Books. On The Middle East. Reading and Writing.

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booksMy Library of Middle Eastern books. My other  books, mostly on military history  are  all over the House. We are thinking of downsizing in the next year or so. What do I do with my books? I love books, even if I don’t read all of them cover to cover. Who actually reads books these days? With internet and the social media, why read a book when you can get distilled wisdom is less than 25 words ( or is  it letters)? I took some books to the local library and saw that they were promptly put out to sell so I bought and  brought them back home. I put some on the shelf of my community library and saw that no one read them so I brought them back as well. My books are all in English. My Arabic is not good enough to read the Arabic books and frankly, as a number of Arab intellectuals have pointed out, the Arab world puts out very little worth reading in any language. One survey puts it at 6 pages a year and another at .9 books a year. The Bookstalls tend to be filled with religious tracts of little validity or usefulness for the average reader.

Cairo-book-stall-1-225x300

Cairo book stall.

According to one Arab source when the French invaded Egypt in 1798 they were amused to see that the Egyptians piled their  books horizontally, up as seen above, and the French showed them it was better to put to stack them vertically.  But it should be pointed out that this is a primary cultural attribute of the Arabs,  as most semiti people, to cling to oral traditions in preference to the written word.

On the other hand, the West puts out a huge amount of books on the Arab world and Islam, but in the English language the  majority are unreadable, written in some sort of academic Foceaultean double speak that makes no sense to the reader.  Few if anyone reads them, even the reviewers tend to skip through them. But then that is not the purpose for writing in academia these days. It is the requirement to meet the academic institutional requirement for “literary production.”

For Example; one article in post modernist writing, intended as a parody but accepted by Dissent magazine as a serious piece of  work.

The eclipse of linearity effectuated by postmodernity,
then, necessitates a new approach to the creation of modes
of liberatory/expressive praxis. The monologic and repres-
sive dominance of traditional “texts” (i.e., books) has
been decentered by a dialogic discourse in which the
“texts” of popular culture have assumed their rightful
place. This has enormous implications for cultural and
social theory. A journal like Dissent, instead of exploring
the question of whether socialism is really dead, would make
a greater contribution to postmodern discourse by exploring
the question of whether Elvis is really dead. This I hope
to demonstrate in a future study.

I really prefer the old books on the Middle East. I buy them whenever I can. They are so much better written, with a clarity and parsimonious selection of words and description, yet so much more colorful and delightful to read.  Sometimes they are given away because the institution has the politically correct and  necessary leftish doctrine that the “orientalists” (the older Western writers on Islam or the Middle East) are not relevant and somehow subversive.   The older era writers, without the condescension so common in modern writers,  write in a more simple to understand language , yet with wisdom based on their long experience, and the depth of their academic research. I still agree with the remark of our foreign service professional, Ambassador Talcott Seelye, when asked what recent books he had read on the Middle East, he responded none because none were worth reading.

Lewis-Bernard

Dr Bernard Lewis  preeminent American Historian/ orientalist of the Middle East. All his books, especially the early ones, are  must reads. The bete noire of Edward Said

Of course there have been a few good  new ones, but the percentage is exceedingly low and they tend to be largely ignored by Academia. So many books on the Middle East published in the last decade seem to be written by obscurists or angry Western left wing apologists for Islamist  terror and  Arab society dysfunctionality. The ironic confluence of the “black and the Red”  (radical Left and Right) are a feature of todays Middle Eastern writers. The Noah Chomsky types,  blaming western imperialism or zionism for the  Islamist terrorism,  are frequently featured pontificating in the  “quality press” or liberal media. Then on there other side, the new isolationists determined to withdraw from the world and roll up our shores.

There is a deep set conviction among the leftish Academics and government officials that  they are the barrier against mob violence being potentially perpetrated by the great unwashed helots  against Muslims and  Islam. The irony is that these lefties would be the first  to get their throats cut by the Islamist fanatics,  but they feel secure in their  university campuses and gated communities, knowing they are defended by the American soldiers those origin and culture they frequently disparage.

