The Arab Mindby Raphael Patai
First published in 1973, revised in 1983, and updated in 2007 with new demographic information about the Arab world, The Arab Mind takes readers on a journey through the societies and peoples of a complex and volatile region. This sensitive study explores the historical origins of Arab nationalism, the distinctive rhetorical style of Arabic speakers and its effect on politics, traditional attitudes toward child-reading practices, the status of women, the beauty of Arabic literature, and much more.
Since Sept 11, 2001, the book's lessons have been misconstrued by some but have proven indispensable to those trying to truly understand the roots of the major political conflicts of our time. In 2010 the book is more relevant than ever. Patai's sympathetic but critical depiction of Arab culture explores the continuing role of the Bedouin values of honor and courage in modern Arab culture, inter-Arab conflict and the aspiration toward unity, and how anti-Western attitudes conflated with anti-modernization have led to stagnation in much of the Arab world.
Patai, a prominent anthropologist and historian, drew both on his research and his personal experience to produce this indispensable work in the field of Middle Eastern studies. With an updated forward by Norvell B. DeAtkine, former director of Middle East studies at the JFK Special Warfare School, The Arab Mind remains a relevant and crucial masterpiece of scholarship for anyone seeking to understand this multifaceted culture today.
Reviews: "I took this book to Baghdad for my military assignment and left it there with friends who continue to use it to help inform their experiences. The book helped me understand what I was seeing with my own eyes and helped me avoid mis-steps that probably would have been misinterpreted. The book rang true with my experiences and helped me understand the Iraqi people, who I found to be generally good and noble. "
"I have lived in the Middle East, on and off, for four years, and no book explained the Arab mind as well as Raphael Patai's. Written over 30 years ago, it still rings true in so many aspects, and definitely helps explain the cultural clashes that still occur and slow down the process of coexisting. Raphael Patai's love of Arabia and all things Arabic is very obvious throughout his work. Even so, Patai managed to be objective and to portray the good and the bad in Arab culture. Too many authors take one road or the other, allowing personal feelings and thoughts to encroach on the necessary objectivity. Patai, like a true sociologist, presents how a culture was formed, in language easily understandable to the Western mind. . . . "The Arab Mind should nonetheless be mandatory reading for all government workers in the Middle East, as it is truly an indispensible guide through a culture that has been around longer than our own". 1672
"When you read this book, you'll become interested in sociology as an interesting branch of human sciences. Patai is a genius. His book is by far the best in this respect. For Arab readers: Read the book and in no time you'll find yourselves putting names to the abundant examples Patai cites. The book deals with several interesting traits that most Arabs share in their inherent characters. These include the Arab unawareness of time, their tendency to speak more than they can actually deliver, their fixation with sex and their keenness to preserve Bedouin values which include preserving a group's honor by preserving the chastity of its female members. Even though the book is academic, the style is entertaining as it alternates between theories and real life examples to illustrate them. The book, a classic, is certainly worth a read. Try it!"-- Review by an Arab reader
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Meet the Author
Raphael Patai was a prolific cultural anthroplogist, folklorist, historian, and Biblical scholar. He published more than 600 articles and thirty books, including The Arab Mind, The Jewish Mind, Arab Folktales from Palestine and Israel, and Jadid al-Islam: The Jewish "New Muslims" of Meshed (the latter two published posthumously). Dr. Patai began studying Arabic at the age of eighteen in his native Hungary. In his early twenties, he moved to Palestine and lived there for more than fifteen years before coming to the United States, where he taught at Princeton, Columbia, and other universities. He died in 1996. He was the founding editor of Encyclopedia of Jewish Folklore and Traditions, finally published in 2013
