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The Arab Mind by Raphael Patai

The Arab Mind by Raphael Patai

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The Arab Mind by Raphael PataiPg. 95Much has been written on the subject of honor (
) among the Arabs. What has not been emphasized, at least as far as I amaware, is that there is a strong correlation between honor and group survival. Honorable behavior is that which is conducive togroup cohesion and group survival, that which strengthens the group and serves its interests; while shameful behavior is that whichtends to disrupt, endanger, impair, or weaken the social aggregate.Honor in the Arab world is a generic concept which embraces many different forms. To mention only a few: there is thekind of honor a man derives from his virility as manifested in having numerous sons; another comes to him from engaging incertain types of work and refraining from others: hence it is honorable for the Bedouins to tend their camels, dishonorable toengage in artisanship or agriculture. A third type of honor used to be associated with the sword
the ability to defend oneself against enemies and with bravery in general. To buy protection from a more powerful tribe by paying
(protection money)
seriously diminished one’s honor. To undertake a raid, within the prescribed rules, is honorable. To refuse participation i
n a raid isdishonoring. To defen
d one’s livestock against raiders is honorable. To own livestock is honorable. Hospitality and generosity arematters of honor. To be inhospitable or ungenerous is shameful. It is honorable to have pure Arab blood, on both one’s father’sand one’s mother’s side. It is honorable to exhibit a strong sense of kin group adherence. It is honorable to behave with dignity
and always to be aware of the imperative of 
(‚face‛): under all circumstances a man must beware of allowing his ‚face‛ to be‚blackened‛; he must always endeavor to ‚whiten his face,‛ as well as the face of the kin group to which he belongs. Cost what itmay, one must defend one’s public image. Any injury done to a man’s honor must be revenged, or else he becomes permanently
dishonored. And, of course, there is the sexual honor of the woman, through which her entire paternal family is constantly anddangerously exposed to the possibility of becoming dishonored.The honor concept is easily extended from the individual, the family, and the tribe to the nation as a whole. Thus, a fatwa(religious decree) issued on July 11, 1952, by the Commission of Fatwas of al-Azhar in Cairo chastises those who argue that Egyptshould modernize its attitude on women and do what others do in the twentieth century. That, the fatwa states, would be apingothers in a way which is against the honor of Egypt.All these different kinds of honor, clearly distinguished in Arab life and operative at various times and on variousoccasions, interlock to surround the Arab ego like a coat of armor. The smallest chink in this armor can threaten to loosen all theloops and rings, and must therefore be repaired immediately and with determination. There are those who see as paranoid theextreme sensitivity of the Arabs to any infringement of their honor. Others judge it positively as an expression of pride anduncompromisingly high moral standards. We cannot take a position on the issue, but must cite it as an important characteristic of the Bedouin mentality which has left its mark on the Arab mind in general.Two components of the honor syndrome which have most to do with group survival are virility and kinship spirit. In theBedouin hierarchy of values it redounds to the honor of a man to have many children, and especially sons. The usual explanation
for this is that many children are a tangible proof of a man’s virility.
 Virility is one of those overriding qualities which a man will uphold even if he must in the process sacrifice other values.Any aspersion cast upon virility is considered such a great dishonor that a man will make extreme efforts to remove every shadowof a doubt about it, even at the price of taking the onus of other dishonors upon himself. Impotence in a husband is one of the fewcauses for divorce which can be claimed by a wife. If true, the husband will usually consent to a quiet divorce so as not to beexposed to the shame of publicity. However, if untrue, his sense of honor is cut to the quick, and he will insist on proving it, eventhough this may mean the performance of the sexual act
horribile dictum
without the customary and obligatory privacy.
Reports about how exactly this is done (e.g. among the Awlad Ali of Egypt’s Western Desert) are vague, but it involves the us
e bythe couple of what is termed a bayt al-
shan’a, or ‚house of abomination,‛ which seems to be simply a tent so constructed that oneor more respectable neighbors can see and hear what is going on in it between husband and wife. The neighbors’ observations
andconclusions decide the fate of the marriage. It can be assumed that a man will submit to this ordeal only if he is potent, and if he
has no other means of proving his wife’s accusation false. In the process he is forced to violate the lesser, but still ver 
y important,value of sexual privacy.
As this case shows, virility is indeed a supreme value, and what could more eloquently attest to a man’s virility thanfathering numerous offspring? In this sense, then, to have many children redounds to a man’s ho
nor. But there is a deeper meaning behind the honor and respect a man acquires by having many children. Both his numerous offspring and the sexual potency towhich they testify serve quite directly the group of which he and they are parts. In Bedouin society, other things being equal, thesafety, and therefore the chances of survival, of each group are directly correlated to the number of its male members (only themales participate in and defend against raids; this contributes to the much higher valuation accorded to male offspring). The valueof female children from the point of view of group survival or group safety asserts itself only a generation later: when the maleoffspring
bear grow up to augment the manpower of the group.The same considerations supply at least one of the reasons for the general Bedouin preference for endogamy: the child- bearing capacity of its women must be preserved for the ingroup in order to make sure that all the natural increase or replacementthus obtained will take place within its own ranks rather than those of another, potentially hostile, group. Were exogamousmarriages permitted (these, in fact, occur in Bedouin society only in exceptional cases), under the prevailing patrilineal rules of descent a child bo