The divide today is the pro zionists and pro Arab/Islamists. There is very little in between. Generally one is on one side or the other. Books are reviewed by the first tenet…is he/she pro zionist or proArab, an Islamophobe or Islamophile?  Once defined, even if the subject has little to do with the Palestinian issue, the book will be judged by the author’s supposed proclivities. To be sure I have my own beliefs based on many years observing, reading, and listening. I tended to draw my conclusions based on what  Arab peoples say and do rather than what the   “post modern”scholars write.

At a conference some time back a professor friend of mine,  well integrated into the politically correct side of Middle east studies, advised to never write for any of the Daniel Pipes publications because “my reputation would be ruined.” He meant well I’m sure, but my philosophy is that if you are far away from the flagpole of Academia and the hubs  of Government, you have a tough time being read or heard. I am not on the PBS/NPR media shortlist, therefore when an opportunity arises such as a long filmed interview with Al Jazeera ( not at all my favorite Arab network), I take it.

at beach

Having too much fun at the beach to move closer to the flagpole. Even a cold cloudy day at the Beach is better than the best day in Washington DC.

I have made clear in previous posts that the problems of the Arab/Islamist world  are mostly  of their own making.  The thinking among the  Arab intellectuals tends to be , as the great American foreign service officer Hume Horan put it (tactfully), traditionalist and illusionary;   a compulsion to blame others for their own problems. (See  Hume Horan  http://www.meforum.org/512/those-young-arab-muslims-and-us)    As the Iraqi historian, Ali al Wardi  wrote, the Arabs are in love with the sound of their own voice. Appeals to a deep emotive chord,  overwhelms reason.

The two books that anyone beginning to study the Middle East and Arab world must begin their study with are ;

Caravan by Carleton Coon, a masterfully written book that lays out the mosaic of Islamic/ Middle Eastern culture and geography, and the Arab Mind by Rapheal Patai.  ( I wrote a forward to the last two editions). This book drives Western Arab/ Islamist apologists crazy. They can’t seem to assuage  their  compulsion  to  trash the book. This despite the fact that every attribute  attributed to the Arab society by Patai has been surfaced and reinforced by almost every Arab writer writing on the Arab society.  I read, almost daily, Arab writers ruefully commenting on  one or another of the traits depicted by Patai.   My professor at the American University of Beirut, Fuad Khuri   skillfully dissected the problems of Arab society in the sixties. one vignette……

 

fuad khuri

Dr  Fuad Khuri anthropologist and one of my favorite professors

Professor Khuri asked the class…..” have ever seen  a pickup basketball game with all the players being Arab?” Many students raised their hands. Khuri then asked ..” what did you see that was unique?” Of course there a number of answers, none to Khuri’s satisfaction. Khuri continued, “when an Arab player gets the ball does he pass it to a team mate? No he does not. He dribbles down the court to make the shot himself. There is never teamwork. Everyone wants to be the star, the canter of attention.”

Coon Carleton StevenspataiA

Carleton Coon …………………………..and Rapheal Patai

Actually Ibn Khaldun, the famous Arab historian of the   century wrote the same thing about the characteristic of the Arab bedouin.  However  when Patai wrote about individuality it is stereotyping . The Arab proverb explains it best. “Better a mat of my own that a house shared.”

But the attitude toward the Patai book  is just one of hundreds  of examples of the rank hypocrisy that  permeates too much of the Middle Eastern scholarly community. A particularly blatant one is their contradictory approach to women’s rights in the Islamic world.  A recent article by  Tarek Fatah in the Toronto Sun  ( 16 Feb) hits the nail on the head.  While always ready to excoriate any possible infringement of women’s rights in the Western world they regularly give a pass to the Islamist or Arab society. As he wrote ” Left -wing orientalists  see Muslims as a particular species, not yet ready for secular ideals.” Or as a few will maintain, Muslim women happily trade their freedom for the warm embrace of security. What security one wonders?

So why so much angst among Arab intellectuals and Western academics of the Edward Said cult?

Note. Edward Said, an  Christian American Arab and ersatz Palestinian, has, over the years, become the demigod of the Leftish academics. His book called Orientalism is the true gospel of these teachers of Middle Eastern politics and culture.

edward-said-2-sized

Dr Edward Said Theatre critic and  Middle Eastern  gadfly

Having cogitated on why the Patai  book arouses so much ire among the scholarly arbiters of  Middle Eastern history and politics,  I have reached the only conclusion possible, which is that the fact that Patai was a Hungarian Jew and an Israeli. How could a Hungarian Jew living in Israel accurately depict the Arab culture?  Especially galling to the Arab apologists are the 26 pages on Arab sexual habits.

