Recently, I rated the video “Combat Hospital: Shifting Sands” on Hulu with all five stars. My rating was so high due to the capturing of core Arab and Muslim values it seemed to portray. Veritably, these are all my ideas and musings. However, once I started to browse Wikipedia for a refresher course in the Bedouin values that underlay the philosophy of Islam, I began to see the amazing work the show’s script writers and story developers had produced.
For many reasons, the key strain between Americans and South West Asians in Iraq to Afghanistan is being made visible in this TV show in a positive and anthropological way that I support as a first generation Iranian and Persian Gulf Arab.
My Generic Episode Review
Watch the episode of “Combat Hospital: Shifting Sands” on Hulu.
In the television show Combat Hospital, a group of military medics from around the world form a hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan. Among them is the USA loyal Afghanistan Army. Dressed in blue, the Afghani General is a woman and her nephew Van is the loyal translator. In the episode titled “Shifting Sands”, two of Van’s friends arrive injured at the hospital. Although he knew them in childhood, they had been out of touch for at least a couple of years.
Naturally, a cultural difference in the things you prioritize is soon revealed when Van shows a typical SouthWest Asian display of an overwhelming sense of duty to anyone you have allegiance to. Van did not listen to the General in charge (perhaps because of this cultural difference in emotional priorities) when the General Doctor said for Van to stay away from one of his friends. The friend was under suspicion of being Taliban. During the hospital stay, Van speaks to the Taliban suspect who says the accusations are untrue.
However, (Spoiler Alert Warning) the supposed Taliban friend later escapes. Van is imprisoned for talking to the prisoner that escaped and put in detention. In my opinion, the act of being in detention alone made Van feel that no one trusted him. This is an extreme insult in common SouthWest Asian culture that is most likely (in my observation) derived from Islam (and those core values are derived from ancient Bedouin Honor Codes).
Even though Van worked over time to show his loyalty to his “tribe” at the military hospital, the Doctor General does not acknowledge this deep part of Van’s culture. Seemingly, this leads Van to feeling alienated for (what I perceive as) “SouthWest Asian reasons.”
Subtle SouthWest Culture Bits Some Americans Might Have Missed
In Arab culture, we talk a lot about the ancient Bedouin Honor Codes. In particular, the words “Hamasa”, “Diyafa”, and “Sharaf” . In this episode, it is my opinion that the conflicting feelings that the translator Van feels toward the Doctor/General are ones where the translators “Hamasa”, “Diyafa”, and “Sharaf” has all been challenged unbeknownst to the American White Doctor/General.
Wikipedia defines these key words in the following way:
Sharaf is the general Bedouin honor code for men. It can be acquired, augmented, lost, and regained. Sharaf involves protection of the ird of the women of the family, protection of property, maintenance of the honor of the tribe and protection of the village (if the tribe has settled).
Diyafa (hospitality) is a virtue closely linked to sharaf. If required, even an enemy must be given shelter and fed for some days. Poverty does not exempt one from one’s duties in this regard. Generosity is a related virtue, and in many Bedouin societies gifts must be offered and cannot be declined. The destitute are looked after by the community, and tithing is mandatory in many Bedouin societies.
Hamasa (courage/bravery) is also closely linked to Sharaf. Bravery indicated the willingness to defend one’s tribe for the purpose of assahiya (tribal solidarity and balance). It is closely related to muruwa (manliness). Bravery usually entails the ability to withstand pain, including (male) circumcision.
Thoughts on Hamasa, Sharaf, and Being A Good Bedouin American
Since some of the things listed on this Wikipedia page are “outdated” to some Arabs, Muslims, and SouthWest Asians, the Bedouin rules of nobility that still remain are considered “neutral”. These neutral ideals are hospitality, generosity, hamasa, diyafa, and reputation. In the West, I’ve noticed that all Arabs and Muslims tend to feel really burned when those things aren’t acknowledged or are threatened.
After all, hospitality is a good thing from Muslim and Southwest Asian culture and yet we are typically shunned and mistreated in the West. Islamaphobia can also take on a social aspect or interfere with the workplace. For this reason, people don’t seem to understand the back story behind the things we South West Asians do in places like America.
In the end, I feel that Wikipedia’s entry “Honor Codes of the Bedouin,” does a good job of summing the stuff Arab/Muslim Americans “get loud” about. Once the back ground values are established, you can start to see where Van feels affronted. Or how his feelings could be hurt against these values of the region (Afghanistan and South West Asia at large).
Especially, I can see how he would be offended as a Muslim that he was not trusted. It is also extremely hurtful on multiple levels to Muslim general mores that his friend from childhood lied to him. This strikes a cultural nerve with Van that was obvious to me. I wonder if everyone in the audience saw what (I assume) the script writers intended. The character of Van could have told others that the Doctor General didn’t think he was “brave/ hamasa”.
In that context, it would indicate that he did not have williness to defend his “tribe” (the USA military hospital, the new Allied US-Afghan Government). Also offended were the ideas that Van was being portrayed to others as having lack of solidarity and trying to upset the boat. All of these things could have been thought or felt by Van’s character, in my opinion.
A Sincere Thank You To The Writers
I grew up next to Fort Campbell military base from 1981 to 1995. During that time, Americans were starting to turn a shadowy eye to people from my ethnicity. It started with 444 Days and the Iranian American Hostage Crisis and only got worse with the Iran Contra ordeal with Oliver North.
When I was born in 1977, Americans at the college my father attended mistook him for an Italian and considered him popular and charming. By the end of my childhood, all of our good public relations in the SouthWest Asian community in the West crumbled. After 2001… well, we all know what happened after that pretty much villanized anyone that was related to Islam or SouthWest Asian culture as far as most Americans were concerned. Today, my father would have been seen as the terrorist on campus.
Since then, I’ve wondered what the media was going to do to ameliorate this situation of rampant Islamaphobia and not seeing American born SouthWest Asians as patriots. However, this episode, and show in general, go far to help those in the military and those loyal to America see that SouthWest Asians are not all “the enemy,”
Of course, my favorite part is the emphasis that Americans may still have a lot to learn about what makes the positive sides of that culture tick. I am wondering how this theme will continue into next episodes.