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a Short Guide to Understanding the Arab Mentality

Thinking Like an Arab

By Alan Caruba
Monday, March 6, 2006

If it hasn't occurred to most Americans by now, Arabs don't think like us. They see the world in very different terms. Rationality, logic, and common sense do not rate high among their priorities.

Not long ago, I had the opportunity to briefly work with Edward V. Badolato, a retired U.S. Marine Colonel with a distinguished career in government and private enterprise. Col. Badolato is a graduate of the U.S. Naval War College with several tours of duty in the Middle East, beginning in 1967 shortly after the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War. His tours took him to nearly every country in the Middle East. Following his retirement, he served as a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Energy in both the Reagan and Bush administrations (1984-89). As such, he was the principal architect of the government's readiness and response to terrorist threats to our energy infrastructure.

In 1980, he wrote a white paper, "Learning to Think like an Arab Muslim: a Short Guide to Understanding the Arab Mentality". I am going to provide a brief introduction to it. At only 14 pages, it is not a long document, but it succinctly explains why Americans and others in the West are encountering such difficulty understanding why Arab Muslims appear, by our standards, to be completely insane.

Why, for example, would people who believe they have the one, true religion, not hesitate to blow up mosques and other holy places? Why would they attack weddings and funerals? Why is beheading so popular among terrorists? Why would a few cartoons set off rioting and killing? And what does all this mean to us in terms of the threat it represents?

Badolato begins by describing Arabs as "a proud and sensitive people whose culture is mainly derived from three key factors: family, language, and religion." The Arab cultural system has existed for centuries and predates the introduction of Islam around 610 AD and its rapid spread after the death of Muhammad in 632 AD. "An Arab's commonly accepted view of the world (is) basically threatening and harsh."

Arab Muslims and presumably others because Islam has more than a billion adherents, divide the world between themselves and what they call Dar al Harb, literally, "the world of war." So, you are either a Muslim or you are an infidel and, by definition, a threat to Islam until you convert or are killed.

This may seem harsh, but true believers in Islam hold all other religions in contempt. The view of Judaism is psychopathic. Christians do not fare much better. The contempt for Hindus and Buddhists, religions deemed not to have "a book", completes the utter certitude of Muslims that they alone are truly religious.

You might feel that way, too, if you were compelled to pray five times a day, at dawn, midday, late afternoon, sunset, and nightfall. There are five prescribed prayers and all are in Arabic, a language Arabs will tell you is superior to all others. Verbal grandiosity is greatly applauded by Arabs. When facts are trumped by "ideas", however, you have entered Alice's bizarre Wonderland.

Badolato writes that, "An Arab's concept of the world has occasionally been described as a series of seven concentric circles with the individual Arab at the center. Thus, he has his family, an extended family or tribe, an immediate geographic region, and then his country. It is within the family that the psychology of the Muslim Arab is formed and observers have noted that, "the fluctuation between a loving mother and stern disciplinarian father can add to the complexity of growing up and often fosters schizoid personality traits." To put it another way, Arabs can go from hot to cold and back again so fast that it is bewildering. Arabs live in a black and white world with no shadings of grey.

Why do Arabs seem to be so violent? Conflict can be found in a family culture of competitiveness that is instilled at an early age. An old Arab saying aptly describes this. "I against my brother, my brother and I against our cousins, my brother, my cousins and I against the world." Add to this the way Arab history has been dominated "by warfare, domestic upheaval, and struggles against invasions from outside the Arab world" and you begin to grasp a mindset that will resist anything that is not Arab.

As Badolato describes it, it is an "almost visceral mistrust of any outside group or more specifically any Western state whose true ultimate intentions cannot readily be determined." For Arabs, their wars such as the conflict between Iraq and Iran in the 1980s really began at the battle of Qaddisiya over a thousand years ago!

The Islamic wars following the death of Mohammad led to the Sunni and Shiite divisions within Islam. It is a history of tension and conflict that literally dates back to the earliest years of Islam. Westerners might dismiss this by saying, "Get over it!" but the Arab mentality is totally rooted in the past.

And why not? Not one single word of the 114 surahs (chapters) of the Quran has been changed in fourteen centuries and they describe in detail the conduct of every hour of every day of an Arab Muslim's life. As Badolato describes it, "It is as if one single document contained our Constitution, our legal code, national education policy, business practices, inter-personal etiquette, and the Bible." Welcome to the seventh century AD!

What America and the West are up against are Islamic fundamentalists and countless sympathizers who would destroy us in a desperate effort to retain their Arab identity. Thus, when Palestinians elect Hamas, a terrorist organization, as their government, the West recoils, but the same is true throughout the Middle East and across northern Africa. In any election, Islamic fundamentalists would take control of the politics of these nations.

Their very identity as Arabs and/or Muslims is at stake. The validity of Islam as the one, true faith is at stake. "Huge segments of the population simply cannot cope with modernity and the social and political changes taking place."

What we see as an improvement in the lives of millions of Arabs, changes in their educational system, women's rights and their inclusion in the work force, improved literacy rates, better nutritional standards, advanced health and hygiene, all things that Westerners embrace, threaten Arabs. This explains why the Middle East has remained the most backward region of the world for centuries and why it now constitutes the greatest threat to the modern world.

Arab Muslims are not like us. They do not want to be like us. If they become more like us they will have to let go of a culture that both stunts their humanity and provides an odd, brutal security blanket at the same time.

For the West that leaves us with the same demand we made of Japan and Germany in the last century, unconditional surrender.

The complete text of Badolato's essay can be read at www.blackwaterusa.com/btw2004/articles/0503arabs.html

Alan Caruba of The National Anxiety Center maintains an Internet site at www.anxietycenter.com. Caruba writes a weekly column, "Warning Signs", posted on the site and excerpted widely on many others. Alan's new book, "Right Answers: Separating Fact from Fantasy" has been published by Merril Press. In 2003, a collection of his columns was published by Merril Press. Alan can be reached at: letters@canadafreepress.com

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