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memri
April 24, 2014 No.
5720

Saudi Woman Columnist: Arab Culture Has Doubly Devalued Human Life

In her column in the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Saudi columnist Lamia Al-Swailem attacked the glorification of death in Arab culture, and examined the difference between the value of human life in the Arab world and in the West. Calling on the Arabs not to accuse Westerners of not valuing Arab life, she asks them instead to examine their own culture and to demand accountability from their preachers and politicians who devalue Arab life by extolling the virtues of sacrificing this life for the nation, the land, the struggle for the regime, and so on.

Following are excerpts from her column:[1]

"More than anything else, the biggest fault of humanity is the differentiation in the value of human life according to color, race, or gender. Many in the Arab world feel that their lives are cheaper than those of Europeans or Americans – for example, the bombing of a bus with 10 tourists in Egypt causes more sorrow and rage worldwide than the death of hundreds of Egyptian citizens in a train crash It creates the impression that the world only cares about the 10 tourists because they are European citizens, and completely ignores the other dead merely because they do not hold passports that are, for instance, American...

"The moral question here is not why the Americans weep for the deaths of their own citizens and do not care about the deaths of others, but rather, why don't the others [themselves] not weep for their own dead like the Americans do?

"Why is human death in Arab society perceived as a preordained fate that cannot be questioned, and why is human life in Arab society seen as the easiest card to sacrifice for principles and beliefs, or in a struggle for power? The difference lies not in the double standard of some in the West regarding their human feelings and empathy with their own citizens as opposed to these sentiments for others. The opposite is true: The real difference is in the double standard of Arab culture, which ceaselessly sacrifices human life for religious and political slogans, and later expresses outrage at the devaluation of Arab life compared to Western life.

"The American citizen – whose passport increases so greatly in value if he is killed – is not responsible for the Arab messages glorifying death daily, on all television channels – whether official or oppositionist; in most spaces – whether public or private; and at every event – whether joyous or sad.

"[But] the glorification of death is [merely] a result; it is the fruit that is picked by Arabs from the culture of sacrifice – [sacrifice] with blood and spirit. A culture that uses sacrifice for the sake of principles, values, and beliefs is one that lionizes a death that follows an honor killing, because [the latter was] an act purifying the dishonor and protecting the afterlife from the impurity of this world.

"The Western world, which Arab society believes cares nothing about it, is not a charity organization rife with good intentions. Rather, it is made up of countries that operate out of political and economic motives, and [are driven by] interests, influence, and power – [countries] that care only about their own citizens. Restoring the value of life to the Arab individual is not a top priority at all for these countries, and they are not seeking to change Arab culture, which glorifies death as a ticket to paradise.

"The Arab individual should wonder about the value of his life in his own culture. He should ask those who spout the inflated slogans that ring constantly in his ears why exactly it is that he should sacrifice his life for the victory of some group. [He should ask them] why a man should die so that a so-called 'nation' should live? These questions must be asked so that there can be a discussion of the culture of Arab societies and their political regimes. We must discuss the extent to which politicians recognize that human life is a value for a country to get excited about. This question is addressed to the millions who see the value of land as a goal [in itself], as opposed to a condition for human existence.

"The question [then] moves to the discourse on human rights, which stokes the fires of the issue of political and democratic rights, but includes not a single statement on the right to life. This discourse relinquishes the life of individual [Arabs] for the sake of the nation, just as it relinquishes quality of life because of the fear of scientific and technological progress. An Arab who feels that his life is cheap should not blame the [Western] world to which he does not belong – but rather demand accountability from his own world, from the society in which he lives, from Arab culture that does not value his life as much as it does the life of an American or a European.

"Arab culture, which carries the motif of sacrifice by blood and by spirit, has not succeeded in raising [the value of Arab life] above the value of land and place. On the contrary, it has doubly devalued human life. Arab political and religious discourse, which condemns all forms of tyranny, is not relinquishing the glorification of death for slogans and promises for the future [i.e. the afterlife]...

"[Arab] culture, which has forbidden suicide, is the same culture that has permitted suicide bombings in the name of 'sacrifice.' This culture tells the Arab individual: You have no right to end your life on your own accord, but you may do so based on a subliminal or direct message from your commander or your preacher. This double [standard] regarding death is at the heart of Arab societies. Life will not be [properly] valued in a culture that glorifies everything but human worthiness."

Endnotes:

[1] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), February 2, 2014.