Jun 13, Charles J rated it it was amazing Looking at other reviews of The Arab Mind, it appears readers divide into two camps. The first group, for whom ideology matters more than reality, hate this book. The second group, largely military, for whom their lives depend on an accurate perception of reality, love this book. This divergence alone suggests the book is worth reading. The Arab Mind was once an obscure book by an obscure man. Its rise to semi-prominence began in , when during the Iraq War the American military, desperately short of soldiers who knew anything about Arab culture, but desperately needing to insert thousands of soldiers into that culture, began informally distributing the book to officers.
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De Atkine Middle East Quarterly , pp. Journalist Seymour Hersh wrote a report in The New Yorker, entitled "The Gray Zone," describing the abuse of prisoners as the outcome of a deliberate policy. Hersh also made reference to a book, The Arab Mind, by the cultural anthropologist Raphael Patai : The notion that Arabs are particularly vulnerable to sexual humiliation became a talking point among pro-war Washington conservatives in the months before the March invasion of Iraq.
One book that was frequently cited was The Arab Mind, a study of Arab culture and psychology, first published in , by Raphael Patai, a cultural anthropologist who taught at, among other universities, Columbia and Princeton, and who died in The book includes a twenty-five-page chapter on Arabs and sex, depicting sex as a taboo vested with shame and repression.
Army Intelligence in Abu Ghraib prison. Only Lee Smith, writing in Slate. Edward Said had denounced Patai twenty-five years earlier, in Orientalism;  in academe, The Arab Mind long ago entered the list of disapproved texts. It was easy to point an accusing finger at the book again. Patai himself was also a convenient target. A Hungarian-born Jew and lifelong Zionist, he lived in British-mandated Palestine from to , and in , earned the first doctorate ever awarded by the Hebrew University.
For many antiwar conspiracy theorists, the idea of someone like Patai as intellectual father of the Abu Ghraib scandal proved irresistible. Norvell B. Kennedy Special Warfare School. De Atkine wrote that he assigned the book to military personnel in his own courses because students found its cultural insights useful in explaining behavior they encountered on assignment. The realization by Americans that culture counts explains the commercial success of several cultural handbooks, addressing the very issues that concerned Patai.
In view of the events of —including another bloody year of heightened conflict between Palestinians and Israelis and the horrendous terrorist assault on the United States on September 11—there is a critical need to bring this seminal study of the modal Arab personality to the attention of policymakers, scholars, and the general public.
In the wake of the September 11 attack, there was a torrent of commentary on "why" such an assault took place, and on the motivation and mindset of the terrorists. Much of this commentary was either ill-informed or agenda-driven. A number of U. Middle East scholars attributed the attack to a simple matter of imbalance in the American approach to the perennial Arab-Israeli conflict. This facile explanation did nothing to improve the credibility of the community of Middle East scholars in the United States, already much diminished by their misreading of the Arab world and their reaction to the U.
To begin a process of understanding the seemingly irrational hatred that motivated the World Trade Center attackers, one must understand the social and cultural environment in which they lived and the modal personality traits that make them susceptible to engaging in terrorist actions. This book does a great deal to further that understanding. In fact, it is essential reading. At the institution where I teach military officers, The Arab Mind forms the basis of my cultural instruction, complemented by my own experiences of some twenty-five years living in, studying, or teaching about the Middle East.
Raphael Patai prefaces his edition of The Arab Mind with the sentence, "When it comes to the Arabs, I must admit to an incurable romanticism. I first became interested in the Arab world in an elective course at the United States Military Academy many years ago, and my military career thereafter was divided between assignments with regular army artillery units and tours in the Middle East.
It was during my preparatory study at the American University of Beirut that I was introduced to the writings of Raphael Patai.
Over the past twelve years, I have also briefed hundreds of military teams being deployed to the Middle East. When returning from the Middle East, my students, as well as the members of these teams, invariably comment on the paramount usefulness of the cultural instruction in their assignments. In doing so they validate the analysis and descriptions offered by Raphael Patai. The officers returning from the Arab world describe the cultural barriers they encounter as by far the most difficult to navigate, far beyond those of political perceptions.
