Every now and then, I light up with joy over some book that really makes a huge difference in my understanding. Raphael Patai’s, The Arab Mind; Hatherleigh Press; ISBN: 1-57826-117-1; Revised Edition, 2002, was one of those books.
It never was hard to understand the philosophical principles of Islam. In fact, one of the reasons for its success, in my view, is its simplicity welded into its ability to govern ALL aspects of an advocate's life. Still, something was missing.
It is one thing to break down some body like Islam into its components. It is a very Western thing to do, and it is how we understand so much. Much, much harder, however, is figuring out HOW THESE PRINCIPLES GET INTO KIDS AND DEFORM THEM INTO MUSLIMS IN GENERAL AND JIHADISTS IN PARTICULAR. Then came Patai.
Books are like movies--few do I reread any more than reseeing most movies. Not so with Patai's book. There have been things new on every page on each reading, and rereading has been easy because the book has been so well written.
To follow is a portion (excerpts) of that review. All of the review is on our website 6th Column Against Jihad.
As I dug ever deeper into Islam after the events of 11 September 2001, I realized that my understanding of Islam needed something to supplement it, to make it more complete. Of course, I had needed to understand Islam itself. For this, I turned, among other places, to the books of Robert Spencer (Islam Unveiled and Onward Muslim Soldiers), Ibn Warraq (Why I Am Not a Muslim), and others. As valuable as these were, and they were, and are, magnificent, I needed something else, something qualitatively different.
After I read Raphael Patai's, The Arab Mind, I knew that I had found an exceptionally important explanation of the other component of the Islam problem: the Arab mind itself. In Dr. Patai, I had found an explanation of how Islam works on the Arab mind to produce its characteristic persona. In fact, I had found a key to being able to develop an explanation of how Islam takes normal human beings and turns them into killer robots (kill-bots) set relentlessly onto jihad. I regard this book as one of the most important books I have found about Islam and Arabs.
Dr. Patai wrote before the disease of "political correctness," spawned in the philosophical sewers of the 1960s and 1970s, had taken hold. Nowadays, he would be accused of racial stereotyping by writing about the Arab personality. However, he defined his subject and the boundaries of his examination. He asked, "What can be common to a group is a specific feature, or a set of specific features, that social psychologists and anthropologists have reference to when they talk about national character or modal personality?" He adds, "The basis of modal personality or national character studies is the observation that human beings who grow up in a common environment exhibit, beyond their individual differences, a strong common factor in their personality."
It is this modal personality or national character that he addresses. "I would, therefore, venture to define national character as the sum total of the motives, traits, beliefs, and values shared by the plurality in a national population" (his emphasis). That is why and how he can identify, study, and conceptualize the Arab mind, and he is as correct today as he ever was, regardless of the tenor of our times. This is the basis for our recognizing and separating peoples as belonging to nationalities, races, genders, and so on, based on common characteristics, and none of this involves the devaluation of any member because of it. The context of who is an Arab is very simple: "Persons whose mother tongue is Arabic may be brought up in a non-Arab culture (e.g., in French culture in North Africa), and still consider themselves Arabs and be so considered by others." Identity comes from language for these people. Islam and the Arabic language are seamlessly fused: Islam shaped Arabic; Arabic shapes Islam; and both shape Arabs.
This book is so rich with material that it cannot be contained in any review...I will focus on some of the key elements of the book which opened my mind to the nature of the Arab.
Arabs put exceptionally high value on their language, and they are exceptionally influenced by it. Dr. Patai likens Arabic to music because of how extensively is the language linked to the emotions of Arabs. Arabs tend to be wordy, or, as Dr. Patai says, they engage extensively in "rhetoricism." Linked seamlessly to rhetoricism is their proneness to verbal exaggeration and overemphasis. If we wish someone a "speedy recovery," the Arab will tend to say "May there be upon you nothing but health, if Allah wills." Our mutually exchanged "Good Morning" becomes something like "May your day be prosperous," and you likely will receive in response, "May your day be prosperous and blessed." During the Arab-Israeli War of 1948, the Iraqi Prime Minister proclaimed to the Arab joint chiefs that all they needed were a few brooms to drive the Jews into the sea. We know, however, what really happened.
Dr. Patai explains this exaggeration as the mental phenomenon "... [I]n which the desired event is represented as an accomplished fact." This is pure primacy of consciousness epistemology which says something is so because I want it. Baghdad Bob was a shamelessly typical user of Arab exaggeration and overemphasis [in essence, "Pay no attention to those American tanks behind me. There are no Americans in Baghdad, and we have vanquished the infidels totally."]. He sounded comical to us, but Baghdad Bob was deadly serious. If we do not learn how Arabs think, we can never deal with them effectively.
Read all of the review, minus the excerpts, here.