In 2004 an editor of a publishing company called me up and asked if I would write an introduction to the Arab Mind by Raphael Patai. I was thrilled. It has always been one of my favorite books and the most informative book one can read before deploying to an assignment requiring working with Arabs. I told the editor that many Arabs and academics disliked the book intensely…to my mind mostly because it hit nerves…… Usually a great indicator of unvarnished truth. At that time and for years previous to that troops deploying to the Middle East were given the Arab Pablum briefings, e.g., don’t use your left hand to eat, don’t show the soles of your shoes to your guests, don’t talk to them about their women ,etc. Generally a recitation of proscriptions and prescriptions, but nothing deeper than that. Patai went to the heart of these dos and don’t’s and explained the whys. My previous 8 years of experience in the Arab world, and that of most of my compatriots aligned perfectly with the findings of Patai in the book.
The Middle East Quarterly published an article, which included my forward to the Patai book and some of the usual left wing snotty reviews, It is at https://www.meforum.org/636/the-arab-mind-revisited
My article “Why Arabs Lose Wars,” (after 20 years still popular among advisors working with Arab militaries) was an analysis of the cultural attributes surfaced by Patai, particularly those which adversely affected their military competence. All of it was based on my on-the -ground observations. The wisdom of that book has aged only a little and not at all in the essentials. I did a presentation at the ASMEA conference entitled “Why Arabs Lose Wars Twenty Years Later,” and my findings were that very little if anything had changed. That should not be a surprise to anyone given how slow cultures, especially Arab cultures, change, particularly military cultures.
The book was doing fairly well in sales as a plethora of articles came out after 9/11 in the “why do they hate us so much” category with much of the Western academic community using the inevitable fall back argument, Zionism, imperialism, colonialism, i.e., it was our fault. Another frequently heard argument by the PBS/NPR short list commentators was the plaintive “Islam means peace.” Therefore the terrorists “weren’t real Muslims.” As George Orwell so acutely observed, the arguments were so stupid only an intellectual could believe them.
But what really gave it a boost however was Seymour Hersh, the muckraker, writing that the Arab Mind was a torture manual. It was presented as the manual for torture used by the guards at the Abu Graib. The use of Patai’s book as a torture manual was entirely fabricated of course, but it was the perfect weapon for use against the “war of convenience,” as the cognoscenti termed the Iraqi war. The reservist soldiers who were in charge of the Iraqi prisoners, and perpetrated the acts, which became a cause celebre in the liberal circles, were a part of an undisciplined unit with poor training, and absolutely no leadership whatsoever. The issues had nothing to do with the Arab Mind, but as we know so well now, truth is malleable and belongs exclusively to those who own the media.
However it did create a small rush to purchase the book by those who believed anything that pushed the Bush’s war mantra. Not that I profited. I was paid 50$ to write the forward. In the deluge of trenchant criticism leveled against the book I, mostly escaped being blamed, my guess being that as a retired military officer I really was considered too stupid to know what I was doing. Only retired military officers who later teach at Ivy League schools are reluctantly welcomed into the cold and treacherous embrace of academia.
Seymour called me one time, hoping to get some more dirt. It was a very short conversation. Basically I told him to stuff it. But the Abu Ghraib story has become embedded in the narrative of the Iraqi war.
In writing the forward I not only had to satisfy the editors at the publisher house, but also Patai’s daughters who both taught at eastern liberal colleges. They quite rightly stoutly defended their father, which must be tough in those leftish institutions.
The book was once on the Pentagon’s reading list, but as old soldiers like me know, too much of our military leadership, who leap fearlessly from airplanes and sport chest full of medals, nevertheless wilt under the accusatory eye of a small blonde reporter from the New Yorker, or the disdain of academia, so regretfully the book has disappeared from those lists.
But the bottom line is this: Patai was a Hungarian Jew. That stuck in the craw of many of the most fierce critics, especially those of the Edward Said academic cult. Never mind that Patai also wrote a book called the Jewish Mind. But the elephant in the room and one never mentioned in the scathing reviews was that a Jew wrote the book, not only a Jew but a Zionist as well. It was one that will never be mentioned in the derogatory reviews of the book. Yet at the bottom of the criticism his origin was the mainspring. It betrays one of the grievous faults of the Arab elite….an inability to blame themselves for their continuing decline into irrelevance, using outdated shibboleths to deflect their responsibility, depending upon Western academic facilitators to protect their incompetence. It also exposes the mediocre quality much of the U.S. Middle East academic community in which many still live in a stilted leftish, modish, version of the world, in sync with the current zeitgeist.
Just my contrarian view.
oh well back to the Washington DC circus . They are about to bring in the clowns.