Author Topic: Book Review: The Arabs  (Read 822 times)

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M1911A1

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Book Review: The Arabs
« on: June 20, 2016, 03:39:19 PM »
The Orcas Island Review of Books

Lamb, David, The Arabs: Journeys Beyond the Mirage; Vintage Books (Random House), New York, 1988; paperback, with an introduction, and 333 pages of text which include acknowledgements, a bibliography, and an index.

An island friend, a semi-retired college professor whose subject is Middle-Eastern Studies, decided to go back to her roots. She had been born in Germany of Turkish parents, so she was comfortable in three separate cultures (and at least five languages). But since her widowed mother had relocated to the family’s native Istanbul, she decided to join her there, even though she had never before lived in Turkey or, indeed, anywhere in the Middle East.
While ridding herself of her household belongings, she mentioned that she was also discarding her library. My response was, of course, “Books? You’re throwing away books? How ‘bout throwing them my way?”
And that’s how I ended up with a three-foot-cube box full of the books which she valued the most, particularly while teaching her classes in Middle-Eastern Studies. That’s a lot of books, and I’m working through them slowly.
This is a review of the second one of them.

David Lamb, now deceased, was the Middle-East correspondent for the Los Angeles Times. He had travelled widely in the area, and had also lived there for many years, most recently in Cairo. He spoke and read Arabic with useful fluency, and he was on friendly terms with important government functionaries.
Lamb’s political stance, like the editorial policy of the paper for which he worked, was unabashedly Liberal, and maybe even Progressive. It served to make him somewhat tone deaf, when in this book he described the intentions and activities, and the results thereof, of the Western nations which had meddled in the Middle East.
Nevertheless, his political bias did not seem to materially affect his astute and perceptive analysis of the various Arab cultures through which he roamed, and of the Arab people themselves with whom he came into contact.

Although this book touches quite often on politics, in particular to lucidly explain the Islamic world’s conflicts with Israel and the US, it is more directly and extensively involved with the attitudes, thought patterns, biases, religious beliefs, and perceptions of the individual Arabs of each of the countries through which Lamb had travelled. His book addresses these features, and then thoroughly explains their manifestations, both in isolation and in relation to the non-Arab world.
The most important thing that this book offers us today is a direct and complete answer the question that all of us have asked over and over again: Why don’t the vast majority of self-styled “moderate” Arabs express their condemnation of the terrorism practiced by radical, “fundamentalist” Islam?
The answer to this question begins with the fact that the Arab world and the Islamic world do not actually coincide. Also, neither the Arab world nor the Islamic world is anything like the unified, monolithic political and social component that we of the West expect from our own political and social experience. Further, even the most cohesive Middle-East nation is neither politically nor culturally monolithic. Almost all of these effects are the direct result of the gerrymandering practiced in the past by the area’s European colonizers.
Further still, Arab culture favors paranoid speculation, capitalism, self-interest, and a strong disinclination to call attention to oneself. Thus, untested opinions are held close to the chest, the strongest social focus is upon amassing personal wealth, and neither consensus nor outspokenness are easily found.
There’s much more to the story than that, of course, and Lamb was very thorough in explaining it all, country by country and conflict by conflict. His writing is as entertaining as it is clarifying, and, although his book is moderately long, it’s an easy read.

Old though this book may be, and perhaps even biased, I suggest that it is not outdated, and still very useful. If one seeks to understand the Middle East and its people, Lamb’s very personal explorations do a very good job of explaining the thought patterns and attitudes which both the complete stranger and the casual visitor needs to know about but usually would not be allowed to clearly see.
Steve,
retired leathersmith and practical shooter


"Qui desiderat pacem, præparet bellum."

NorCalChuck

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Re: Book Review: The Arabs
« Reply #1 on: June 20, 2016, 06:41:04 PM »
So did it help you understand this craziness that we seem to have going on all around us today?
I am referring directly to extremism that causes one to sacrifice their life for martyrdom?
Is this belief really as simple as paradise and 70 some odd virgins???
There has to be more . . . . unless of course we are dealing with individuals that are just plain unhinged, so to speak.

