Friday, March 15, 2013

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Settlements are not illegal

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Settlements are not illegal


If you think the West Bank settlements have been an albatross around Israel’s neck up until now, brace yourself. With the new governing coalition announced this week, and the settlers enjoying even more power, all bets are off.

As Barak Ravid writes in Haaretz about Israel’s new government, "it seems that most of the key positions will be filled by settlers and their supporters."

Since “Jewish settlements” are two of the most hated words in international diplomacy, we can expect that, peace process or no peace process, the pressure on Israel to stop its settlement activity will only get worse.

This pressure will be fueled by the global campaign to isolate and delegitimize the Jewish state, commonly known as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).

What should Israel do in response to this pressure?

If it were up to me, I’d call a good lawyer.

That’s right, not a PR genius or a brilliant policy analyst, but a lawyer.

The most severe charge against Israel is a legal one. Let’s face it: The whole movement to delegitimize the Jewish state is based on this one accusation that the occupation of the West Bank is an illegal enterprise.

Much of the world has bought into the Palestinian narrative that Israel stole their land and needs to give it back.

It’s fine for Israel to keep repeating “we want peace” and “we’re ready to negotiate,” but if people think you’re a thief living on stolen land, it doesn’t have quite the same impact.

That’s why, even though one can argue that the Palestinians deserve most of the blame for the failure of the peace process, it is Israel that gets the blame.

Outlaws rarely get the benefit of the doubt.

A good lawyer would look at this mess and tell Israel: Until you can make a compelling case that you’re not an “illegal occupier,” nothing good will happen. Even friendly acts like freezing settlement construction will only reinforce the perception of your guilt.

As it turns out, and to the shock of many, a commission led last year by the respected former Israeli Supreme Court justice Edmund Levy did, in fact, conclude that “Israeli settlements are legal under international law.” (You can Google it. It’s pretty convincing.).

“The oft-used term ‘occupied Palestinian territories’ has no basis whatsoever in law or fact,” Alan Baker, director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and a member of Levy’s commission, wrote recently in USA Today.

“The territories are neither occupied nor are they Palestinian. No legal determination has ever been made as to their sovereignty, and by agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, they are no more than ‘disputed’ pending a negotiated solution, with both sides claiming rights to the territory.”

Baker adds that Israel has “solid legal rights” to the territory, including “the rights granted to the Jewish people by the 1917 Balfour Declaration, the 1923 San Remo Declaration, the League of Nations Mandate instrument and the United Nations Charter,” and that the Oslo agreements “contain no prohibition whatsoever on building settlements in those parts of the territory agreed upon as remaining under Israel's control.”

The reason this point of view is so shocking to many is that it’s hard to separate one’s emotion from the law. In other words, you can love or hate the settlements on moral or strategic grounds, but that doesn’t make them illegal. “Disputed” is light years away from “illegal.”

What’s truly illegal and immoral, if you ask me, is how Israel’s enemies have exploited the dispute to try to delegitimize Israel as a criminal state worthy of the most extreme boycotts and condemnations.

So, given all this, why did the Israeli government not take advantage of the Levy report to push back and defend its honor? My guess is that they felt it would be too controversial and would only complicate things.

After all, since Israel has already shown a willingness to offer up land for peace, why make a big fuss over having a legal right to that land?

Well, for one thing, because you can’t make a deal if you’re seen as a thief who has stolen property. The other side has no reason to negotiate-- all they want is for you to return their stolen property. Your concessions have no value.

But if you assert your legal right to the land, you give your concessions real value and give the other side an incentive to negotiate.

Beyond the dynamics of the peace process, Israel’s failure to champion its legal rights has allowed dangerous movements like BDS to continue to wreak havoc. BDS is an anti-Israel runaway train. It sponsors hundreds of Israel Apartheid Week events around the globe. Its mission is not to seek peace but to isolate Israel as a criminal state, and its major piece of evidence is the “illegal occupation."

No amount of clever PR can rebut that evidence.

Israel’s best hope is to fight back by making a compelling legal case in international courts, while unleashing a global diplomatic offensive around this clear and simple message:

“According to international law, Israel has a legal right to settle in the West Bank. After 45 years, Israeli settlements account for less than 2% of the territories. Our willingness to dismantle settlements and give up precious land for a hope of peace-- which we’ve demonstrated in the past-- is not an endorsement of the spurious accusation that settlements are illegal. It’s a statement of how much we value peace."

