Home > Ethics, Philsosophy, Theism > Killing an Arab

Killing an Arab

the-cure-standing-on-a-beachI have been driving my parents van the past few weeks and it only has a tape player, so I have dug out some of my old tapes to listen to while driving.  One of the tapes that made it into the queue was The Cure’s “Standing on the Beach”, a compilation of their singles – A sides on side A, and very mediocre B sides on side B.

The first track (or I suppose I should say song since tapes technically don’t have tracks) is “Killing an Arab”.  The song is based on the novel The Stranger by Albert Camus, a classic in philosophy of the Absurd.  The main character, Meursault, finds life empty and meaningless.  Finding every decision in life to be essentially the same, he decides to shoot an Arab man on the beach.  He is tried, convicted, and sentenced to the death penalty.  The point, I think, is that life is absurd and concepts like hope have no real meaning.  This seems to be what the Cure took from it anyway.  Here are their lyrics:

I’m standing on the beach with a gun in my hand
Staring at the sea, staring at the sand
Staring down the barrel at the Arab on the ground
See his open mouth but I hear no sound
I’m alive, I’m dead, I’m the stranger, killing an Arab

I can turn and walk away or I can fire the gun
Staring at the sky, staring at the sun
Whichever I choose It amounts to the same
Absolutely nothing
I’m alive, I’m dead, I’m the stranger, killing an Arab

I feel the silver jump down smooth in my hand
Staring at the sea, staring at the sand
Staring down myself reflected in the eyes
Of the dead man on the beach (Dead man on the beach)
I’m alive, I’m dead, I’m the stranger, killing an Arab

What a depressing song.  Not a lot to get excited about here.  Why, you may ask, was I subjecting myself to something so depressing?  Well it has a pretty groovy bassline, for one.  (Watch the Video on Youtube here.)  But I got to thinking about it.  When I first got the tape it came packaged with a sticker on the outside (which I no longer have, but is reprinted by Walter Everett) which read,

“The song KILLING AN ARAB has absolutely no racist overtones whatsoever.  It is a song which decries the existence of all prejudice and consequent violence.  The Cure condemn its use in furthering anti-Arab feeling.”

With one little sticky-dot the entire message is deconstructed.  The Cure makes it seem hip and cool to be influenced by Camus, to philosophize about the absurdity of life, but when there is a threat that actual Arabs will actually be hurt by the message, the Absurdist philosophy goes out the window.  Why?  Because there is something within us which inherently rejects such a worldview.  We want to cry out that life does have meaning.  The lives of Arabs do matter.  You can’t just go around killing people.  Actions have consequences, those consequences actually matter, and the Cure band members know it.

This is where all secular humanistic worldviews ultimately break down.  If there is no God, if there is no creator, then it seems that murder, racism, and violence or peace and benevolence amount to the same: absolutely nothing.  The fact that such a concept is detestable is a strong evidence for the existence of God.  It is not conclusive proof in itself, but it stands out as one of the major reasons why theism makes more sense than non-theism or atheism.

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  1. steph
    November 24, 2008 at 5:02 am

    I don’t see that as a strong reason at all. When we are born we all struggle to survive. As we develop we cling to life and learn to live with each other. If we kill our neighbour and steal his potato, his son will kill us and take our tomato. So next time we don’t kill them but share our tomatoes with and he shares his potatos. And then we become friends and marry his sons and daughters. That’s all we really want – to be safe, have food and companionship. So we write laws. Some people need God to tell them how to live well together. 🙂

  2. November 25, 2008 at 2:58 am

    I was a substitute teacher while I was in grad. school. One of the scariest things I saw in the school was a requirement by one of the English teahcers for her students to read The Stranger. It was scary not because the book was discussed. It was scary because she used it to advance a nihilistic worldview, and she crushed all attempts to contradict her.

    What a world…

  3. November 25, 2008 at 9:31 pm

    steph, are you a non-theist or are you merely critiquing my logic?

    I am not talking about why we believe in a god. There are lots of plausible explanations for that. I am rather arguing that nihilism is an unlivable worldview, yet it’s what you’re forced into when you subscribe to naturalism. If God doesn’t exist, then why is the concept of killing our neighbors to take their potatoes so vile and repulsive to us? (I should hope it is as deeply repulsive to you as it is to me.) Pragmatism does not account for our consciences.