No doubt there are some attributes Patai depicted  that are declining in relevance, and his observations were mostly of Palestinian Arab culture, but the reality is that it still stands as the best book on Arab culture ever written. A Moroccan young lady  ( advanced degree in Islamic studies) and I have  communicated with over the years she having becoming acquainted with me over the internet because she was so impressed by the accuracy of the Patai book,  and she noticed I had written a forward to it.  My experience has been that most Arabs, when you discuss the attributes depicted in the book point  by point ( without mentioning the book) will enthusiastically agree with them.

Much more on this at http://www.meforum.org/636/the-arab-mind-revisited.

But this blog is not just about Rapheal Patai. Rather it is about books on the Middle East. and the fact that few are worth reading. Last night I went through the list of books on the Barnes and Nobel web site about the  Iraqi war. The vast majority were about someone’s experience in his of her time in Iraq. mostly fairly short  and personal.  Then there were the tendentious and turgid writing by the people who hated Bush, were seething with anger because he was elected president. They used the unfortunate aspects of the Iraqi war  to vilify his motives.The Left and the Right have combined to create a “fact” chiseled in stone that the war was at best a mistake and at worse a nefarious evil plot  by “neocons” ( read Jewish here) for a vast array of  reasons.

 

Even those few who defend the liberation/invasion of Iraq, fault the demobilization of the army and the destruction of the Ba’ath party. I was there in the period june 2003 to Dec 2004 and spoke often with Ambassador Hume Horan, our most experienced and able Foreign service officer, a famous arabist of the old school as previously mentioned. His point, obvious to anyone who wished to see the truth was that there was no army to call back. The return of  he mostly Shi’a rank and file who had suffered under Sunni officer leadership is problematic at best.

015_12

Republican Guard building near camp victory

The military bases has  been torn down with every amenity, sinks, toilets, cables torn away and stolen, in addition to the damage  they suffered from US bombing. As Horan kept repeating there was no army to restore. But he died in 2004 and his eloquence and superb  knowledge of the Arab world is not here to refute the  conventional wisdom. The Ba’ath party was a cancer deeply imbedded in the Sunni Iraqi society  and a central aspect of Sunni Arab triumphalism. It had to be torn out completely by the roots. Nothing short of that would have been acceptable to the 75% of the population, the Kurds and Shi’a Arab leadership. How was the US to house, feed, pay, and retrain the pick up reconstituted Iraqi army.  How loyal to the shi’a government would the Sunni Ba’ath officers be.  Would the Shi’a soldiers fight against their Shi’a brethren like Muqtada al-Sadr? All questions that are never part of the Guru  analysis of the What ifs.

latrine

Typical military barracks latrine after looters got them . The army disappeared.

But more on this at a later date

 

 

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About Tex

Retired artillery colonel, many years in a number of positions in the Arab world. Graduate of the US Military Academy and the American University of Beirut. MA in Arab studies from the American University in Beirut along with 18 years as Middle East Seminar Director at the JFK Special Warfare Center and School, Served in Vietnam with 1st Inf Division, Assignments in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, plus service with Trucial Oman Scouts in the Persian Gulf. Traveled to every Arab country on the map including Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.
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3 Responses to Books. On The Middle East. Reading and Writing.

  1. theresa DeAtkine says:

    Please finish the Title

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    Like

  2. Drummond Grinalds says:

    Dear Col. Tex – My dad told me about your blog. I have been reading it over the past few years and enjoy checking in to see what you’re thinking. If you are looking for a good home for your books, I would gladly find some space at my house in Connecticut. Thanks again for all your posts.

    Best regards,

    Drummond Grinalds

    Like

    • Tex says:

      Dear Drommond
      is your dada John Grinalds of USMC fame? He was the first cadet to be on our way to USMA IN JULY 1955, crossing the Hudson rive on a ferry. If not never mind…I appreciate your kind words.
      Tex D

      Like

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