…they learned from this little book published in 1976.
Using the “tag surfer” feature of WordPress, I found a posting on justice4lebanon.wordpress.com/ where Dave discusses The Arab Mind by Raphael Patai.
Here’s a review written in 2004, when the book was having a powerful impact on American war-waging in the middle east: http://www.guardian.co.uk/elsewhere/journalist/story/0,7792,1223525,00.html
The title of the review is: “Its Best Use is as a Doorstop.” Zing!
Brian Whitaker, author of the review, begins by quoting a few paragraphs from the book, replacing the word Arab with the word African, which makes it apparent and appalling that the book is egregiously racist.
Example (the author of the review is quoting the book):
“In the African 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, African hostility will vent itself indiscriminately on all outsiders.”
The review goes on to say:
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.
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”. It is even used as a textbook for officers at the JFK special warfare school in Fort Bragg.
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.
I’ll overlook that gratuitous insult of the U.S. military, as I think everyone knows that there are plenty of fine minds there. Anyway, I do like my books free of academic jargon.
In contrast, opinions of Patai’s book among Middle East experts at US universities are almost universally scathing. “The best use for this volume, if any, is as a doorstop,” one commented. “The book is old, and a thoroughly discredited form of scholarship,” said another.
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”.
Patai asserts, for example, that Arabs “hate” the west.
He backs up this claim with two quotations: one from a book published in the mid-50s (“Most westerners have simply no inkling of how deep and fierce is the hate, especially of the west, that has gripped the modernising Arab”), and another from Bernard Lewis – currently the neocons’ favourite historian – referring to the mood of “many, if not most Arabs” in 1955 (just before the Suez crisis).
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)”.
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.
I took a look at the book on Amazon.com, just to see if I was way off the mark when I called it a “little book.” It’s 466 pages, so I guess it’s a medium-sized book.
One of the customer reviews caught my eye. Snippet:
For example, did you know that in Arabic there is no word for child? There is only words for boys and girls. Just goes to show you how pervasive the segregation of the sexes are in their culture. Also, there is no future tense in the Arabic Language. Also, Arabs don’t plan activities in advance, they don’t even have a word for “punctual” in Arabic.
Okay, well, if you read that in the book, that gives me a pretty good idea of the scholarship involved in the writing. The above three facts are incorrect. There are several words for “child” and “children,” there is a future tense, and there is a term for punctual.