Term Paper: Arab Culture Understanding

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SAMPLE EXCERPT:

[. . .] (Qureshi, E. 2004)

This critique also refers to one of the essential problems in his works -- the assumption that Arab culture is homogenous.

In Patai's case, his methodology was itself based on a fatally flawed set of assumptions -- most importantly, that there is one entirely homogenous Arab culture, derived from nomadic Bedouin culture. This ignores both the diversity and history of a people and civilization that extends across dozens of countries, from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic, and the deeply rooted Arab culture of cities and agricultural communities. (ibid)

There are a host of criticisms of almost every aspect of the book. One area that has drawn wide range of criticism is the views on language. Patai says that because every noun in Arabic is either masculine or feminine "there are no words for 'child', 'baby', 'infant', and 'toddler' and so on." Patai argues that because of this linguistic structure, there are no child-rearing practices in Arab culture, only boy-rearing or girl-rearing. Therefore, the Arabs imprint their children with unusually sexist attitudes from the day they are born. It is incredible for someone who knows Arabic like Patai to make such statements of total mendacity in innocence. (Faisal A.A. 2003)

Criticism has also been extremely severe in the assumptions that the book makes abut language and the way that Arab people allegedly "think." This refers to Patais' assessment of the Arab language as a "flowery, poetic language" which shows a mentality that is prone to fantasy and, by implication, not able to deal with the factual world adequately. (GEORGE BUSH IS NOT LISTENING TO EDWARD) This is a serous accusation as it implies a negative comment and assessment of the Arab mind being in some sense "inferior." Other critics have taken this aspect further and accused Patai of being covertly and even overtly racist in his comments on the capabilities of the Arab mind. For example he states that "for the Arab mind it is of relatively little concern whether two past actions, events or situations recalled were simultaneous or whether one of them preceded the other. It is almost as if the past were one huge undifferentiated entity." (Faisal A.A. 2003)

This is obviously an incendiary assessment and one which has created a degree of animosity towards the book and a critical questioning of its validity. Other criticisms refer to Patais' references to force and humiliation as a means of controlling the Arab mind. "Patai's major claims are that force is the only thing that Arabs understand and that shame and humiliation -- especially sexual humiliation -- are the most profound weaknesses of the Arab world." (Milam, 2004)

The following are some extracts from the book which has raised critical concern and even condemnation.

"Why are most Arabs, unless forced by dire necessity to earn their livelihood with 'the sweat of their brow', so loath to undertake any work that dirties the hands?"

"The all-encompassing preoccupation with sex in the Arab mind emerges clearly in two manifestations ..."

"In the Arab view of human nature, no person is supposed to be able to maintain incessant, uninterrupted control over himself. Any event that is outside routine everyday occurrence can trigger such a loss of control ... Once aroused, Arab hostility will vent itself indiscriminately on all outsiders."

(Neo-cons and U.S. military study books depicting Muslims as subhuman)

Another problematic assertion for the book is that among Arab speakers talking "about what is not within the realm of the possible . . . serves as a substitute for achievement and accomplishment."

There are further and even more damaging critiques on the content of the book; including assertions about homosexuality and sexual mores. For example, in 'outlying areas', such as Siwa oasis in Egypt, Patai says, "homosexuality is the rule and practiced completely in the open." This unequivocal statement is based on accounts dating from 1935, 1936 and 1950, and, in a footnote, Patai concedes that they "need to be checked out by an anthropologically trained observer."

(Whitaker B. 2004)

Recently the book has also been implicated in the prison abuses at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq. Some critics such as Seymour Hirsh see the popularity of the book among the military as a factor in the sexual humiliation and abuse that was carried out in the prison. Many academics see the book in negative light and use it as an example of how not to understand the Arab culture and as an example of "bad, biased social science." (ibid)

To Dale Eickelman, a professor of anthropology at Dartmouth College, "The Arab Mind" is useful only as a negative example. "Once only, I used it in an introductory class as an anti-text to indicate the pitfalls of using psychological projections to elicit the characteristics of society and a nation," he said in a recent e-mail. Sondra Hale, a professor of anthropology and chair of the women's studies program at UCLA, seconds the notion. "He can no longer be taken seriously" ... (Qureshi, E. 2004)