rn to a woman of one group would belong to his father’s group and would thus grow up a virtual stranger to the
group in which his mother belongs. By carrying the same principle one step further, the most preferred marriage is that betweenchildren of two brothers; such a marriage means that all the children will be members of the same extended family and thus
increase its numbers, power, prestige, and honor. A young man has both the right and the obligation to marry his father’s brother’s
daughter (the so-
called bint’ amm); indeed, his honor depends to a considerable extent on his fulfilling this obligation. Again, the
tribal mores consider action which strengthens in group cohesion honorable, and frown upon acts that tend to weaken the group.The same consideration underlies power relationships within the extended family. The honor of the patriarch depends toa great extent on his ability to impose his will upon the members of his family. A man who is respected by the members of hisfamily and commands their loyalty has honor both inside the family and outside it, in the larger social aggregate
tribe or village
of which the family is part. A loyal and obedient family is strong and united when it comes to defend family interests against other competing families, and such a family is one on which the larger aggregate can count in its external relations. Thus, the concept of honor again proves to subserve the strengthening of the group.Historically, the sense of honor was so much tied to the group spirit that both were (and still are) referred to by one and
the same term, ‚ ‘asabiyya, ‚which means primarily ‚family spirit‛ or ‚kinship spirit‛ (it is derived from the root verb ‘asa
meaning to tie together). Although Muhammad condemned ‘asabiyya as
contrary to the spirit of Islam, this could not eliminate itfrom the consciousness of the Arabs. Ibn Khaldun, the great fourteenth-century theoretician of Arab history, even went so far as to
uphold ‘asabiyya as the fundamental bond of human society and
the basic motivating force in history.The primary meaning of the term refers to tribal cohesion, or the spirit which holds together a tribal or subtribal group:the secondary meaning
 —of ‚sense of honor‛—was assumed because to be devoted to one’s kin grou
 p was considered in Arab
tribal society the most essential expression of one’s sense of honor. ‘Asabiyya implies boundless and unconditional loyalty
fellow tribesmen. ‚Be loyal to thy tribe,‛ sang a bard; ‚its claim upon its members is strong enough t
o make a husband give up his
wife.‛ This ineradicable tribal particularism assumes, of course, that the tribe is a unit by itself, self 
-sufficient and absolute, and
regards every other clan or tribe as its legitimate victim and object of raiding and plunder. These unsocial features, which
inevitably accompany ‘asabiyya, remained imprinted into the Arab character after the rise of Islam, and, as Hitti observed, ‚
wereamong the determining factors that led to the disintegration and ultimate downfall of the various Islamic states.While asabiyya is thus, in the first place, a Bedouin tribal trait, it was carried over from nomadic to settled Arab societyin the form of family and lineage cohesion. Kinship ties, and primarily family bonds, are extremely strong in all sectors of traditional Arab society. They remain an influential factor even after members of a group have moved away from the family homeand lived for years in a faraway city or even overseas. Illustrative of the persistence of these ties is the well-known fact thatLebanese emigrants regularly send financial contributions to their families back home, not merely to their immediate, but also totheir extended families. One of my Arab friends, who happened to have read a news item in the New York Times to the effect thata first cousin of President Nixon was receiving social welfare benefits, remarked to me with utter incomprehension that such a thingwould be unimaginable in his country: to support a cousin or any other relative is as much a mo
ral duty as supporting one’s own
children. The extent to which family ties remain effective even after emigration overseas is illustrated by the Lebanese economy.In 1961, when the total merchandise exports of the country yielded an income of 231 million Lebanese pounds, the income from
emigrants’ remittances was 92 million pounds, or almost 40 per cent as high as export income.As a broad generalization one can say that the ‘asabiyya of the old Arab tribal society survives n practically the same
form and with the same intensity among those Bedouin Arabs whose life forms have changed little in other respects. Wheremodernization intrudes, tribal and family cohesion must gradually give away. The same gradual weakening of the traditionalintensive forms of group cohesion can be observed in the settled Arab society as well. Since modernization is more advanced in thecities than in the villages, more of the group cohesion is preserved in the rural than in the urban sectors. Nevertheless, even in thethoroughly Westernized upper-class urban Arab families, the claim of kinship is still much stronger than anything known in the
West. Arab culture can still be termed ‚kinship culture,‛ and is still characterized by ‚familism‛ as it has been in the pas
The Arab Mind by Raphael PataiChapter 8The Realm of Sex
The issue of sex in the Arab world reminds me of the old story about the sorcerer’s apprentice and the
pink elephant. The master of alchemy, after explaining to his apprentice the complex steps to be
followed in making gold, added: “And, most importantly, throughout the entire process you must notthink of the pink elephant.” Having been duly impressed by this warning, the apprentice tried
desperately to heed it, but, of course, was unable to keep the forbidden subject out of his thoughts. At
last he had to give up his attempts at making gold and sadly reproached his master: “Why, O my
master, why did you have to tell me not to think of the pink elephant? If you had not, I would neverhave though
t of it.”
The “pink elephant” in the alchemy of Arab life is the sex taboo. Parents and other authority
figures imbue the Arab child with the notion of the sinfulness of sex, and the culture as a wholesurrounds the individual with an atmosphere which constantly reminds him of the same subject. Thesegregation of the sexes, the veiling of the women where it is practiced, and all the other minute rules

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