“What is illegal, immoral and unacceptable is the attempt to use this dispute to delegitimize the Jewish state.”

This message is sure to trigger a few heart attacks at the United Nations, but the fact that it goes against the conventional wisdom is precisely why the legal case must be made. Silence in the face of accusation only conveys guilt and nourishes the forces that are out to delegitimize the Jewish state.

For far too long, while being hypnotized by the peace process, Israel has let its enemies portray its presence on the West Bank as a criminal act. This unchallenged narrative has not only undermined the peace process, it has damaged Israel’s standing beyond all proportion.

If Israel doesn’t respond directly and soon, its global isolation will only worsen.

You can hate and criticize the settlements all you want and still push back against unfair accusations that they are illegal. One doesn’t preclude the other. Any good lawyer understands that.

Maybe instead of looking towards Madison Avenue to defend itself, Israel’s new government should look towards Century City.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The zero-sum game and Arab mentality

The zero-sum game and Arab mentality

In the wake of the 2006 Lebanon war, with hundreds of dead Lebanese civilians and a destroyed infrastructure, a Gulf News analyst - and professor of political science at UAE University - wrote:
The controversial discussion about the quality and significance of the victory and the size of destruction caused by the war is legitimate and healthy. But, despite the massive destruction in Lebanon, the Arabs seem to be better off after the war.

Logically, when Israel is in a worse condition, which is the case now, Arabs are definitely better off.

Although Israel was not routed in the battle, it surely seems defeated and frustrated. It is also living in a state of doubt and comprehensive review of its military and political performance during the war.

The equation of victory and defeat between the Arabs and the Zionist state has always been and will remain zero equation. This means that when Israel is defeated, Arabs have the right to celebrate victory.

Hatred of Israel can be found in the genes of all Arabs. Although it is hereditary, its intensity varies from time to time. All facts on the ground indicate that the Arab rejection of the Zionist entity reached its peak after the aggression.

The unification of Arabs in their deep enmity against Israel is a positive matter.
This is not some crazy member of the "Arab street". This is someone who has a respected job as an intellectual, who is saying that anything that is bad for Israel is, by definition, good for the Arabs. The Arab world, and a large number of its supporters, look at the Middle East as a zero-sum game where when one side wins, the other loses.

History shows that this is not an isolated opinion; in fact, it is still mainstream Arab opinion. Even as pragmatic and moderate a leader as Jordan's King Abdullah reveals that he still looks at the conflict the same way, that what is good for Israel is bad for the Arab world, although Abdullah is much more nuanced.

Westerners must understand this mindset. We grow up with the idea ingrained in us that the best solutions to problems are "win-win", where each side can gain or at least compromise in ways where their losses are minimized. This is so obvious to most Westerners that we cannot conceive of a mentality that is exactly the opposite - that if I win, you must lose, and vice versa.

The writings of the early Zionists show that rather than trying to hurt the surrounding Arab communities, Zionism intended to enrich them with a growing economy and modernization. When Israel won the Six Day War, it immediately set out to build a new infrastructure in Gaza and the West Bank for the Arabs - electricity, hospitals, clean water. The Palestinian Arab mortality rates plummeted and their life expectancy soared under Israeli rule. From the outset, Zionism was meant to be a "win-win," not zero-sum.

On the other hand, the zero-sum mentality is heavily tied to the genetic hatred of Israel that was mentioned by the professor above that is endemic among the Arabs. It goes to the root of the divide between the two cultures. Zero-sum implies hatred and eternal conflict, "win-win" implies pragmatism and peace.

At the outset of Operation Cast Lead, Israeli President Shimon Peres asked an extremely good question:
Still I have not heard until now a single person who could explain to us reasonably: why are they firing rockets against Israel? What are the reasons? What is the purpose?
Everyone who has answered that question in the explosion of anti-Zionist articles that have been written recently uses a variant of this zero-sum answer. Rockets hurt Israel, therefore it is obvious that they must be good for Arabs. Hurting Israel is a worthy goal in and of itself, independent of any consequences. From their perspective, Israel's pain equals Arab gain.

This twisted mentality is most prominent in Hamas' actions now. Hamas has stated that Israel's killing of civilians is evidence of Israel's failure in battle. In other words, Hamas considers the death of Palestinian Arabs to be a victory! There is a complete disconnect between the major goal - Israel's pain - and any desire to defend Gazans.

