The Arab Mind by Raphael Patai Pg Much has been written on the subject of honor (sharaf) among the Arabs. What has not been emphasized, at lea. Raphael Patai’s The Arab Mind is a “field tested” book—and I mean . Raphael Patai wrote optimistically about the future of the Arab world. The book in question is called The Arab Mind, and is by Raphael Patai, a cultural anthropologist who taught at several US universities.
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Any event that is outside routine everyday occurrence can trigger such a loss of control Once aroused, African hostility will vent itself indiscriminately on all outsiders. These statements, I think you’ll agree, are thoroughly offensive.
You would probably imagine them to be the musings of some 19th century colonialist. In fact, they come from a book promoted by its US publisher as “one of the great classics of cultural studies”, and described by Publisher’s Weekly as “admirable”, “full of insight” and with “an impressive spread of scholarship”.
The Arab Mind
The book is not actually about Africans. Instead, it takes some of the hoariest old prejudices about black people and applies them to Arabs. Replace the word “African” in the quotations above with the word “Arab”, and you have them as they appear in the book. It is, the book says, the Arabs who are lazy, sex-obsessed, and apt to turn violent over the slightest little thing. Writing about Arabs, rather than black people, in these terms apparently makes all the difference between a racist smear and an admirable work of scholarship.
THE ARAB MIND by Raphael Patai | Kirkus Reviews
The book in question is called The Arab Mind, and is by Raphael Patai, a cultural anthropologist who taught at several US universities, including Columbia and Princeton. I must admit that, despite having spent some years studying Arabic language and culture, I had not heard of this alleged masterpiece until last week, when the investigative journalist Seymour Hersh mentioned it in an article for New Yorker magazine.
Hersh was discussing the chain of command that led US troops to torture Iraqi prisoners. Referring specifically to the sexual nature of some of this abuse, he wrote: In their discussions, raphaep said, two themes emerged – ‘one, that Arabs only understand force, and two, that the biggest weakness of Arabs is shame and humiliation’.
Last week, my own further enquiries about the book revealed something even more alarming. Not only is it the bible of neocon headbangers, but it is also the bible on Arab behaviour for the US military.
According to one professor at a US military college, The Arab Mind is “probably the single most popular and widely read book on the Arabs in the US military”. In some ways, the book’s appeal to the military is easy to understand, because it gives a superficially coherent view of the Arab enemy and their supposed personality defects.
It is also readily digestible, uncomplicated by nuances and caveats, and has lots of juicy quotes, a generous helping of sex, and no academic jargon. The State Department, too, used to take an interest in the book, although it seemingly no longer does.
At one stage, the training department gave free copies to officials when they were posted to US embassies in the Middle East. In contrast, opinions of Patai’s book among Middle East experts at US universities are almost universally scathing.
None of the academics I contacted thought the book suitable for serious study, although Georgetown University once invited students to analyse it as “an example of bad, biased social science”. There is a lot wrong with The Arab Mind apart from its racism: Although the Arab countries certainly have their distinctive characteristics, the idea that million people, from Morocco to the Gulf, living in rural villages, urban metropolises and very rarely these days desert tents, think with some sort of single, collective mind is utterly ridiculous.
The result is a collection of outrageously broad – and often suspect – generalisations. Patai asserts, for example, that Arabs “hate” the west. He backs up this claim with two quotations: We are also informed page of “the Arab view that masturbation is far more shameful than visiting prostitutes”.
Whether this is why Iraqi prisoners were forced to masturbate in front of cameras is unclear, but the only supporting evidence for Patai’s claim is a survey of Arab and US students published in In “outlying areas”, such as Siwa oasis in Egypt, Patai says, “homosexuality is the rule, and practised completely in the open”.
This unequivocal statement is based on accounts dating fromandand, in a footnote, Patai concedes that they “need to be checked out by an anthropologically trained observer”. There is also a good deal of confusion in the book between the present and the past. An Arab man, Patai writes, even if he has four wives, “can have sexual relations with concubines slave girls whom he owns “.
All this adds up to an overwhelmingly negative picture of the Arabs. Positive characteristics are mentioned, but are given relatively short shrift. Hospitality and generosity – two highly regarded virtues in Arab societies – get three and one and a half pages respectively, compared with a whole chapter devoted to alleged sexual hang-ups. The book is a classic case of orientalism which, by focusing on what Edward Said called the “otherness” of Arab culture, sets up barriers that can then be exploited for political purposes.
The Arab Mind was originally published inbut – according to one US academic – actually belongs to the “national character” genre of writing that was popular in comparative politics around the middle of the last century. Its methodology, therefore – not to mention much of its content – was considerably behind the times even when it first appeared.
Patai died inbut his book was revived by Hatherleigh Press in nicely timed for the war in Iraqand reprinted with an enthusiastic introduction by Norvell “Tex” De Atkine, a former US army colonel and the head of Middle East studies at Fort Bragg.
In a speech last week, the US president, George Bush, congratulated himself on having removed “hateful propaganda” from the schools in Iraq. Perhaps it is now time he turned his attention to military minx in the US. Topics World news World dispatch.