    J.K., amen.

  4. steph
    November 26, 2008 at 3:10 am

    As social animals I think we may have learned that it is repulsive (and yes I do believe as you do it is deeply repulsvie) in our desire to survive and recognition that co operation is essential to maintain relationships, and our realisation that we must do to others as we wish would be done to us so that they return the favour. I think ‘sin’ was original and we have learned sin is wrong. Wild animals sin – they kill and steal in order to survive and some species learn to sin less to their own kind because they live together. Humans are more complex, we have stronger emotions I think, and love which is a strong motivation not to sin….

    I am not saying God does not exist. I am fairly agnostic and think the gods of religions may be a human creation but I don’t think there is proof for or against God and I don’t think there is a need for a God. I am not really critiquing your logic – I am just offering another perspective. 🙂

  5. steph
    November 26, 2008 at 3:14 am

    By the way I think that the English teacher J K Jones refers to is as bad as a teacher who uses a piece of literature to promote the opposite worldview and then crush all attempts to contradict her. That’s not teaching and that’s not an English lesson.

  6. Pam
    March 8, 2010 at 10:25 pm

    Camus’ philosophy is not actually one that promotes nihilism. On the contrary, Camus repudiates such worldview. The notion that the world is absurd is a way of showing his readers that life is reality that must be dealt with and the individual should not go on searching for explanations about his existence nor must he look for a Higher Being to supply him with the reason to go on with life (Sorry for the theists, but Camus was not really big on God.) However, killing is an abuse of human freedom and it is a rejection against the absurd condition of life. Unlike Kierkegaard, Camus did not believe that the Absurd can be explained or transcended, only endured. In this respect, life becomes an absolute value in itself.

  7. April 2, 2010 at 4:37 pm

    Pam, sorry for the delay. You are right to call Camus’ philosophy absurd instead of nihilistic. However I disagree with your statement Camus believes that killing is an abuse of human freedom. I am not familiar with Camus outside of The Stranger, but it seems to me that this is exactly what Camus is NOT saying. Whether or not he kills the Arab, it is all meaningless.

  8. Uriel J. Garcia
    January 31, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    The Stranger really has a callous character that really doesn’t understand the consequences of life. For the longest time Meursault feels no remorse for his mother’s death, and didn’t understand why she wanted a religious service if she didn’t practice any religion while she was alive.

    The irony, I find, is that while Meursault was alive he didn’t appreciate his freedom and much less his life. It was until he was jailed and his death penalty that he realized he wanted his liberty and his life back. So at the end he almost understands why his mother wanted a religious service– both of them called out God’s name as a sign of remorse.

  9. amigou
    February 8, 2011 at 8:49 pm

    I think to understand better the message we have to go to Camus novel and see what`s going on there. For a reference between Camus and Killing an arab i share this… http://www.laparodiadelchahuiztle.wordpress.com/2011/02/09/el-extranjero/

  10. R.T. Jones
    February 11, 2011 at 5:19 pm

    Uriel and amigou, thanks for the comments. I would certainly never style myself as a literary critic, so I am open to the possibility that I have misunderstood the message of either or both Camus and The Cure. Regardless of the correctness or incorrectness of my interpretation of either, the whole situation with the sticker seems, on the whole, to point towards an objectively true morality that is simply impossible to relativise.

    That is not to say that objectivity is easily grasped in any given situation, nor that objective moral principles can ever be applied independently of specific cultures. In other words, SOME morality is relative. But in the “Killing and Arab” sticker, we gain a perspective into the fact that at least SOME morality is objective and not relative. And IF at least some morality is relative, then this provides evidence for the existence of God.

    Amigou, my spanish is muy mal, so I ran the site through babelfish. I don’t think I really understood the page because babelfish doesn’t really translate philosophy or complicated grammatical structures all that well. Thanks for dropping the link, though. And thanks for the link back here. Perhaps you are right that I have misunderstood the meaning of the song specifically, and existentialist philosophy along the lines of Sartre in general.

  1. February 8, 2011 at 8:46 pm

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