Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Book Review - The Arab Mind by Raphael Patai

The Arab Mind by Raphael Patai - Book Review

The Arab Mind by Raphael Patai is over 450 pages long. Patai has a love-hate relationsip with Arab and Muslims. He at times appears enthralled with Muslims and describes Islam as a ‘great’ religion. That, in itself, makes Patai suspect. We know Islam is a cult, intolerant and destructive. Why all these ‘great’ scholars of Islam pretend otherwise makes their analysis suspect. They could say ‘major religion’, but they always want to attach that ‘great’ to Islam. Patai overanalyzes, sometimes to the point of absurdity. Dirt is dirt no matter how microscopically it is studied. Like many other ‘scholars’ like John Esposito, Patai tries to apply a multilayered veneer of complexity to many things I consider basic. But there are some observations that I want to share with you from his book The Arab Mind. What Patai concludes you may already know or suspect:


1) No ‘child’ In Arabic - there is no word for ‘child’. There are only words for boys and girls. Patai relates this to casual conversation. “How many children do you have?” cannot be asked. First you ask how many boys. That is what is important to the Arab male and female adult. Girls are secondary. Obviously in a male dominated world like Islam, this is to be expected. Male children are honored, female children are tolerated at best. Genocide of female children is still practised but is greatly diminished compared to decades ago.
2) Lactation – Boys are eagerly fed by their mother from their breasts for TWO to THREE years, while girls are weaned at ONE or TWO years.
3) Crying Boys – A crying boy quickly receives attention while a crying girl is often ignored. “This expectation is further enforced by another childhood experience of which many male infants partake in the first year of their lives….This comforting and soothing of the baby boy often takes the form of handling his genitals. Mother, grandmother, other relatives and visitors, will play with the penis of the boy, not only to soothe him, but also to make him smile.”
4) Transition to Adulthood – Boys, at about age 4, begin to interact with the male world much more and do not have the protective bosom of their mother to always protect them. Girls, who recognize their inferior status to males very early, must learn domestic duties quickly as they are married off at a very young age, as young as nine. When you begin menstruation, you are marriage material.
5) Bottom Line – being a girl sucks in the Arab world.


Muslims believe Arabic is the superior language, and the Arabs are the superior Muslims. This indoctrination starts early for all Arab children. Exaggerration, rhetoricism, and repetition are common among Arabs. In other words, lying and deceit are easy in a language that most Westerners consider full of ambiguous words and ‘chest pounding.’ ‘What I said is not what I mean’ is a concise summary of the Arabic language. Patai seems to be enthralled with the lyrical nature of the Arabic language.


Arabs, and Muslims in general, simply do not relate to punctuality and the modern concepts of project timelines and commitments. This is most commonly seen in their fatalism statement, ‘God willing,’ as though they have no real control of the situation.


The Arabs believe they are superiors to other races. Tribalism is paramount. Inbreeding is endemic: “..the most preferred marriage is that between children of two brothers; such a marriage means tha all the children will be members of the same extended family and thus increase its numbers, power, prestige, and honor. A young man has both the right and the obligation to marry his father’s brother’s daughter (bint’aamm)..” This is why birth defects are abnormally high in the Arab world.


They’re obsessed with it.


Even more obsessed. Arab males see women as temptresses.


So obsessed with honor and losing face (wajh), they will lie to each other to protect face (‘wajh.’) Patai does have a fascinating story how Nasser lied to King Hussein during the disastrous 1967 war against Israel. He kept sending telegrams to Hussein saying everything was fine and Hussein should attack, totally denying the complete destruction of Egypt’s airpower. Patai suggests Hussein would have retreated and avoided Jordan’s utter defeat by Israel if he had known the truth. Nasser even suggested that they say the US and Britain joined Israel in their surprise air attack so they would not be seen being humiliated by tiny Israel. All around, denial and cover up. Of course, shame, which is an intense concern throughout an Arab’s life, drives behavior. Decisions are made or not made solely on the perceived risk that an act would bring shame upon the Arab, his family and tribe. This is solved by the ‘blame game.’ Whatever an Arab does or does not do is the fault of some other. I do not need to point out that Western civilization is the accused for the Arab’s failure today.


Arabs hate manual labor regardless of its wages. It’s a complete mindset. Of course, this is one of many reasons why you don’t see a rush of Asian manufacturers to build factories in Arab countries. Arabs are lazy. They do not have the work ethics you see in other cultures. According to Patai, Arabs believe ‘work is a curse.’


