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    “Shame” or “Guilt”?

    The manner of describing the incident that occurred in the Dahiyeh gynecology clinic and the focus on honor, shame and women issues is reminiscent of several occasions and expressions in our modern history.

    When the Fallujah events broke out in Iraq in 2004 as an early expression of Al-Qaeda’s activities in the country, rumor had it that US soldiers had goggles that allowed them to see underneath women’s clothing. How could Fallujah’s inhabitants gloss over such a violation?

    When Jordanian soldier Ahmad al-Daqamisa opened fire on seven Israeli schoolgirls visiting Jordan in 1997, some of his defenders said that he did what he did after “the girls stripped naked in front of him while he was praying.”

    As for the use of the term “raped” to describe Palestine, it has become an integral, organic part of radical political literature in the Arab world, knowing that “honor”, which was the subject of all calls and mobilization in the 1948 War, was no less influential than the “land” that has been seized by Zionist forces.

    This brief discussion is not a proper occasion to explain the psychological and intellectual background of this magical pull that the subject of “honor and shame” exert on us, whether we believe in it or exploit it due to its mobilizing efficiency. Likewise, it is not a proper occasion to link this magical pull to the look our society casts at women, their role and their status vis-à-vis us, Arab males, as well as our status vis-à-vis women, in which exchanges are ruled by mutual taboos, be they overt or covert.

    The only issue worth mentioning in this context has already been raised by Indian-born British economic development researcher Deepak Lal, who established a qualitative difference between the “culture of shame” and the “culture of guilt.” On the one hand, “shame” in traditional eastern civilizations is the basis of behavior, which means that methods and traditions acquire their strength from an external source of social pressure (what would people say?). On the other hand, ethics in Western culture emanate from a feeling of guilt, rather than shame, i.e. from an inner fact-finding state that relies on individual belief in God. For Western believers, it is God alone, rather than “people” and what they say, who knows and judges one’s inner self.

    The culture prevailing among us most probably needs to be insufflated, on the one hand, with a feeling of “guilt”. This might save it from the many flaws and mistakes we diffidently make, and curb our overwhelming feeling that we have absolute rights, are absolute victims or are constant targets of conspiracies. “Shame”, on the other hand, not only spurs us in the direction where we are heading, but also drives us into overbidding statements and actions. In fact, each one of us wants to prove that he is “most honorable and least tolerant to shame” and that he is most ready to do anything – regardless of how appalling – needed to acquire such a status.

    Needless to say, “guilt” lays the foundations of reconciled societies that mutually apologize for what one does to another. However, with “shame”, we merely abide by denial, accumulating hatreds and engineering civil wars and despotic regimes. Isn’t the fixed expression “what would people say?” an indicator, per se, to the rotten state of internal relations within a given group, which dealings with one another have reached such a level of trickery as to become similar in appearance?

    Hazem SAGHIEH
    NOW Lebanon
    08.11.2010

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