Your thoughts as they relate to this particular book of course?
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M1911A1

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Re: Book Review: The Arabs
« Reply #2 on: June 20, 2016, 09:27:39 PM »
So did it help you understand this craziness that we seem to have going on all around us today?
I am referring directly to extremism that causes one to sacrifice their life for martyrdom?
Yes, it did.
He did a pretty good job of explaining the source of the extremism, and also why it is a small movement that remains detached from the many "mainstreams" (if one can call them that) of Islam.


Is this belief really as simple as paradise and 70 some odd virgins???
There has to be more . . . . unless of course we are dealing with individuals that are just plain unhinged, so to speak...
No, it's not simply paradise and virgins.
There are even rational causes for anger and terror, which Lamb covered pretty well.

That's not to say that terrorism was, and is, justified, but rather that there have been strong provocations, as well as an Arab perception that the US is more involved, and more to blame, than is the actual truth.
Steve,
retired leathersmith and practical shooter


"Qui desiderat pacem, præparet bellum."

Taurian

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Re: Book Review: The Arabs
« Reply #3 on: June 21, 2016, 07:05:36 AM »
Good review, Steve.

Your point on provocations brings the fact that no one country likes to be interfered with in their practices - especially by foreigners who are not aware of the county's practices, policies, and politics let alone religion(s).  Even if a foreigner is aware - they are not respectful because they tend to force their own practices, policies, and politics.

In religion, the concept of an afterlife is based on deception and supposition.  I cannot argue whether there is a heaven or a hell; I have not spoken to anyone who has visited and returned from those places.  Incentives for entering "heaven" are wide and varies from being a good boy that followed the Big 10 and shied away from the Big 7 (as I try to do) or to become a martyr and receive 27 virgins when you die.  Nobody has yet returned to verify that either one works.

They (Easterners) have their belief systems and we (Westerners) have our belief systems, and sometimes they actually agree with each other.  Multiculturalism only works if all parties agree on a middle ground that favors all cultures.  Obviously, Saudi Arabia is Muslim with its Islamic beginnings in Mecca, and has no religious freedom nor tolerance for other faiths (or lack of faith).

According to Wikipedia, "Saudi Arabia differs from other modern Muslim countries in being the only state "to have been created by jihad, the only one to claim the Quran as its constitution", and one of only four Muslim countries "to have escaped European imperialism."

In this sense alone, Muslims who adhere to their religion will never be able to assimilate into the U.S. unless they evacuate their belief system.
What most 21st Century Americans simply do not grasp is that the Constitution and Bill of Rights were not written to to give rights to the citizens of our then-new nation, but was instead written to tightly constrain the federal government.

M1911A1

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Re: Book Review: The Arabs
« Reply #4 on: June 21, 2016, 11:32:16 AM »
Religion changes over time: Compare the New Testament to the Old. Compare "modern" Christianity to the New Testament. Compare Christianity to Judaism.

Islam is a fairly new religion, and hasn't had the time to change as much as the older ones have. But in time, Islam will soften too. Indeed, we're already seeing that happen, if you compare Saudi Arabia and Iran to Kuwait, Algeria, or Morocco.

And, BTW, it's 72 virgins, not merely 27 of them. Let's not stint on our paradisiacal reward, or we'll run out of martyrs before we run out of virgins.
Steve,
retired leathersmith and practical shooter


"Qui desiderat pacem, præparet bellum."

Taurian

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Re: Book Review: The Arabs
« Reply #5 on: June 21, 2016, 11:47:33 AM »
And, BTW, it's 72 virgins, not merely 27 of them. Let's not stint on our paradisiacal reward, or we'll run out of martyrs before we run out of virgins.
Sorry! My dyslexia took over for a bit.   I would surely hate to short-change them of their paradisaical reward. Who am I to deny them the pursuit of an afterlife?
What most 21st Century Americans simply do not grasp is that the Constitution and Bill of Rights were not written to to give rights to the citizens of our then-new nation, but was instead written to tightly constrain the federal government.