Dysfunctional between sexes. Women’s virginity is paramount. As we all know, women are often blamed for being raped and bringing shame on the family. Men love to brag and excitedly discuss their sexual conquests. Women in private also discuss in great detail sex, often in front of their children. Although frank discussions between parents and children (a birds and bees discussion) are unheard of.

Homosexuality is common among men. The man who receives is degraded and considered a woman. For the top, it is considered virile. Patai didn’t go into oral sex attitudes.


“Whatever man is or does and whatever happens to him is directly willed by Allah.” Fatalism is the mindset and nothing can change the outcome. Besides, the afterlife will be glorious for the deserving Muslim.


Arabs tend to have extreme emotional reactions to adverse events. A calm Arab can turn suddenly violent and furious much to the shock of Westerners who witness it.


No life images. How much geometric patterns can you be in awe of? Apparently a lot, Patai is pretty enthusiastic about patterns.


The Arab Mind is always in conflict. Islam vs West, and tribal and state. They hate the West for its secularism and wide open morals, but they also envy the technological advances of the West.

Patai did have this observation about how Arabs (Muslims) are always having internecine conflicts and how Muhammad used it to his advantage. I point this out because this is the strategy, creating internecine conflict in the Islamic world, that has been favorably discussed on Jihad Watch on several occasions. This passage is insightful:

Fighting among the Arab tribes in pre-Islamic times was such a permanent feature of life that the Prophet Muhammad found it necessary to proclaim a period of ‘holy truce’ for four months every year, during which all fighting was forbidden and which were set aside for religious observances and trading. An important contributing factor to Muhammad’s success in rallying the people of the Arabian Peninsula around the banner of the new religion he preached was the fact that widespread feuding had weakened the Arab tribes and made it impossible for them to unite against him…inter-tribal animosity was such that the tribes were unable to put up serious resistance to the Muslim army led by the Prophet.


Arabs long for ‘the old days’ of mythical Caliphates and superiority in the world. They obsess about history and keep grievances.


There is nothing new here, although Patai does discuss that it has been raging since the 1950s. All these people saying recent events have cause the Islamic countries to hate the West do not know history. It has been a hatred that has been ongoing for 1300 years.

I do not recommend this book. It overanalyzes and goes into far greater detail than anyone but a pschologist needs to know or understand.


The Truth Teller said...

I use Patai's book as a reference. Sometimes, it can be dry, though.

What I like about the book is that it came out so far before 9/11. Therefore, the author, who loved all things "Araby," could not be accused of slanting the information. I like to read sections, not straight through. Sometimes I surprise Islamic apologists with undeniable facts; the apologists have a hard time disuputing Patai.

For the above reasons, I have posted Patai's book in the "Deeper Understanding" on my blog's book list. But Patai's book is not the place to start learning about Islam, though it does give insights as to why the Arabs were so vulnerable to MTP's teachings.

Great job on this review, by the way. Very thorough!

Dag said...

For a fictionalised version of ethnography/ethnology one can turn the pages of Leon Uris, The Haj, an utterly trashy piece of fiction that is also very thoroughly researched. One of my favorite lines runs roughly: "I was ten before I realized my sister's name isn't Shame."

We must learn about our enemy, regardless of how puerile he is. I argue that to know our enemy we must first know ourselves. So, it's not a whole loss after all. We'll know ourselves by comparison, and I like to think we'll not only prevail but become stonger in the process.

Whether Patai's book is dry on not, after such a well-written review I'm tempted to read it anyway.

Anonymous said...

I am an arab and muslem, and i do not see the west as an enemy, my siters were giving the same right i got, sex is not the only thing we live for, and if i write a book about the west mind, i am not going write about gays and lesebians, and how fathers sleep with their kids in the west.

we can go to the extreems so let us think wisely what is the point behand this book? is it for world peace. i am soory

Anonymous said...

It's good to see an Arab & Muslim joining in the discussion. Too often postings amount to abuse
The point any publishing house has in printing a book about the Arab world is to feed the thirst westerners have to understand behaviour that just does not make sense to us. The points highlighted in the review are consistent with the perceived difficulties Arab migrants have in integrating with Australian society.My own observation: A Four year old boy was dominating the playground- pushing girls off equipment, riding aggressively around on his bike without regard for the life and limb of other users.As his mother did nothing,I remonstrated with him to ease up as he was frightening the little ones. He listened to me(not essentially a bad child), then shrugged and said "they are only girls" Then zoomed off. The other mothers were naturally cold to this woman who was raising a bully

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