With the recent strife over “the film”, and the response by some Muslims to it, here are some interesting insights from a Danish psychologist, Nicolai Sennels. The generalisibility of his argument is limited by the selection of interviews, and whether there is an Arab versus non Arab distinction, but nonetheless, he is worth reading.
First, an excerpt from an article by Ron Jager
“Nicolai Sennels, a Danish psychologist who has had extensive experience with treating Muslim youths has identified four main differences that are important in order to understand the behavior of Muslims and how they interact with Western influences. Without dismissing the intrinsic value of multiculturalism or the need to identify with ones cultural roots Sennels has identified four main differences that are important in order to understand the behavior of Muslims. They concern anger, self-confidence, the so-called “locus of control” and identity.
Westerners are brought up to think of anger as a sign of weakness, powerlessness and lack of self-control.
In Muslim culture, anger is seen as a sign of strength. To Muslims, being aggressive is a way of gaining respect. When we see pictures of bearded men hopping up and down and shooting in the air, we should take it for what it is: these are the true role models of acceptable behavior.
In Western culture, self-confidence is connected with the ability to meet criticism calmly and to respond rationally. We are raised to see people who easily get angry when criticized, as insecure and immature.
In Muslim culture it is the opposite; it is honorable to respond aggressively and to engage in a physical fight in order to scare or force critics to withdraw, even if this results in a prison sentence or even death. They see non-aggressive responses to such threats and violence as a sign of a vulnerability that is to be exploited. They do not interpret a peaceful response as an invitation to enter into a dialogue, diplomacy, intellectual debate, compromise or peaceful coexistence but the opposite.
“Locus of control” is a term used in psychology, and relates to the way in which people feel that their lives are controlled. In Western culture, we are brought up to have an “inner locus of control,” meaning that we see our own inner emotions, reactions, decisions and views as the main deciding factor in our lives. There may be outer circumstances that influence our situation, but in the end, it is our own perception of a situation and the way we handle it that decides our future and our state of mind. The “inner locus of control” leads to increased self-responsibility and motivates people to become able to solve their own problems.
Muslims are brought up to have an “outer locus of control.” Their constant use of the term inshallah (“Allah willing”) when talking about the future, as well as the fact that most aspects of their lives are decided by older traditions, clan tribal affiliations and authorities, leaves very little space for individual freedom. Independent initiatives are often severely punished. This shapes their way of thinking, and means that when things go wrong, it is always the fault of others or the situation.
Finally, identity plays a big role when it comes to psychological differences between Muslims and Westerners. Westerners are taught to be open and tolerant toward other cultures, races, religions, etc. This makes us less critical, impairs our ability to discriminate, and makes our societies open to the influence of other cultural trends and values that may not always be constructive.
Muslims, on the other hand, are taught again and again that they are superior, and that all others are so bad that Allah will throw them in hell when they die. Muslim culture’s self-glorification achieves the opposite with their culture and identity. In general, Westerners are taught to be kind, self-assured, self-responsible and tolerant, while Muslims are taught to be aggressive, insecure and intolerant.”