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Here is an extract that sums up the general gist of the book: "The typical Arab male remains a patient, good-natured, but also volatile and excitable, naive and yet shrewd villager." Take a look at that sentence. Read it several times. Mull it over. Now read this one: "Arabs are particularly vulnerable to sexual humiliation." At this moment, you should be realizing just how absolutely wrong all of this is. First of all, the book is called "The Arab Mind", and thus we are singularizing a population of around 300 million people as being of One Mind, like they have all suddenly become a hive-minded group of cyborgs who are all consistently, or at least "typically", patient, excitable, naive, whatever. Second of all, the book is replete with sentences like that second one above. It makes my gut churn. It triggers my gag reflex. It is one of the most ill-founded pieces of turd to ever be presented as "statistically accurate". I think I'd be hard pressed to find anyone who ISN'T vulnerable to sexual humiliation, wouldn't you say? The author claims somewhere in his ridiculous preface that he is writing this book out of a love for Arab people and culture and a desire for understanding them more deeply. Well, Mr. Patai: if your idea of celebrating a culture and a people is to write a hefty account on why that said culture and people are nice, sweet and inferior in every way to Western civilizations, you are at least sixty years behind modern times. A book like this written in the forties or fifties might have been avant-garde; a book like this written in the seventies, revised in the eighties, and currently assigned as textbooks to the JFK Special Warfare Center and School is just baffling. I highly recommend reading this book if you either want to understand just how full of BS it is, or if you want to believe its viewpoints and look like an ignorant moron. Rated 1 star out of 5, since zero stars isn't available.
I read this book, and I must say the depiction and analysis of Arab males was right on point. Arab males, at least those who grow up in traditional Arab Muslim culture, are sex-obsessed and deeply fear women. There is a strong undercurrent of sexual aggression and sexual humiliation in all their relationships -- not just with women but with the world in general. Because of the separation of the sexes, and the way Arab society inculcates that the woman is 'the eternal other' -- to be feared, distrusted, and loathed -- the Arab male psychologically displaces all his aggressions onto women and onto sexuality, and never develops a healthy self-esteem or healthy sexuality. This results almost inevitably in a deep, complicated inner rage towards any sign of sexual pleasure or joy observed in others -- especially in women, who are of course the 'eternal other'. The deep inner resentment the Arab male feels as a result of his sexual frustration is directed towards the female sex, and often towards individual females, as a form of sexual rage. This also skews how the Arab male interacts with the world. Since he is sexually alienated and frustrated to the core, and driven by sexual rage, he is sexually-obsessed and does not have the psychological balance required to have a normal working life. Therefore Arab males place a low emphasis on actually working for a living, and place a higher priority on loafing or on activities that can 'boil off' or assuage some of their sexual rage -- such as violence, scapegoating other groups 'like the Jews, or even internecine Palestinian violence where Hamas and Fattah scapegoat each other', and terrorism. The Arab tendency towards using terror is nothing but a cowardly way for the psychologically immature Arab male to dissipate some of his embedded, intrinsic Arab sexual rage.
I don't even think this lousy piece of work deserves a half star. The bias of the Israeli author is evident all over the book. The author is primarily intereseted in making the reader believe that ALL Arabs are sub-humans and don't deserve to be treated equally with other nations. It's sad that such garbage can even find a publisher to publish such trash. I have a lot of Arab Muslim and Christian friends and a lof Jewish friends as well. I do not see any difference between the two. As a matter of fact, I find them very polite and interesting. I wonder where did the author get his biased opinion from.
The book carries forward racist stereotypes about 400 Million people who call themselves Arabs (consider for example the author's obsession with views on sex to illustrate stereotypes about Arab males.) Had this book been written about the 'MIND' of any other ethnicity it would be branded and seen for what it is: Racist Documentary. Ironic that Patai, an Israeli, is capable of generalizing about 400 Million people when he himself never set foot in an Arab country. Very sad.
I'm glad this book is back in print. Patai's analysis of Arab culture and practices goes a long way to explaining recent events. I read the original edition years ago and found it fascinating. Like de Toqueville's study of the American people, it will stand the test of time. Anyone interested in current events in the Middle East should read this book.
