact. But he should also understand that what President Obama was seeking between the United States and Russia was actually a kind of mutual accommodation. The collapse of the Soviet Union, which Putin views as a geopolitical catastrophe was what Americans and Europeans should properly call a “reset.”
That reset was the successful culmination of the Western policy of “containment.” Containment imposed great costs on America and the West as well as the Soviet Union. But America and the West were better able to bear those costs than the Soviets. Given Russia’s economic and demographic prospects, Putin should be more loathe to provoke a rematch of that contest.
American Exceptionalism has long meant that Americans reject the old Balance of Power politics in favor of some moral, or at least lawful order of international relations. Instead of ceding “spheres of influence” to other great powers, Americans ask, like Rodney King, “Why can’t we all just get along?” Because America rejects spheres of influence as a way to organize the world, other countries think that America considers the entire world to be its sphere of influence. America is in everyone’s face, so many of them push back.
On the other hand, there is good reason to be skeptical of spheres of influence. Timothy Snyder describes what can happen when spheres of influence are conceded and contested in his book, Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (Vintage Books, 2010). Between 1933 and 1945 over 14 million people were killed by bad government policy in operations not related to combat.
But the confrontation with America is cultural as well as political. Japan, the world champion at importing cultural ideas and making them its own, is now asserting its cultural identity by drafting a new constitution that purports to have a distinctively Japanese concept of individual liberty, which does not include disturbing the public order. America has few enemies, but even its friends push back.