For Westerners, it is self-evident that the purpose of a military is to defend one's citizens. When your own population is being killed, your military has failed.

Hamas' purpose, though, is not to defend Palestinian Arabs - it is to destroy Israel. This necessarily means that they want to inflict pain on the enemy by any means possible. Their own people are not to be defended: on the contrary, they are to be used for this ultimate goal. Dead civilians are just another weapon to "win."

Moderate Arab rulers have been able to at least understand the pragmatism of the West; they know that any open conflict with Israel will cause them to lose their own positions. But as we saw with King Abdullah, the Arab mentality of seeing Israel not as a partner but as an enemy is still ingrained in the collective Arab psyche. For the "moderates," the zero sum game is still very real, but it is played diplomatically, rather than militarily.

While Israel would be thrilled to send its experts throughout the Arab world to help with agriculture, desalination, solar energy or medicine, to increase two-way trade with the Arabs, the Arab world remains leery of anything that makes Israelis happy - even if it helps the Arabs. From the beginning, Israel has wanted "normalization" to be part of any peace agreements precisely because Israel thinks in terms of win-win - but the Arabs just cannot wrap their heads around this concept.

To the Arab world, if Israel wins, the Arabs must be losing. And as long as they have this mentality, there can be no real peace.

The 'Closed Circle' of the Arab

The 'Closed Circle' of the Arab

By Glenn Fairman

Viewed through the prism of the West, which draws its sustenance from the twin fountains of Athens and Jerusalem, the character and plight of Arab existence has been viewed as romantic, tragic, and uniquely foreign to our sensibilities.  The fact that its spirit is wholly antithetical to ours has been a point of contention between advocates of multiculturalism and those jealous of the West's rich patrimony.

That the Arabs are a civilization deeply stratified along lines of family, clan, and tribe is a fundamental observation.  If, however, one overlays the Arab's psychological predisposition to the "power/challenge," money-favoring, careerist, and "shame/honor" dynamics of culture, we in the West cannot hope for any genuine alliances based upon anything more solid than contingencies of transitory mutual advantage.  Moreover, the liberal West must come finally to the stark realization that the Arab world is a zone where democracy and human rights, as we view them, cannot flourish, because such a Western abstraction cannot set its tendrils down in the flinty earth of unenlightened self-interest. In the realm of the Middle East, politics and prestige are as they have always been -- the currency of a zero-sum game.

In the late 1980s, David Pryce-Jones authored a book entitled The Closed Circle, in which he interpreted the psychic rudiments of the Arab weltanschauung -- and unless one understands this mentality on its own terms, the Occidental mind will never gain traction either in negotiations or in bridging the gulf between civilizations -- to the West's own peril.  Although it was written several decades ago, no other book has ever offered a convincing understanding of the Arab's rationale in decision-making and conduct.  Without understanding the dynamic of the Arabic "power/challenge" struggle, their entire culture appears to the West to be one of madness instead of intense and never-ending calculation for superiority and honor at the expense of anything that even approaches what the West views as political stability, human rights, and moral virtue. 

In the light of such cultural dynamics, we err gravely when we rely upon projecting the suppositions of Western values into the cauldron of the Middle East.  As a case in point, the Western powers have naively sought to reduce the Palestinian question to one of real estate and the contractual exigency of a settlement where give-and-take is an implicit axiom.  However, undergirding the prospects of such an agreement are the complications of the "shame/honor" dialectic and the Islamic tenet that once a land has been claimed for Allah, it belongs in perpetuity to the faith.  Therein, the struggle between Arab and Jew is fraught with the contagion of shame and the resulting loss of honor at having been bested by the loathsome Jew.  If one throws into the mix the military humiliations of the last century at the hands of Israel and the Western Powers, it becomes readily apparent that the Arab psyche that glorifies domination and revenge cannot countenance such a transaction, especially now that the Star of Islam is ascending on the world's stage.

The Arab world and its Islamic worldview have proven inconsistent with the tenets of modernity and free intellectual exchange because of the former's inability to both wield and relinquish power and to brook dissent.  Since the fall of the Ottoman Empire at the close of WWl and the creation of the Middle Eastern nations out of whole cloth, the orderly transfer of power in Arab States is practically a null set.  Instead, we see the ancient motifs of "power challenging" occurring again and again -- actuated through conspiracy and temporary coalitions that are usually stratified along tribal loyalties.  No sooner, however, than one dog reaches the top of the heap does a new round of murmuring arise through those participants who feel that they are being shortchanged or disrespected through the money-favoring nexus -- proving true the old adage quoted in a recent column that "an Arab cannot be bought, only rented."