Thinking back on it, I recall many occasions on which I was perplexed by actions or behavior on the part of my Arab hosts—actions and behavior that would have been perfectly understandable had I read The Arab Mind. I have hence emphasized to my students that there must be a combination of observation and study to begin a process of understanding another culture. Simply observing a culture through the prism of our own beliefs and cultural worldview leads to many misconceptions.
More often than not, this results in a form of cultural shock that can be totally debilitating to a foreigner working with Arabs. Less common, but equally non-productive, is the soldier who becomes caught up in a culture he views as idyllic and "goes native.
Mines and Warts In writing about a culture, one must tread a sensibility minefield, and none is more treacherous than that of the Middle East. In pursuit of intellectual honesty and a true-to-life depiction of a people, some less-than-appealing traits will surface.
All cultures and peoples have their warts. One trait I have observed in Arab society—which has become more pronounced over the years—is an extreme sensitivity to any critical depiction of Arab culture, no matter how gently the adverse factors are presented.
In his postscript to the edition of The Arab Mind, Patai mentions a spate of self-critical assessments of Arab society by Arab intellectuals in the wake of the "new Arab" said to have emerged after the war; but this tendency to self-criticize proved to be illusory.
While we in the United States constantly criticize our society and leadership, similar introspection is rarely seen in the Arab world today. When criticism is voiced, it is usually in terms of a condemnation of Arab acceptance of some aspect of Western culture.
Criticism also often emanates from outside the Arab region and, despite the so-called globalization of communication, only the elite have access to it.
This is particularly true when political systems or ideology are discussed. In no small way, this tendency has led to the current state of affairs in the Arab world. For this reason, as well as the fact that Patai was not an Arab, some scholars are dismissive of The Arab Mind, terming it stereotyped in its portrayal of Arab personality traits. In part, this stems from the postmodernist philosophy of a recent generation of scholars who have been inculcated with the currently fashionable idea of cultural and moral relativism.
Much of the American political science writing on the Middle East today is jargon- and agenda-laden, bordering on the indecipherable. A fixation on race, class, and gender has had a destructive effect on Middle East scholarship. It is a real task to find suitable recent texts that are scholarly and sound in content, but also readable. In fact, some of the best and most useful writing on the Arab world has been by outsiders, mostly Europeans, especially the French and British.
Many of the best and most illuminating works were written decades ago. The idea that outsiders cannot assess another culture is patently foolish. The best study done on American society—to take one famous example—was written some years ago by the French visitor, Alexis de Tocqueville, and it still holds mostly true today. The empathy and warmth of Raphael Patai toward the Arab people are evident throughout this book.
There is neither animus nor rancor nor condescension. Arabs are portrayed as people who, like all people, have virtues and vices. It is a lamentable fact that friendships such as this one would be almost impossible to conceive of at the present time.
Along with his empathy for and understanding of Arab culture, Patai has a powerfully keen faculty for observation. In a passage in his autobiographical Journeyman in Jerusalem,  he describes in minute detail an Arab date juice vendor and the way he dispenses his juice. It is this ability to observe and appreciate detail that enables Patai to grasp the significance of the gestures, nuances of speech, and behavior patterns of Arabs.
To most Americans, the subtlety of Arab culture is bewildering and incomprehensible. Yet, if one is to work productively in the region, one must have an understanding of these cultural traits. After all, it has been about thirty years since the majority of The Arab Mind was written. The short answer is that it has not aged at all. The analysis is just as prescient and on-the-mark now as on the day it was written.
One could even make the argument that, in fact, many of the traits described have become more pronounced. For instance, Islamist demagogues have skillfully used the lure of the Arabic language, so carefully explained by Patai as a powerful motivator, to galvanize the streets in this era of the Islamic revival, in a way even the great orator Abdul Nasser could not achieve. Blustery Arabic Patai devoted a large portion of this book to the Arabic language, its powerful appeal, as well as its inhibiting effects.
The proneness to exaggeration he describes was amply displayed in the Gulf war by the exhortations of Saddam Hussein to the Arabs in the "mother of all battles. The ferocity of the Arab depiction of Iraqi prowess had American experts convinced that there would be thousands of American casualties. Even when the war was turning into a humiliating rout, the "Arab street" was loath to accept this reality as fact.
