"The Arab Mind",
a review by Carroll Quigley in The American Anthropologist,
Vol. 76 , pp. 396-397,
of a book:
THE ARAB MIND,
by Raphael Patai.
Charles Scribner's Sons: New York, 1973
"The Arab Mind"
The Arab Mind.
By RAPHAEL PATAI.
New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1973. vii + 376 pp., 3 appendices,
notes, index. $12.50 (cloth).
Reviewed by Carroll Quigley
Raphael Patai is well qualified to write a book on the cognitive
assumptions and basic personality traits of the Arabic-speaking peoples.
After he took his doctorate in Near East studies at the University of
Budapest in 1933, he lived for fifteen years in Palestine. During this
residence, he took a second doctoral degree, in Arabic language and
culture, at the University of Jerusalem, engaged in anthropological
research in the area, and taught Arabic studies there. He came to the
United States in 1947 on a Viking Fund Fellowship and has lived in this
country since, with frequent visits to the Levant. He has written or
edited some ten books on the subject, including the esteemed Golden
River to Golden Road: Society, Culture, and Change in the Middle East
(third edition, 1969). After 1955, he was director of the HRAF project
on Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, edited the three handbooks on these
countries, and compiled the bibliographical volume dealing with them.
About fifteen years ago, considerable skepticism was expressed on
the value of books dealing with the "basic personality" or "national
psychology" of social groups. In recent years, however, we have advanced
a long way on several aspects of the subject, especially cognitive
linguistics and developmental psychology, and this volume is fully aware
of this recent work. After defining his subject, Patai begins with an
examination of basic elements of the problem: child-rearing practices,
the cognitive elements of the Arabic language, the "Bedouin Substratum,"
sexual values and practices in relation to family structure and
behavior, the "Islamic Component," and the less rational forces in Arab
personality. This is followed by two chapters on symbolic arts of
expression and the subconscious nexus of relationships among cultural
ambivalence, social dichotomy, marginality, and alienation in Arab life
(all related to bilingualism), and four chapters on the role played by
the Arab mind in contemporary problems, such as unity and conflict in
the Arab world, conflict resolution and the futility of innumerable
"Summit Conferences" among the leaders of Arab countries, the problem of
Arab stagnation since 1517, and the accelerating rate of Westernization
in the postcolonial period.
The only weak points in this picture are the brevity of the early
chapters and the fact that the chapter on art, music, and literature is
largely descriptive and not fully integrated with the main theme.
Otherwise, the volume is outstanding. The author displays his keen
awareness of the history of the Arabic-Islamic tradition, with proper
recognition of the persistent and powerful influence of the pre-Islamic
period, and skillfully digs beneath surface appearances to find the
deeper roots and underlying interrelations of apparently contradictory
superficial traits. For example, he demonstrates clearly the role played
by needless conflict in creating solidarity in a society whose social
and family patterns are brittle and whose political institutions are
weak, and traces it back to the pre-Islamic disruption of Arabic society
in the period A.D. 300-650.
Patai uses evidence drawn from a wide range of sources over many
centuries, chiefly from Arab writers, but also from foreign observers of
all periods, and from his own experiences with the language and the
peoples. The last few chapters of the book provide a good, but brief,
survey of recent Arabic writings on contemporary problems of the Middle
East, especially in international affairs, since 1948. Throughout, Patai
maintains a sympathetic, objective attitude toward his subject and seeks
to establish how Arabs perceive, evaluate, and react to experience by
actions, words, and psychic responses. Much of the evidence is so
suggestive of materials for further discussion and theory on Middle East
problems that I should like to try it out with academic discussion
groups. There are almost six hundred notes (some are inconvenient to
use, i.e., when an "op. cit." has to be trailed backward through several
chapters and several hundred notes). But the book itself is a real
challenge to the piecemeal and symptom-treating approaches on narrow
issues that economic development and social reconstruction experts have
been trying in that area in recent decades.