Without institutional mores set in place in which power devolves peacefully and without rancor, ruthless violence has been the only means by which power is maintained or usurped in the Arab world.  Despite the window dressing of political rhetoric that promises freedom and change following the downfall of a corrupt regime, no amount of ideological overlay ever changes the deep-set cultural barbarism in which only the names change at the top while the losers are purged and the weak brutally fleeced.

For the suffering millions who have endured life under Islamic theocracy or Pan-Arabic Socialism, the song has ever remained the same.  The West, and in particular the American administrations of the past century, have been played like proverbial fiddles because in failing to understand the Arab consciousness and its animating interests, they believe, like all good liberals believe, that all cultures and moralities are commensurate and therefore rational and receptive to calculations of long term expedience.  By not heeding the "power/challenge dialectic," we fail to understand what motivates the manifest treachery and butchery in the Middle Eastern arc -- either from paranoid dictators or in the rising host of new tyrannical carnivores who wait in the wings in hopes of one day being given the opportunity to strike and therein wield the reins of unmixed power.

By ignoring the "shame/honor" duality, we fail to grasp the subterranean darkness that motivates the honor-killings of daughters or apostates who "blacken the face" of the Arab family.  In this perverse milieu, the shedding of "guilty" blood is the only manner in which a face can again "be whitened."  As a tribute to the cultural gulf that separates our sensibilities, it is incomprehensible to us that this barbaric filial vengeance is not only deemed justice, but indeed morally laudable in the twisted logic of the Arab's exaggerated sense of pride.

The great schizophrenia of the Arab mind must wrestle with two mutually exclusive thoughts: that Arabs are the most blessed of the earth while in fact being the most wretched.  Unable to reconcile these twin polarities and in turn incapable of the self-reflection necessary for a civilization's enlightened Reformation to occur, a host of scapegoats are necessary in the form of Jews, infidels, and imperialists who are persistently denying the chosen people  their proper station.  Until this transformation occurs, the remedy for the Arab soul will be "more Islam" and an unending return to filial bloodshed, intrigue, and unrelenting tyranny both between man and woman and between regime and subject.  Having proved the biblical adage that "the dog returns to its own vomit," the closed circle of the Arab heart retains a sickness that is never cured and a lesson that is forever unlearned.

The Arab Mind

The Arab Mind

John LeBoutillier

Well, it did not take long for the case of the two MIAs to end: They were brutally tortured and then apparently beheaded by the new head of al-Qaida in Iraq.

Perhaps this is their (demented) view of payback for our killing al-Zarqawi two weeks ago. Whatever it is, it further illustrates the brutality of the militant Muslim enemy that we face across the world. And it needs to be made clear that while most Muslims do not behave this way - indeed the overwhelming majority do not - that majority for whatever reason also does not condemn it.

However, the Iraqi government - elected thanks to the courage and sacrifice of our soldiers and taxpayers - seems incapable or unwilling to crack down on these militants.

In fact, many of these murderers are actually members of the Iraqi Army by day, and then at night maraud as Muslim militia members sometimes even killing their own fellow Army troops!

Today's abduction and murder of one of Saddam's lawyers is a case in point: He was abducted from his house by Iraqis wearing police uniforms - and then hours later he was found shot to death and dumped on the street in the Shi'a part of Baghdad.

This is a daily occurrence in Iraq. These militants play both sides of the game - and can't be trusted.

Now, as to our ultimate game plan in Iraq:

What is victory?

In the ideal sense, it is for the elected government to settle things down and establish that indeed democracy can work in an Arab country. The argument goes that in this case, the other neighboring Arab nations would see this, thirst for it and freedom and democracy would grow.

A noble goal indeed.

This depends on Arabs controlling Arabs, however. It requires Shi'a and Sunni to live peacefully together.

So far this is simply not happening.

And we haven't even mentioned the presence of al-Qaida helping to fuel the flames. We make a mistake to believe most of the violence in Iraq comes from al-Qaida; it doesn't. It is homegrown sectarian violence in the form of payback for Sunni brutality over the Shi'a majority under Ba'ath Party rule.

All of this has turned Iraq into a mess.

Yes, a majority of Iraqis were happy to get rid of the brutal Saddam and then to vote in three national elections.