The civilian population in the Arab World had hoped that the `invisible bond' during the union of Syria and Egypt in 1958 would continue, flourish, advance, and expand to include more ready countries, neighbouring or not neighbouring to Syria or Egypt.
The dissolution of the Union (United Arab Republic) that happened as rapidly as three years after turned the masses of, notably, the young generation into a society slackening already with dashed and shattered hopes.
During that period - 1962 to 1967 - the overriding theme was this "if the charismatic Nasser was not able to unite the main two Arab countries (Syria and Egypt) therefore a United Arab Country is no longer possible or safeguarded.'
Actually the young Arabs, held by a strange vertigo and shocked at the seen of disintegrating Union, gave way to despair.
It is wrong to regard the three years of Union to have been anti-Semitism, nor were such feelings ever spreading. (The late Mr Patai was Israeli Arabist).
Nor the Union was heading to `Islamise' the state.
Two main challenging nightmares were then the overriding preoccupation of the UAR to deal with 1)The Communists in Syria and 2) the Islamite in Egypt (and to a lesser extent in Syria).
I was at school at the time and I remember how much the students respected and likened Nasser to Otto von Bismarck - the Iron Chancellor whose main objective was to turn Prussia into one viable State within the German Federation.
For the hard-pressed unionists, UAR was indeed an untreated pearl that was prematurely lost. The irony of the matter is that up to now we do not seem to have seen the Arab Think Tank making in depth analysis, emotions free case study, of what went wrong and why the Union did not hold.
This is a book that pretends to use the tools of social anthropology to understand the ¿defining characteristics¿ of Arab culture. As a Palestinian Arab who spent the first 16 years of his life in an Arab country, I was interested in seeing what this is all about. ¿The Arab Mind¿ is a bulky book that addresses many areas of culture and human life. However whereas the conclusions drawn are far-reaching, the evidence relied upon is meager and anecdotal at best. Much of what is in there is radically different from my experience as an Arab. On its pages, you find the results of a survey here, or an anecdote concerning some Arab acquaintance of his there, but very little systematic studies dealing with the entire Arab world. Indeed, one can find examples to ¿prove¿ just about anything, but that is not sufficient to draw the kind of general conclusions this book reaches. This is compounded by Patai¿s apparent lack of deep understanding of Arab culture, and this can be seen in some of his other books (e.g. ¿Arab Folktales from Palestine and Israel¿). In these days when the West is at odds with the Arab world it is important to read good books that provide accurate understanding of the ¿other¿. Of course, cultural differences do exist, but confronted with a similar situation, will a British person, say, react differently than a French person, or will they perhaps both exhibit a similar human response? This question has no clear answer ¿ ¿depends on the situation¿ ¿ one might guess, but Patai claims that Arabs would react to every situation in a distinct ¿Arab¿ way that differs from every other culture. This assertion I find to be extreme. Given how this book has been written years ago and has probably been used in training foreign service personnel, it is no wonder that relations between the US and the Arab world have spiraled to the depths they exist in today. Towards the end of the book, the conclusions become even more extreme. After chapters on child rearing, the Arabic language, attitudes to sex, what he terms ¿the Bedouin layer¿, the book suddenly shifts to drawing serious conclusions about an Arab ¿hatred for the West¿ and its perceived reasons (what he calls ¿present inferiority and past glory¿). His analysis is very simplistic and outright wrong. In my life I have never met an Arab person who hates the West or who has a problem with the West for no reason. While Patai is perhaps correct in that other countries like India have terminated their quarrel with the West despite having reasons to feel ¿inferior¿, he fails to note the obvious fact that Arabs still have legitimate grievances against the West, namely, the West still occupies significant portions of Arab land, supports cruel Arab dictators, and supports Israel which is actively seeking the destruction of Palestinians. These grievances are legitimate and any rational human being (Arab or non-Arab) in the same position would react similarly. While the book contains many interesting anecdotes, I think it is a bad book from which to learn about Arab culture.