Discombobulating The Arab Mind


Lee Smith has an interesting piece at Slate about Raphael Patai's influential study, The Arab Mind, which has supposedly been a major influence on the Bush neocons. After explaining the larger context in which Patai was writing, Smith concludes:

Maybe it's time for a new generation of Arab thinkers and politicians to promote other ways of imagining the world. (For instance, Iraqi Arabs have at least as much in common with Iraqi Kurds as they do with foreign Arab fighters whose only interest in Iraq is to turn it into an American graveyard.)

Whole thing here.

NEXT: The BBC's Middle East Ombudsman

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  1. Discombobulating? Is that even a word...

    [Mark checks Webster's New World College Dictionary, 4th Edition]

    What do you know? It is a word.

  2. It strikes me as a rather strange notion that something like an all-encompassing "arab mind" exists.

  3. Sundry arab nationalists seem to be of the opinion that it does.

  4. Yes there is an Arab Mind - it belongs to the Arab Street.

  5. Why not phone up a middle eastern studies department at any Ivy League university? I am certain their unbiased, Saudi funded opinions will sort out any confusion.

  6. Other than the nebulous reference in Hersch's original article, I have yet to find a single citation that this book influenced any neo-con thinkers. After all, the whole rationale for intervention is that Arabs, like everybody else, yearn for freedom. Also, the fact that one lecturer used it in a class doesn't mean it's the only book he used.

  7. Missionary
    Another word, along with discombobulating.

    Someone needs to see how many missionaries are supported by the chuch Dubya and Laura attend down in Crawford.

    Believe me. I know the mentality. My bible-thumping church in Tennessee supported missionaries to Ohio.

    Missionary is not a bad position, by the way. (In all the Kama Sutra, there is no "bad" position.)

  8. "the bible of the neocons on Arab behavior"

    When a people are to be manipulated, a mindset that denies or at least mitigates individuality is conducive to the dehumanization that make the manipulation all too facile.

    This is actually a disturbing commentary on the "neocon mind", the extent of the plausible commonality of which, is far greater than an "Arab Mind" or a mind of any ethnic group, except perhaps for The Borg.

    In the White House discussions ... two themes emerged: "one, that Arabs only understand force and, two, that the biggest weakness of Arabs is shame and humiliation."

    Except; Patai never says that Arabs understand only force.

    But it's so much more convenient to believe this when the intent is to use force ON the Arabs.

    "extreme modesty and bashfulness ... characterizes Arab sexual conduct in public." No doubt it would be humiliating in such a culture for men to be forced into sexual positions with other men and photographed...

    This is the belief that probably informed those "up command" who ordered the shameful sexual humiliation of the Iraqi prisoners.

    ...with foreign Arab fighters whose only interest in Iraq is to turn it into an American graveyard.

    Here Smith, though perhaps without malicious intent, indulges in some dehumanizing of his own when he reduces the motivation of these "foreign Arab fighters" to simple blood lust. He ignores the appeal of ethnic, religious and geographical solidarity as well as the desire to rid the area of foreigners.

    It wouldn't be the first time for any of these motivations to have come into play in the region.

  9. "Arabs only understand force ..."

    There could be a chicken and egg problem here. The Arab world has forever been ruled by despots, and despots only understand force. Have centuries of tyrants taught the Arab world at large the same lesson? I don't know one way or the other, but it seems less icky a concept in that light.

  10. I am almost finished reading Patai's, The Arab Mind, and am enthralled so much that I intend to read other books by him, including The Jewish Mind.

    The Arab Mind is comprehensive and sympathetic, for the most part he quotes Arab philosophers and authors.

    I have tried to have conversations with Islamics, to no avail. Arabs and by extension Islamics need to pay heed, modernize and rethink themselves and reinvent themselves, but they are hard headed and defensive (extremely) of necessity.

    Islam is nothing more or less than the outgrowth of the Bedouin tribal ethos, and all it encompasses. The Quran is fraught with scientific errors and extreme anachronicity. The Arab ethos has no concept of time, as evidenced in the Quran in which Mary (Miryam) putative mother of the putative Jesus lived co eval with her brothers (according to the Quran) Moses and Aaron, and even Alexander the Great supposedly lived to old age and died a Muslim (he also according to the Quran)built a mountain of Iron.

    Islamics, thus Arabs, see no need at all to change, because in their world Islam is perfect (hence Arabdom is perfect) and it is the world that is wrong.