But we have to remember something: They are devout Muslims who do not want Christian and Jewish American troops on their soil for any longer than necessary.

The problem is when do we begin to leave? G.W. Bush says that will be up to "the next president." Thus, we are staying - in some form - through 2008 anyway.

Do we really believe that Iraq will settle down? That Sunni and Shi'a will peacefully coexist? That Iran won't continue to fan the flames of this insurgency if only to gain a stronger foothold in Baghdad?

I believe the Arabs have proven themselves to be incapable of democracy and freedom and dissent and all that goes with it. Plus, other than oil, what have they produced for the world? Anything? Any scientific or creative advances? And progress for their own people?


What we need to do is simple: Stop buying their oil and stop thinking we can change their mentality. They take those dollars and fund terrorists and enrich a few at the upper level - and treat the masses like dirt. Then they allow these poor souls to believe in this insane concept of martyrdom and violence against westerners.

The Arab mentality is the problem here - and we can't change it, as much as we would like to.

The sooner we realize our limitations, the better off we will all be.

The Big (Arab) Lie

The Big (Arab) Lie

There is an anecdote about an Israeli driver who accidentally hits a sheep belonging to an Arab. The driver gets out and offers to pay for the sheep. The Arab refuses. The driver offers to pay for five sheep, for ten sheep. The Arab still refuses. “What do you want?” the frustrated driver asks. “I want that sheep,” the Arab says, pointing to the dead sheep. That is the Nakba in a nutshell. The Arabs don’t want to negotiate an agreement like adults. They want the dead sheep that represents their dreams of a united Arab empire ruling over the region. And the wars will go on until they finally learn that they can’t have it back.

via Sultan Knish a blog by Daniel Greenfield.

I lived once in Kiryat Arba, before the intifada (first and second).  I would actually walk alone down into the heart of Hebron toi catch an Arab Shirut to Jerusalem twice a week to attend a course I took there – there weren’t any buses from Kiryat Araba to Jerusalem in those mid-morning hours.

As my twice weekly journeys were pretty consistent, it occurred that I rode with a certain Ahmed who also started his daily Hebron-El Quds route around the same hours. Often as not I sat beside him and over the weeks and months we opened our own private Arab-Israeli dialog, each trying to understand the other better, hopefully with the hope of closing the wide gap that separated us.

It was during one of those trips, in response to some unfathomable remark made by an Arab politician of the time, that I asked my mentor on all things Arab, how could a man who did exactly the opposite in public, at the same time publicly declare he was against what he did?  After a few minutes of quiet Ahmed answered me.

“Do you want to hear a story every Arab mother tells her children?”

Appreciating that this was to be one of those indirect answers to difficult questions I readily assented.

Acmed then shared the following story:
Mustafa wanted to get out of the late morning sun and take a nap before be returned to his labours in the early afternoon.  To this end he sought a quiet out-of-the-way corner in the back of his home where a hammock beckoned him.  No sooner had he climbed in and settled down but a small group of noisy children ran screaming into the yard playing some Middle Eastern form of Cowboys and Indians.  When after a couple of minutes Mustafa saw that they were not about to leave, he yelled at them to be quiet and play somewhere else.  Not particularly in awe of him, the children continued in their noisy activity.  Finally, Mustafa realized that if authority wouldn’t work, he would have to use guile.

“What are you doing here?” Mustafa asked the boys.

When they answered uncomprehendingly that it was plain to all concerned what they were doing, Mustafa continued.

“Why aren’t you down at the marketplace?”

Normally the marketplace was not a welcoming environ for noisy  boys.  Vendors do not appreciate wild children running between their carts and annoying their customers. “Why should we be at the shuk?” was all the boys could muster as a reply.

“Haven’t you heard!” Exclaimed Mustafa, in as convincing a display of incredulity as he was capable. “Abbu Bechar is giving away dates for free!”

After a moment’s hesitation, the boys decided, despite their suspicions of being played, that it was worth the effort of going down to marketplace on the off-chance Abur Bechar really had lost his mind and was giving away his merchandise free.

Ahmed went back to his driving, satisfied that he had somehow answered my question. Similar stories and experiences have convinced me of one simple fact, reality for an Arab has much less to do with the objective facts and far more to do with whichever lie will best bolster their self-image and make them feel good about themselves.  Like Ahmed they are more often than not going to give up the creäture comforts they crave to chase after an imaginary benefit they themselves dreamed up out of fantasy.

