Hospitality and Politeness

Hospitality and Politeness -

Michael Totten writes of "the personal and political in the Middle East." He opens thusly:
Roger Cohen is taking heavy criticism for a piece he recently wrote in the New York Times in which he said the “annihilationist” anti-Semitic rhetoric of the Iranian regime tells us less about Iran than the fact that he, an American Jew, was treated with “consistent warmth” on his trip to Tehran and Isfahan. I can’t say I agree, but I sympathize to an extent with what he’s saying because I've had similar surprises in the Middle East, happening upon hospitality instead of expected hostility.

Arabs, Persians, and Kurds are so well-known for their considerate treatment of guests it has become a guidebook cliché.
It fits right in with Theodore Dalrymple's first experience with Afghans ("Even their hospitality was fierce...You knew that they would defend you to the death, if necessary—or cut your throat like a chicken’s, if necessary. Honor among them was all."), and, for that matter, Genesis 19:8.

But what I like is the`way Mr. Totten illustrates the larger point - in a time of topsy-turvy manners, it's important to draw the distinction between good manners and substantive agreement. In some parts of the world, even this online world, there are those who can only be civil if you don't disagree with their cherished views - in others, like the houses Mr. Cohen visited in Iran, and Grim's Hall for that matter, the contrary is true. But if you are used to the former, you may conclude too much from your host's kindness when you're in the latter.

I remember, in rude boyhood, thinking that manners and "etiquette" were barriers to honesty, but now think quite the opposite. We are biased and emotional creatures, and find it hard anytime to listen aright (and thus to answer straight) to a truly opposing argument. But it is harder still when the opponent is rude, and the harder argument over facts can be replaced with a scolding about tone. And this to me is the most hateful thing about PC: It takes the perfectly natural and legitimate desire not to be personally offensive, and distorts it into a creed to stifle subtantive ideas.

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