    The only chance the Arab world had was with the Ba'th Party (Ba'th meant Renaissance) and I can understand now why Saddam (and the Shah) were so ruthless, it is perhaps the only way in effecting change and keeping a lid on the reactionary potential of the Islamics, but it has to be from their own kind, not from without as in Iraq.

    The Arab (Islamic) penchant for violence, indeed manifests itself first in verbal form, extreme and emotional verbosity (which is visually and auditorily evident from the finger waving lecturing of the "terrorists"-resistance fighters making demands before they behead their victims, and in the street demonstrations so common in the Arab world.

    Usually, the outbursts alone will provide a relief valve, such as when the young men dance around a burning vehicle and shout, but it doesn't take much to translate the emotional outbursts into physical action.

    Iraq will never be subdued, and I suspect that the real goal of occupation is to create military camps and airfields, away from population centers which can be defended easily as in Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo (google that for an eye opener).

    According to Patai, manual labor is below the honor and dignity of an Arab, thus any work done on pipelines and oil refinery will, as in Saudi Arabia, have to be imported.

    An exception is probably the Kurds, which are not Arab and have a different ethos, as do the Iranians who are not Arabs.

    Most of the mid east oil lies in lands occupied by Shia Muslims,in Iraq, Iran and even the Eastern portion of Saudi Arabia. What influence Persian Shia have on Arab Shia is yet to be seen, however I suspect the culture divide between Persian And Arab is quite great, where even the Arab Shia do not like or get along with the Persian Shia.

    This whole affair is spilling over into Saudi Arabia, and the kingdom is under threat.

    The vitality of that threadt can be seen in the recent prounouncement of the Saudi King, in which he strongly reiterated at least three times in a speech that the "wayward" (terrorists) have 30 days to turn themselves in or suffer the ultimate consequences (beheading I would assume), and he invoked the edict of the Ulema (religious authorities) because he made recourse to religion and religious teachings.

    I learned from Raphael Patai, that an Arab pronouncement only has full force if it is repeated and restated at least three times, otherwise it is taken by the listener as a face saving device of blowing off steam.

    There is real trouble afoot in the region, and a price to be paid (by the west) down the road.

    No doubt in my mind that the invasion of Iraq was in the service (a major part of the agenda) of the Right Wing Likkud and their Zionist supporters, believing that Arab manhood as evinced in Saddam and the Ba'ath party (including Syria) were a threat, they weren't, not at all.

    Arab leaders, pro forma, have to make noise about Israel and the Palestinians to maintain credibility in front of their people and the rest of the Arab world, but it is all noise and bluster, and the Israeli's should know that.

    Put The Arab Mind on your reading list, along with House of Saud House of Bush, God of Battles by William Partner and sorrows of Empire by Chalmers Johnson.

    The portends for the world, especially the west, are not good, America is going down the drain as it's constitution is being thrown into the trashcan of history, but Arabdom and Islam itself is being set back to the middle ages, (perhaps the intention) after a long struggle from the middle ages to modernity.

    It is as if the hands on the clock of civilization and progress are being run back (on purpose I suspect) back to the middle ages, the era of feudalism, the old mercantilism of Adam Smiths time, in which the only free trade that exists is of labor, which is the cheapest and only renewable resource that can be had at subsistence level.

    The feudal lords (oligarchs) and the rest of us, the serfs and military-civil service slaves.

    Finally, Pataii summarizes the Arab (Islamic) problem in the Chapter The Question of Arab Stagnation.

    I say it is also Islamic, because the same problem exists in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia.

    Malaysia spent a fortune building the Petras towers, but to build it they had to employ an Italian Architect and German and American Engineers and contractors, the manual labor was Malaysia.

    They could not repeat that in Saudi Arabia, because you can't hire an Arab to do manual labor, it is below their dignity.

    As regards the notion that the Arab world has FOREVER been ruled by despots, Jason exhibits his ignorance. No Arab ruler can rule without the concordance and assistance of the Ulema (religious authorities), not even in Egypt, and their despotism is extremely limited.

    Saudi Arab, and other Arab countries have as heritage not despotism but a form of Libertarianism, anarchial societies based on kinship groups, in which loyalty is first and foremost towards the clan or tribe.

    The Arabs have a saying: I against my brother, my brother and I against my cousin, my cousin, brothers and myself against the world (or stranger or foreigner or alien) which could be nothing more than the tribe that lives in the next village.

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