What is important to all of those who will now attack me for slandering the Arab and mocking the Arab “mentality”.  This is not my story nor my answer but Ahmed’s!  An Arab born and raised in Hebron who learned these stories with his mother’s milk  and this was his way of trying to help me understand the illogical nature of Arab life.

A Jewish state can be democratic and moral

A Jewish state can be democratic and moral

Joseph Levine is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and he has published an essay in (where else?) the New York Times, in which he argues that the proposition ‘Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state’ is false.

There are many things in the article to complain about, but I am going to content myself with pointing out the single massive howler by which his argument collapses.

He makes the distinction between “a people in the ethnic sense” and in the “civic sense,” which means either residents of a geographical area or citizens of a state. He generously grants that there is a Jewish people in the ethnic sense who live in Israel, but only an ‘Israeli people’, which includes Arabs, in the civic sense. Then he tells us,

…insofar as the principle that all peoples have the right to self-determination entails the right to a state of their own, it can apply to peoples only in the civic sense…

But if the people who “own” the state in question are an ethnic sub-group of the citizenry, even if the vast majority, it constitutes a serious problem indeed, and this is precisely the situation of Israel as the Jewish state. Far from being a natural expression of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination, it is in fact a violation of the right to self-determination of its non-Jewish (mainly Palestinian) citizens. It is a violation of a people’s right to self-determination to exclude them — whether by virtue of their ethnic membership, or for any other reason — from full political participation in the state under whose sovereignty they fall…

Any state that “belongs” to one ethnic group within it violates the core democratic principle of equality, and the self-determination rights of the non-members of that group. [my emphasis]

His exposition is much more lengthy and you should read it. But I think I have extracted the gist of it.

Interestingly, while he explains what he means by ‘a people’ and draws a distinction between two senses of the expression, he does not even hint about his understanding of the concept of ‘democracy’ and especially “the core democratic principle of equality,” the violation of which he believes disqualifies Israel from continued existence as a Jewish state.

Levine explains how Israel violates these principles:

The distinctive position of [a favored ethnic people] would be manifested in a number of ways, from the largely symbolic to the more substantive: for example, it would be reflected in the name of the state, the nature of its flag and other symbols, its national holidays, its education system, its immigration rules, the extent to which membership in the people in question is a factor in official planning, how resources are distributed, etc.

Actually, concerning the “more substantive” things, Arab citizens of Israel are doing quite well: they have the right to vote, to hold political office, and a large degree of control of their educational system; there are rules against discrimination in housing and employment (with exceptions related to national security), etc. In other words, they have full civil rights.

Naturally there are differences in the treatment of Jews and Arabs. Some are due to cultural differences — Arab towns are governed by Arabs and distribute resources differently — some are related to security, and some to anti-Arab prejudice. But the degree of prejudice in Israeli society is not particularly great compared to other advanced nations like the US, and nobody is suggesting that the US does not have a “right to exist” unless all discrimination can be eliminated.

In any event, discrimination in what he calls “substantive” ways are not essential to the definition of Israel as a Jewish state, and there is a general consensus that such discrimination is wrong and should be eliminated.

Israel’s immigration rules are certainly unequal. But immigration rules by definition do not apply to citizens; and few — if any — of the world’s nations permit free immigration.

Levine also does not consider security issues at all. If Israel ignored them it would cease to exist without philosophical arguments. This would be bad both for the Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel (just ask any of them if they would prefer to be citizens of Israeli or the Palestinian Authority).

Levine is quite correct, though, that symbolic items like the name of the state, the flag, and the national anthem belong to only one group of citizens. But are these included in the “core democratic principle of equality?” Why should they be?

After all, many states with ethnic or religious symbolism associated with them have been called ‘democratic’ since the word was invented by the ancient Greeks (incidentally, most of the residents of Athens, the paradigm of democracy, weren’t even citizens).

I could argue strongly that only civil rights are essential to democracy and that “equality” in many senses is not. And Arab citizens of Israel have civil rights, even if they find the national anthem — which they are not required to sing — offensive.

And here we come to the fallacy in Levine’s argument. Can you say petitio principii? No? Then how about “assuming what you purport to prove?”

Because that is exactly what this Professor of Philosophy has done. He has built the negation of the fundamental idea of an ethnic nation-state — the expression of the beliefs, yearnings and fellow-feeling of an ethnic group in the symbols and moral principles of a state — into his definition of ‘democracy’, and then ‘proves’ that no such state can be democratic, and therefore ought not to exist in that form!

