Yes. I said it.
Don’t jump on me, hear me out. This is not about being derogatory to an entire culture, this is about a little discussed but very dangerous trend that is effecting the entire world.
Yes. This is a generalization. Again – this is NOT about individuals, it’s about a culture.
To clarify (because many people find this confusing):
Not all Arabs are Muslim, there are Arab Christians too. In addition, not all Muslims are Arabs; for example the Muslims in Iran, Indonesia and Africa (who are converts to Islam). Arab culture stems from Islamic domination but is not consigned only to people of Muslim faith. There is an empathy problem in the Arab world. People of Arab descent raised in Western cultures will have more difficulty identifying with what I am writing. Looking to the Middle East (and ideology exported from the Middle East) things become more clear.
Empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. To be moved by the joy of another, to feel someone else’s pain. A word seldom used, an idea seldom discussed… where does empathy come from? What happens when it is missing?
Nature abhors a vacuum. Where there is a lack of empathy, something else will enter the void and take its place.
In recent years it has become impossible to ignore the violence that seems to permeate the Arab world. 9/11, 7/7 and an ever increasing list of terror attacks have brought Arab violence in to focus: violence against women, animals, gays and the handicapped – violence against anyone weak. ‘Honor killings,’ fathers killing their own daughters, sons killing their own mothers in the name of ‘honor’. Violence against Christians, Jews… Muslims killing Muslims that are not the right kind of Muslim. Muslims killing Muslims, killing their own neighbors. Trading in slaves. Terrorism: Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Al Qaeda, ISIS, Jabat Al Nusra, Boko Haram, Al Shabab, Hezbollah, Hizbut Tahrir… Did I miss anyone?
Even the most politically correct amongst us have difficulty explaining it away: “its workplace violence,” “because poverty,” “because Israel.” None of these often postulated “reasons” stand up under scrutiny. Others, knowing there is no excusing the inexcusable, often go to the other extreme, saying that the solution is to ban all Arabs (i.e. all Muslims). There are those who add all kinds of unhelpful descriptions, the most popular being “monsters” and “in-human animals”.
None of this does any good. In fact it is exactly the opposite: BOTH attitudes create a lot of damage. Turning a blind eye to atrocities does not make them go away. Defining people as monsters is equally damaging. Monsters can only be expected to behave in a monstrous fashion.
The true horror is that we are talking about people. It is people that are hurting other people (and animals) in atrocious, sickening ways.
The real question is: how can people commit acts of unspeakable violence and cruelty?
And the very politically incorrect but oh so crucial question: Why are atrocious acts so common in Arab society?
How could 17 year old, Muhammad Tarayra, sneak in to Hallel Yaffa Ariel’s bedroom, look at the sleeping 13 year old and think it reasonable, even honorable, to slit her throat? How could his mother declare that she is proud that her son is a murderer?
It is not enough to say: “hatred flamed by incitement”. There is something sacred about the life of a person. It takes an enormous void, a deep darkness inside to get to the point where it feels right to take the life of a child. Something is terribly wrong with the mother that rejoices in the death of her son, rejoices that he ripped away the life of someone else’s child.
Neither saw Hallel as a person. To them, no life is sacred. Not hers or their own. There is no horror in slaughtering a child in her own bed. That was only a means to an end and thus both justifiable and praiseworthy.
This is not the existence of hatred for hatred burns itself out. Hatred can be transformed in to love – both are strong emotions, passions that are flipsides of the same coin. This is the lack of emotion, the inability to identify with emotions – not Hallel’s, nor those of the people who loved her or even their own.
Empathy starts with small things. Early in life.
I have Arab friends (does that surprise you?). They are good, decent people. They aren’t terrorist or violent, they are just normal people trying to live normal lives. With all that, it was in their home that I recognized the empathy problem.
A small incident connected the dots for me, something most people would probably overlook. It happened when they were playing with their grandson.
Their first grandson, a boy named after the grandfather, is a source of extreme pride and joy. They love the boy very much, spoil him rotten and would do practically anything for him.
I watched the grandmother take the grandson, a toddler about one year old, lift him high in the air and then roll him down her chest in a kind of summersault. The grandmother was laughing at the game she invented. The baby, frightened by the height and being turned upside-down began to cry. She knew it was just a game, nothing bad would happen so she continued – up in the air, flip upside-down, laughing while he cried.
The grandmother, did not feel the fear of her beloved grandson. A woman who would never purposely hurt this child in any way, scared him and laughed while he cried. She could not feel his pain. She had no empathy for him.
This is just a tiny incident but it is one amongst countless incidents in a life. A message from the people closest to this child, the people who will be the most influential in forming his personality.
If the people closest to him do not recognize his pain, if they laugh when he cries, what will he learn?
If, when he grows a bit older, he hurts an animal and it cries out in pain, will it be so strange for him to respond by laughing? (This too, I have seen far too many times.)
When he grows up and gets married, if he hurts his wife, emotionally or physically and she cries, how will he respond? Will it be strange if he does not see a reason to reach out in compassion?
Remember, this is a good family. A kind and decent family. What happens in families that are cruel and violent? In families that pro-actively support violent activities?
Most people are focusing on the manifestations of violence. I think we should take a good hard look at their source. Understanding the cause is the beginning of the solution.
It’s all about empathy.
It begins with small incidents, very early in life. The void created by the lack of empathy is an open door, beckoning for violence to enter. The problem begins small but it is like a vacuum in space that pulls everything in to it. Light does not shine in the vacuum, everything implodes inwards.
The Arab world has an empathy problem. A big problem. And we are all suffering from the consequences.