Sadik J. Al-Azm, emeritus professor of modern European philosophy at the University of Damascus and a patrician, is one of the most interesting of Arab thinkers. In an article in the Boston Review, "Time Out of Joint: Western dominance, Islamist terror, and the Arab imagination," he confesses his response on September 11, 2001:
There is a strong injunction in Arab Islamic culture against shamateh, an emotion—like schadenfreude—of taking pleasure in the suffering of others. It is forbidden when it comes to death, even the violent death of your mortal enemies. Yet it would be very hard these days to find an Arab, no matter how sober, cultured, and sophisticated, in whose heart there was not some room for shamateh at the suffering of Americans on September 11. I myself tried hard to contain, control, and hide it that day. And I knew intuitively that millions and millions of people throughout the Arab world and beyond experienced the same emotion. …
But I didn't understand my own shameful response to the slaughter of innocents. Was it the bad news from Palestine that week; the satisfaction of seeing the arrogance of power abruptly, if temporarily, humbled; the sight of the jihadi Frankenstein's monsters, so carefully nourished by the United States, turning suddenly on their masters; or the natural resentment of the weak and marginalized at the peripheries of empires against the center, or, in this case, against the center of the center? Does my response, and the silent shamateh of the Arab world, mean that Huntington's clash of civilizations has come true, and so quickly?
Comments: (1) This introspective account confirms the more blatant examples I documented in "A Middle East Party." (2) Al-Azm offers the same explanation that I would for his untoward response, noting how Arabs and Muslims
continue to imagine ourselves as conquerors, history-makers, pace-setters, pioneers, and leaders of world-historic proportions. In the marrow of our bones, we still perceive ourselves as the subjects of history, not its objects, as its agents and not its victims. We have never acknowledged, let alone reconciled ourselves to, the marginality and passivity of our position in modern times.
(Oct. 1, 2004)
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