Another way of looking at it is that there is a hidden premise that is not true. In this case, that would be that democracy entails “group political equality” in which every group, whether a majority or minority, has an equal vote on all matters. But the usual idea of democracy is that each individual has a vote, as long as the civil rights of minorities are maintained. This is quite different.

There is another hidden premise, which is that if a state is not completely democratic, it is morally defective. This is also not self-evident; indeed, both Plato and Aristotle thought the opposite.

Many years ago, I had a short career as a college teacher of Philosophy. This is an undergraduate error; Levine should be embarrassed.


But now I have further questions for Professor Levine:

Why did you not write an article about whether Saudi Arabia has a right to exist as a Kingdom, or indeed whether any of the kingdoms, dictatorships, Islamic ‘republics’ or other undemocratic entities have a ‘right to exist’ as such?

Why did you not argue that the Kingdom of Jordan should not exist as such, not only because is it an undemocratic monarchy, but because a minority of Bedouins there rule over a majority of other Arabs? This is especially relevant, because Transjordan was created from the territory called ‘Palestine’, precisely to create an Arab state that would be a counterpart to the Jewish National Home that Britain was supposed to nurse into existence in Western Palestine.

Why do you find the relatively mild discrimination against Arab residents of Israel — especially in the context of the security situation — important when so many other Middle Eastern states with ethnic or religious minorities completely disenfranchise, even viciously oppress them (e.g., the Kurds or the Palestinians in Lebanon)?

You will say that this is because the question of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state is much-discussed today, and as a philosopher you are equipped to add clarity to the discussion.

But it is discussed today precisely because those who deny it primarily do so not as an academic exercise, but in the context of a desire to end Jewish sovereignty, to establish insecure borders, and to allow the almost 5 million claimants to ‘Palestinian’ nationality (an absurdity if there ever was one) to enter the territory, which would result in the re-dispersal  of the Jewish people and quite probably the deaths of many of them. If this isn’t an antisemitic enterprise, I don’t know what is.

So your focus on Israel among states, your hypersensitivity to its perceived (by you) moral defects, your fallacious attempt to lend support to those who would destroy it, is de facto antisemitic, even if some of your best friends (and relatives) are Jews.

The antisemitic shoe fits. Wear it proudly.

Learning to Think like an Arab Muslim: a Short Guide to Understanding the Arab Mentality

Learning to Think like an Arab Muslim: a Short Guide to Understanding the Arab Mentality

By Edward V. Badolato, Executive Vice President for Homeland Security

XXXX Pennsylvania Ave., 9th Fl. 
Washington DC 20006
Phone 202.261.XXXX
Fax 202.261.XXXX

Dealing with terrorism, especially Islamic Fundamentalists, requires an intimate knowledge of terrorism, terrorist operations, and especially the key cultural features that makes up the Arab psyche. An understanding and detailed background knowledge of the Arab mentality is critical to performing accurate threat analysis. Understanding Arab culture can provide valuable insights into the changing nature of Post 9-11 terrorism, and how to rank and prioritize potential threats. To outsmart our clever and elusive Islamic terrorist foes, one must first understand what makes him tick. This paper is bases on years of experience in the Middle East, and is dedicated to helping the reader understand the Arab mentality.


The Arabs are a proud and sensitive people whose culture is mainly derived from three key factors: family, language, and religion. No adequate understanding of Arab culture is possible without first examining these three major elements and the pervading impact they have had on their culture. Cultural understanding by Americans of the Arabs is especially important at present because it can provide a basis for our own interactive behavior with them as well as a basis for interpreting their actions.

The Arab's cultural system has proven functionally useful in the Middle East because it provides the Arab with an accepted behavior pattern which dominates daily life. In the Middle East, these accepted behavioral patterns have been developed over centuries through the Arab's social response to various stimuli such as images of human nature, man's dealing with good and evil, idealistic images of correct personal behavior, concepts of political relationships and an Arab's commonly accepted view of the world as basically threatening and harsh. The Arab response to these various stimuli over a period of centuries has produced cultural attitudes which eventually developed into their behavioral characteristics.

