Culture and Conflict in the Middle East

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In an era of increasing interaction between the United States and the countries of the Middle East, it has become ever more important for Americans to understand the social forces that shape Middle Eastern cultures. Based on years of his own field research and the ethnographic reports of other scholars, anthropologist Philip Carl Salzman presents an incisive analysis of Middle Eastern culture that goes a long way toward explaining the gulf between Western and Middle Eastern cultural perspectives.

Salzman focuses on two basic principles of tribal organization that have become central principles of Middle Eastern life—balanced opposition (each group of whatever size and scope is opposed by a group of equal size and scope) and affiliation solidarity (always support those closer against those more distant). On the positive side, these pervasive structural principles support a decentralized social and political system based upon individual independence, autonomy, liberty, equality, and responsibility. But on the negative side, Salzman notes a pattern of contingent partisan loyalties, which results in an inbred orientation favoring particularism: an attitude of my tribe against the other tribe, my ethnic group against the different ethnic group, my religious community against another religious community. For each affiliation, there is always an enemy.

Salzman argues that the particularism of Middle Eastern culture precludes universalism, rule of law, and constitutionalism, which all involve the measuring of actions against general criteria, irrespective of the affiliation of the particular actors. The result of this relentless partisan framework of thought has been the apparently unending conflict, both internal and external, that characterizes the modern Middle East.

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What People Are Saying

Daniel Pipes
"Salzman, an anthropologist, has peered deeply into the social structure of Middle Eastern societies to develop an original, powerful, and persuasive theory about the reluctance of peoples from that region to accept modern ways. In a nutshell, he points out that they overwhelmingly divide into tribal members or the subjects of despotism; they are not citizens. The insights are deep and the implications plentiful. It's one the handful of most important books I've read during nearly four decades of studying the Middle East."--(Daniel Pipes, Director, Middle East Forum)
Stanley Kurtz
"[A] major event: the most penetrating, reliable, systematic, and theoretically sophisticated effort yet made to understand the Islamist challenge the United States is facing in cultural terms . . . .Learning how to understand and critique the Islamic Near East through a tribal lens will open up a new and smarter strategy for change. The way to begin is by picking up Salzman's Culture and Conflict in the Middle East."--(Stanley Kurtz, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, The Weekly Standard)
Donna Robinson Divine
"...argues that the confrontation that has erupted across the globe may have as many Arab as Islamic roots. Culture and Conflict in the Middle East defines the patterns intrinsic to Arab culture and shows how they shape behavior in ordinary daily interactions in the region as well as in broad-based political confrontations. This lucidly written study should be on the reading list of every introductory course on the Middle East. Salzman's book blends fascinating case studies with a deep understanding of how culture functions across time and space in the Middle East."--(Donna Robinson Divine, Morningstar Family Professor of Jewish Studies and Professor of Government, Smith College, author of Women Living Change and Politics and Society in Ottoman Palestine)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781591025870
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books
  • Publication date: 3/28/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 6.27 (w) x 9.28 (h) x 0.84 (d)

Meet the Author

Philip Carl Salzman (Montreal, Canada) is professor of anthropology at McGill University; the founding chair of the Commission on Nomadic Peoples of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences; the founding editor of Nomadic Peoples; and the author of Black Tents of Baluchistan; Pastoralism: Equality, Hierarchy, and the State; Thinking Anthropologically; and Understanding Culture.

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Table of Contents

Introduction     9
Making a Living in the Middle East: Life in the Valleys, Deserts, and Mountains     21
Friends and Enemies: Security and Defense in the Middle East     49
Defense and Offense: Honor and Rank in the Middle East     101
Turning toward the World: Tribal Organization and Predatory Expansion     131
Tribe and State: The Dynamics of Incompatibility     175
Root Causes: The Middle East Today and Tomorrow     197
References     213
Index     221
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