Respect means different things

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

Respect means different things in different cultures, Wretchard reminds us:

I think I’ve told the story of running into a Sulu Muslim named “Pershing”. Upon inquiry the man (who was a high ranking sort of guy) explained his grandfather had named him after the toughest hombre he could think of.

My guess is that the Afghans would understand the idea that Americans were retaliating for an attack against the American tribe. In fact, my ignorant guess is that they would find the idea perfectly natural. To convey that any attack against the American tribe would result in a reprisal and that therefore, all must live in watchful harmony so that the incidents would never be repeatable, might in my ignorant view, actually be comprehensible.

So respect in this matter might not take the form of treating them the way a British socialist would like to be “respected”, but as a man of the mountains might want to be respected. When we come to them with what seems to them a legalistically bizarre set of rules, which constitute our idea of “humanity”, misunderstandings might arise. They attack Americans, the American President decides to withdraw. The Americans don’t explain they are there to revenge themselves for an attack by al-Qaeda, in fact they deny it, for revenge is terribly un-PC in the West; but rather to help the cause of gender equality, democracy and fight climate change, all of which play well in a Labour meeting hall but which may be gibberish out in the sticks. And so forth and so on.

In the end, they may think we are mad and respect us the less for it. And maybe we are mad, we just don’t know it.

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