However, there are some positive assessments of the work and aspects of the content. These include the hospitability of the Arabs and their generosity as well as their close-knit family structure. But these positive aspects are overwhelmed by the negative. The following quotation serves as a general example of the modern response to the book:

The Arab Mind relies so heavily on generalizations and statistics that it represents the Arab world as one inhabited by automatons who simply enact the roles that their culture and climate have designed for them. Patai's method seems to substantiate the claims of fundamentalist sheiks and pan-Arabist ideologues alike: Arabs are merely the instruments of a greater power, sometimes, like God, merciful; or sometimes, like the United States and its Zionist/imperialist colleagues, extremely cruel. (Smith L. 2004)

On the other hand, a much more positive response can be gleaned from the CIA HISTORICAL REVIEW PROGRAM RELEASE IN FULL 2 JULY 96. The following is a brief extract:

Raphael Patai's recent book, The Arab Mind, is a significant scholarly contribution to the field of national character research in general and, more specifically, to the understanding of Arab culture and national character. Further, the book implicitly suggests the relevance of national character research to intelligence analysis. It seems, therefore, both appropriate and useful to assess Patai's book in the following contexts:

(1) its contribution to the literature on the Arabs, (2) its status in terms of the evolutionary development of national character research as a field, and (3) both its relevance and that of national character research in general to intelligence analysis ... Patai's book is clearly the product of a profound knowledge of Arab civilization.

(CIA HISTORICAL REVIEW PROGRAM

RELEASE IN FULL

2 JULY 96)

Conclusion

The above discussion points to an undeniable fact -- understanding the Arab mind cannot be successfully achieved though simplistic generalizations, whether they be conservative or radical. The criticism of Patais' book indicates that understanding any culture, never mind one as diverse and complex as the Arab culture, demands a sophisticated critical methodology as well as academic insight, rigor and empathy, in order to reveal even some of the constituents of the accepted wisdom and philosophy of the Arab nation and culture.

Bibliography

Atkine, N.B. (2004) The Arab Mind revisited. Middle East Quarterly. Summer 2004. V11, 13.

CIA HISTORICAL REVIEW PROGRAM

RELEASE IN FULL

2 JULY 96)

Retrieved march 19, 2005. Web site: http://www.cia.gov/csi/kent_csi/docs/v18i3a06p_0001.htm

Cole, J. 2004. Racism and Orientalism in the Israeli Academy. Retrieved March 16, 2005. Web site: http://www.juancole.com/2004/12/racism-and-orientalism-in-israeli.html

Faisal A.A. (2003) The Arab Mind. Retrieved: March 19, 2005 from Arab Views. Web site: http://www.arabview.com/articles.asp?article=433

GEORGE BUSH IS NOT LISTENING TO EDWARD. Retrieved: March 19, 2005. Web site: http://www.blog-irish.com/jul19x26.htm

Nyquist, J.R. The Heart of the Arab World. .Retrieved March 18, 2005.Web site: http://www.financialsense.com/stormwatch/geo/pastanalysis/2004/1022.html

Neo-cons and U.S. military study books depicting Muslims as subhuman. Retrieved: March 18, 2005.Web site: http://newswire.indymedia.org/en/newswire/2004/06/804468.shtml

Qureshi, E. ( 2004) Misreading 'The Arab Mind' Retrieved March 17, 2005 from Boston Com. Web site: http://www.boston.com/news/globe/ideas/articles/2004/05/30/misreading_the_arab_mind?mode=PF

Patai R. The Arab Mind. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1973,

Smith L. (2004) Inside the Arab Mind. Retrieved: March 18, 2005 from Slate. Web site:

http://slate.msn.com/id/2101328/#ContinueArticle

Werner, L. The Arab mind. Retrieved March 18.2005 form the Jordan Times. Web site: http://www.jfjfp.org/news62/62werner.htm

Whitaker B. ( 2004) 'Its best use is as a doorstop' Retrieved March 18,2005 from The Gaurdian. Web site: http://www.guardian.co.uk/elsewhere/journalist/story/0,7792,1223525,00.html [END OF PREVIEW]

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