Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Dissimulation: Arabs, Jews, Russians, Ukrainians

"There is in Islam this idea of taqiya. Generally called in English 'dissimulation.' It is especially strong in Shi'ite Islam but it's all over Islamic culture. Doctrinally speaking, dissimulation is part of Islamic culture, and the permission to dissimulate is widespread. The culture doesn't expect that you'll speak in a way that endangers you and certainly not that you'll be candid and sincere. You would be considered foolish to do that. People say one thing, adopt a public position, and are then quite different on the inside and privately act in a totally different way. . . . Very different from Jews, you see, telling everything that's on their minds to everyone nonstop" (Roth, Operation Shylock, p. 145-46).

Roth is speaking of Arabs here, but the above quotation is perfectly applicable to Russians, for whom dissimulation is a way of life. Of course, the need to prevaricate, lie, dissimulate is sometimes attributed to the Soviet system, to the paranoia of the Stalinist years, but quite likely, like so much else in Russian culture, it predates the Soviet years.

The habit of "telling everything on your mind to everyone" is perhaps more an American than a Jewish thing. Russians are often amazed at this outpouring of confidences, to neighbors and psychiatrists alike.Russian Jews, who are more Russian in their heart of hearts than Jewish (although many of them would find that remark insulting) have exactly the same attitude toward dissimulation that Russian non-Jews have: i.e., they embrace it.

I have known Russians who lie about things for no reason at all, simply for what is apparently the sheer need to lie. It becomes such a habit that they cannot do without it. Nikolai Gogol was one who had this habit. In his works he was a genius of a fabricator and liar; he had the pure talent a writer needs to make things up. In his personal life he was just the opposite. The lies he told dug pits into which he fell, and then, in the process of climbing out of the pits he told still more outrageous lies and dug himself in still deeper. Gogol, of course, was Ukrainian, but when it comes to prevaricating and dissimulation, the Ukrainians are sometimes more Russian than the Russians.

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