More recently, the same pattern has been seen in the Arab adoption of Osama bin Laden as a new Saladin who, with insulting and derogatory language in his description of American martial qualities, conveyed a sense of invincibility and power that has subsequently been shown to be largely imaginary.
Saddam Hussein used similar bluster prior to the Gulf war. Patai traces this custom, which continues to the present era, back to pre-Islamic days. It is also an apt example of the Arab tendency to substitute words for action and a desired outcome for a less palatable reality, or to indulge in wishful thinking—all of which are reflected in the numerous historical examples Patai provides.
Thus the American incursion into the Gulf in became the seventh crusade and was frequently referred to as another Western and Christian attempt to occupy the Holy Land of Islam—a belief galvanizing the current crop of Middle Eastern terrorists. Meanwhile, Israel is frequently referred to as a "crusader state. The Arab-against-Arab division in the Gulf war is but one example of a continuing Arab condition. Juxtaposed against the ideal of Arab unity is the present reality of twenty-two divided states, each with the self-interest of its ruling family or elite group paramount in policy decisions.
In the s, it was the "progressive states" versus the "reactionary states," which pitted Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Algeria, and Libya against Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Morocco. Today it is secular forces versus the Islamists, a conflict to one degree or another being played out in every Arab state. Even when facing a common enemy—usually Israel in this era, but also Iran or Turkey—mutual distrust and intra-Arab hostility prevail.
In the Iraqi-Iranian war, for example, Arab support was generally limited to financial help—with provisions for repayment, as the angry Saddam Hussein learned after the war. In , when Turkey threatened Syria with armed conflict if the leader of the nationalistic Kurdish movement in Turkey continued to be supported by Syria, it was very clear that Syria would find itself standing alone.
Thus the Asad regime was forced to make a humiliating submission to Turkish demands. While their conflict with Israel has been a bloody one over the years, it cannot approach the level of death and destruction incurred in Palestinian wars against Lebanese, Syrians, and Jordanians.
Despite this great violence, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict retains its place as the primary galvanizing issue for the "Arab street. After centuries of certitude that their civilization was superior—a belief evolving from the very poor impression the European crusaders made on the Arabs and fully justified by the reality—the Arab self-image was rudely shattered by the easy French conquest of Egypt in A declining Middle East had been far surpassed by a revitalized Europe.
The initial shock among the Arab elite was followed by a period of limited emulation, at least in the form of Western political and social values. As the Western political hold on the Arabs receded, Western cultural influence increased, which in many ways was even more irritating to the Arab elite—particularly in terms of the technology invasion that at every level was a daily reminder of the inability of the Middle East to compete.
Clearly enthusiastic users of technology, particularly in war weaponry, the Arabs nevertheless remain a lagging producer of technology.
Partially, as Patai demonstrates, this is a reaction to the "jinn" devil of Western culture as it appears to the Arab of the twenty-first century. While recognizing the superiority of Western technology, the traditional Arab sees Western culture as destructive to his way of life; hence the ever-present battle between modernity and modernism: Can a society modernize without the secular lifestyle that appears to accompany the process?
Adherents of the Islamist ideology, espousing a politicized, radical Islam, see no contradiction between a seventh-century theocracy and twenty-first century technology and would answer yes; however, history does not support such a view in the Middle Eastern context.
The Arab Mind
By Raphael Patai. Charles Scribners and Sons, New York, The major objectives of social science research involving the topics of "national character" or "personality and culture" are: 1 the prediction of the type of character that a given society is likely to produce, based upon the sum total of its culture and social structure and 2 the demonstration of how character or personality, in turn, impacts upon the very culture and social structure which has shaped it. Further, the book implicitly suggests the relevance of national character research to intelligence analysis. The book is well organized and, for a scholarly study, especially interestingly and elegantly written. The author does a masterful job of integrating his knowledge of the many facets of the culture, such as the language, the arts and literature, and child-rearing practices, and then delineating the ways that these cultural variables influence personality development.
The Arab Mind Revisited
Inside The Arab Mind