Letters

Responses to Ann Marlowe on Raphael Patai's influential book "The Arab Mind" run the gamut from healthy skepticism to outright sarcasm -- "Hello! Ms. Marlowe, it's called a discourse."


Salon Staff
June 11, 2004 6:45AM (UTC)

[Read "Sex, violence and 'The Arab Mind,'" by Ann Marlowe.]

I won't even go near Anne Marlowe as a (still) war supporter. She clearly has perception problems. But I have to take issue with her "shock and dismay." Four pages of head shaking over cliches and yet she seems never to have heard of Edward Said. Hello! Ms. Marlowe, it's called a discourse. The discourse is Orientalism and it has a long, varied and continuing history in Western thought. Let's hope her book is better informed, but I won't hold my breath.

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-- David Jensen

How anyone can talk about the "casual bigotries" of Americans and then unblushingly go on about "The Western preoccupation with the sexual aspects of Arab culture" is the only mystery here. She complains that "the Arabs Patai studied lived in Morocco, Lebanon, Iraq and Somalia. It is rather like writing 'The North American Mind'," but doesn't hesitate in treating us to something called "Westerner's troubled feelings." Casual bigotries indeed.

And for the record, Arabs did not discover astronomy or Algebra as she stated. They got it from India where they were busy bringing the glories of Islam to the Infidel Hindus.

-- Emery Nelson

Ms. Marlowe's critique of the "Arab Mind" was excellent.

However, while seeming to show respect for the Arab, her support of the Iraq war and her reasoning are, to me, suspect. I fail to see how democracy can be forced on a nation by bombs and occupation. Sure, Saddam was a bad guy, but he was our bad guy and he probably would have remained so if he obeyed America instead of defying us. If he remained our guy then his treatment of the Iraqis would be of no concern to us, as was demonstrated during the Iraq/Iran war.

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The treatment of Iraqi prisoners is not very different than our treatment of American prisoners. They too are beaten, raped and humiliated regularly.

The rescue of the Iraqi people from Saddam fantasy is, to me, false since we are doing nothing to save people in the Sudan and we did nothing about Rwanda. There are many tyrants in the world that we do nothing about and quite a few are our own creations. These bad guys, however, lack oil, are not as weak as Saddam was and don't make the mistake of thumbing their noses at the Bushies.

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Perhaps Ms. Marlowe should examine her own motivation and prejudices toward Arabs which may be a part of why her critique of the book "The Arab Mind" rings so true.

-- Jeanne Doyle

Ms. Marlowe's discovery that her white, non-Jewish colleagues find Arabs only "fat" and "sexist" -- and completely dismiss even the possibility that some of them might be physically attractive -- should have made her aware of what war is actually about. If her colleagues could not admit that an Arab man could be handsome, then what does that reveal about their prejudices and also about their inability to engage Arabs as individual people?

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Having studied Arabic for a few years, I can say that this whole belief that one can decode the Arab culture by studying the language without actually using it is ridiculous. Having read Patai's book in the past, I can say categorically that none of his linguistic claims are true. "Zawj" is a routinely used word. Languages like French and Spanish and Hebrew, for that matter, have only gendered words. I would be curious to know how devotees of "The Arab Mind" would understand the Iranian culture if they knew that in the Persian language, there is no gender at all. Not even a distinction between he and she.

The architects of the war in Iraq believe that the Arab world is incapable of being engaged, and thus there is no way to deal with it except to invade it and impose a social order upon it. Moreover, the hatred of Arab people which Ms. Marlowe observed among her colleagues could just as easily be applied to Jews and other groups.

Ultimately, it implies that the lives of certain types of human beings have less value than others, and from that we get the new American gulag which stretches from Cuba to Afghanistan to Abu Ghraib. All of this is just an extension of the "Indian cleanings" of the 19th century. Brutal, unjustifiable and gratuitous.

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-- Arthur C. Hurwitz

Having lived half of my adult life abroad, I find it astonishing that conservative Americans could refer to people from other cultures as "sexually repressed." Isn't this the country where a single woman's breast on television provoked a huge national scandal?

It seems to me ANY person would feel humiliated at being subjected involuntarily to the behavior depicted in the Abu Ghraib photos.

I am also not sure it is quite appropriate to speak of the "Arab world" as a single entity. I am no expert, but from what my Arabic-speaking friends have told me, while the Egyptian dialect is widely understood because of its large film industry, Arabic speakers from other regions may sometimes have as much difficulty understanding one another as an American would a Scotsman.

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-- Issai Chizen

Why, indeed, does Ms. Marlowe support the war? Are we supposed to be impressed that she foolishly closed her eyes to the lies that brought us there, yet deigns to give some belated attention to the racism of this war? And she is only able to recognize it through some sort of belated self-recognition in Iraqis ("Hey, they look like Jews, we shouldn't be racist")? I'm sorry it took her so long to notice, and I feel even more sorry for those who don't look enough like "us" to be free of "our" racism ... but really, this tripe is not what we pay to read on Salon. Send her over to the National Review, maybe they'll be more interested in her "confessions of a war supporter." I'm not.

-- Anne M.

One would think it safe to say that any group who felt compelled to invent the burka, who regard the clitorectomy as an acceptable form of female impulse control and who would allow school girls to be incinerated alive by a raging inferno rather than permit them to scandalously use the boys' exit, is one that would be pretty difficult to slander in the area of sex phobias.

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Patai certainly painted with what today would be regarded as a distastefully broad brush. And nothing excuses some of the incredibly stupid things this country has done at the urging of neoconservatives. Even so, it's clearly more than fair to say that, despite Ms. Marlowe's protests, a very large segment of Arab society is so sexophobic as to make the religious right in our own country look like rank sensualists by comparison.

Even Jerry Falwell doesn't want to behead homosexuals. That is correct, isn't it?

-- Michael Fonda

Ann Marlowe's pique with Patai's book elucidates some of the stereotypical thinking of the neocons. However, she is blinded in her support of the Iraq war. Yes, Saddam was a tyrant and despot, but how does this justify our marching into Iraq to free its people? We have torn their country asunder, brought on terrible instability, and they hate us. Needless to say, there are many despots in various nations in the world, yet we don't bother to free their people. Could it be that we were misled by false claims of the Bush administration about WMD and al-Qaida in Iraq? Of course, lucrative contracts coming out of the invasion didn't have anything to do with Cheney's insistence that we go, either. I think Ms. Marlowe is grasping at straws to justify our incursion into Iraq. I am, nonetheless, happy that she explores our thinking about Arabs.

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-- Sesanders


Salon Staff

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