This is not new but it’s worth another look. Read the whole thing or scroll down to “Anger”.
“Muslim culture has a very different view of anger and in many ways opposite to what we experience here in the West.
Expressions of anger and threats are probably the quickest way to lose one’s face in Western culture. In discussions, those who lose their temper have automatically lost, and I guess most people have observed the feeling of shame and loss of social status following expressions of aggression at one’s work place or at home. In the Muslim culture, aggressive behavior, especially threats, are generally seen to be accepted, and even expected as a way of handling conflicts and social discrepancies. If a Muslim does not respond in a threatening way to insults or social irritation, he, not “she” (Muslim women are, mostly, expected to be humble and to not show power) is seen as weak, as someone who cannot be depended upon and loses face. (Ed – Islam is not “honour”-based in any Western sense of the term. It is a “face” culture.)
In the eyes of most Westerners it looks immature and childish when people try to use threatening behavior, to mark their dislikes. A Danish saying goes “…Only small dogs bark. Big dogs do not have to.” That saying is deeply rooted in our cultural psychology as a guideline for civilized social behavior. To us, aggressive behavior is a clear sign of weakness. It is a sign of not being in control of oneself and lacking ability to handle a situation. We see peoples’ ability to remain calm as self confidence, allowing them to create a constructive dialogue. Their knowledge of facts, use of common sense and ability in producing valid arguments is seen as a sign of strength.
The Islamic expression of “holy anger” is therefore completely contradictory to any Western understanding. Those two words in the same sentence sound contradictory to us. The terror-threatening and violent reaction of Muslims to the Danish Mohammed cartoons showing their prophet as a man willing to use violence to spread his message, is seen from our Western eyes as ironic. Muslims’ aggressive reaction to a picture showing their prophet as aggressive, completely confirms the truth of the statement made by Kurt Westergaard in his satiric drawing.
This cultural difference is exceedingly important when dealing with Muslim regimes and organizations. Our way of handling political disagreement goes through diplomatic dialogue, and calls on Muslim leaders to use compassion, compromise and common sense. This peaceful approach is seen by Muslims as an expression of weakness and lack of courage. Thus avoiding the risks of a real fight is seen by them as weakness; when experienced in Muslim culture, it is an invitation to exploitation.” (Emphases and non-italicized asides mine.)
This has been on my mind a lot recently. Watch any debate between a non or semi-Westernized Muslim and a Christian/Jew/secularist/atheist/whoever. Or just check out funny clips from Arab TV panel discussions.
I tentatively attribute some of this to the lack (as far as I know) of any history of serious debate in Muslim culture. Remember that rhetoric has been recognized as a high civilizational accomplishment in the West since classical Athens. I suspect I’m broadly correct in saying that in Islamic (and other) cultures, disagreement is seen, not as a kind of metaphorical duel, remembering that duels occur between equals, but as an insult, which therefore involves social dominance/humiliation.
You remember that scene in The Godfather where the slimy Hollywood producer freaks out in front of a slightly amused and disgusted Tom Hagen, who barely bats an eyelid, even when Woltz aggressively invades his space and orders him to “get the hell out of here!” – doesn’t get up from the table or interrupt his meal? I would love to conduct an experiment comparing the reactions of Westerners and non-Westernized Muslims to this scene. My guess is that 90% of Westerners (of course the intended audience) would think that Woltz comes off as buffoonish and that Tom is the winner here, and that most Muslims would see Woltz as the big guy and Hagen as weak and servile.