For several years in the early and mid 2000’s I worked for a government laboratory and occasionally had contact with the CIA. One of the things I remember more clearly than any other is talking to a manager who had a team of psychologists working for him. They studied the psychology of Arabs and Muslims and how people in the west might influence them. I asked if he could share any insights with me.
He told me, “They think very differently than we do. Perhaps, more different than we can think.”
I don’t know if this came from that same team but the timing is pretty good. It was first published in 2007 and I found it absolutely fascinating:
In Western cultures a fact is an objective absolute not subject to mutation through human interpretation. But the Arab mentality treats fact and truth as relative, to some extent a projection of the mind for the benefit of the self or ego. With this subjective processing the facts become what the Arab emotionally wants to believe is true. They can thus be made to mesh harmoniously with criteria which stand higher on the value scale because connected with the maintenance of face. Neither facts nor their connotations can stand up against the Arab’s facade of personal dignity or be arrayed to form an attack on his surrogate of face.
Knowledgeable Arabs realize that their people and countries fall in some measure short of the progress and development that some other nations have achieved. Unable to find themselves at fault for this, they are naturally led to seek the cause of their troubles in outside sources-the will of Allah, the imperialists, Israel, family and personal obligations, and many real wrongs which have been done them. This saves the collective face from appearing defective and allows those who can accept subjectively interpreted facts to maintain their sense of personal dignity and self-confidence.
In any situation in which shame or guilt threatens the Arab he will be able to explain away whatever impinges on his personal dignity with an array of facts that are meant to be accepted by the listener and not challenged. Whether the story is believed or not and whether the facts are objective or logical are secondary considerations; it is considered quite unmannerly to embarrass him by challenging his explanations. Many of the stories of Juha and his donkey which abound in Arabic folklore have their point for the Arab not in the happenings, logical or illogical, they portray but rather in the quick wit and inventive genius with which the hero survives each incident.
In many phases of the Arabic cultural setting the Westerner with his fetish for objectivity is decidedly out of place, for a subjective interpretation of facts and truth is most suitable in a milieu where face and personal dignity are the things of prime importance.
In summation, the face concept can be said to have three interrelated aspects. The Arab’s extreme effort to show himself blameless, an effort which seems too transparent and unrealistic to Westerners, is the product of the high value his culture puts upon personal dignity, of his feeling answerable for his conduct to society rather than to any divine conscience within himself, and of his sense of the subjectivity of fact.
While reading this I was struck by the similarities between the psychology described and people and organizations which advocate for socialism, gun control, and other causes of the political left. Think of the sexual scandals of Bill Clinton and the responses by him and his supporters. Think of Hillary Clinton claiming she dodged sniper fire. Think of the Fast and Furious, IRS targeting conservatives, Solyndra, and Benghazi scandals of the Obama administration and yet today many in the political left claim there were zero scandals.