To begin to understand the Arabs, one must first understand the major factors influencing Arab culture: family, language and religion. The kinship characteristic includes a set of group dynamics that are built around the family. Their language exerts tremendous influence on their personal interaction and emotional tenor. Their religion, Islam, is an ultimate expression of the idealism of the Arab. Any discussion of Arab culture must also include their dominant cultural concerns, such as continuation of the close knit family. Loss of their Arab identity, the corruption of youth, the incursion of the West, and the issue of Islamic fundamentalism.

The 'Five Pillars' of Islam are the foundation of Muslim life: 

1. Faith or belief in the Oneness of God and the finality of the prophet hood of Muhammad; 

2. Establishment of the daily prayers; 

3. Concern for and almsgiving to the needy; 

4. Self-purification through fasting; and 

5. The pilgrimage to Mecca for those who are able. 

Imam or Faith 

To a Muslim there is none worthy of worship except God and Muhammad is the messenger of God. This declaration of faith is called the shahadah, a simple formula that all the faithful pronounce. The significance of this declaration is the belief that the only purpose of life is to serve and obey God, and this is achieved through the teachings and practices of the Last Prophet, Muhammad.

Salah or Prayer 

Salah is the name for the obligatory prayers that are performed five times a day, and are a direct link between the worshipper and God. There is no hierarchical authority in Islam and there are no priests. Prayers are led by a learned person who knows the Qur'an and is generally chosen by the congregation. 

Prayers are said at dawn, mid-day, late-afternoon, sunset and nightfall, and thus determine the rhythm of the entire day. These five prescribed prayers contain verses from the Qur'an, and are said in Arabic, the language of the Revelation. Personal supplications, however, can be offered in one's own language and at any time. 

Although it is preferable to worship together in a mosque, a Muslim may pray almost anywhere, such as in fields, offices, factories and universities. Oftentimes visitors to the Muslim world are struck by the centrality of prayers in daily life.

A translation of the Adan or Call to Prayer is: 

God is Great.

God is Great.

God is Great. 

God is Great.

I testify that there is none worthy of worship except God.

I testify that there is none worthy of worship except God.

I testify that Muhammad is the messenger of God.

I testify that Muhammad is the messenger of God.

Come to prayer! 

Come to prayer!

Come to success!

Come to success!

God is Great! 

God is Great!

There is none worthy of worship except God.

Zakah. The financial obligation upon Muslims. 

An important principle of Islam is that everything belongs to God, and that wealth is therefore held by human beings in trust. The word zakah means both "purification" and "growth." Our possessions are purified by setting aside a proportion for those in need and for the society in general. Like the pruning of plants, this cutting back balances and encourages new growth. 

Each Muslim calculates his or her own zakah individually. This involves the annual payment of a fortieth of one's capital, excluding such items as primary residence, car and professional tools. 

An individual may also give as much as he or she pleases as sadaqah, and does so preferably in secret. Although this word can be translated as "voluntary charity" it has a wider meaning. 

The Prophet said, "Even meeting your brother with a cheerful face is an act of charity." The Prophet also said: "Charity is a necessity for every Muslim." He was asked: "What if a person has nothing?" The Prophet replied: "He should work with his own hands for his benefit and then give something out of such earnings in charity." The Companions of the Prophet asked: "What if he is not able to work?" The Prophet said: "He should help the poor and needy." The Companions further asked: "What if he cannot do even that?" The Prophet said: "He should urge others to do good." The Companions said: "What if he lacks that also?" The Prophet said: "He should check himself from doing evil. That is also an act of charity."

Sawm or Fasting 

Every year in the month of Ramadan, all Muslims fast from dawn until sundown--abstaining from food, drink, and sexual relations with their spouses. 

Those who are sick, elderly, or on a journey, and women who are menstruating, pregnant or nursing, are permitted to break the fast and make up an equal number of days later in the year if they are healthy and able. Children begin to fast (and to observe prayers) from puberty, although many start earlier. 

Although fasting is beneficial to health, it is mainly a method of self-purification and self-restraint. By cutting oneself from worldly comforts, even for a short time, a fasting person focuses on his or her purpose in life by constantly being aware of the presence of God. 

God states in the Qur'an: "O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed to those before you that you may learn self-restraint." (Qur'an 2:183)

Hajj or Pilgrimage 

The pilgrimage to Mecca (the hajj) is an obligation only for those who are physically and financially able to do so. Nevertheless, over two million people go to Mecca each year from every corner of the globe providing a unique opportunity for those of different nations to meet one another. 

The annual hajj begins in the twelfth month of the Islamic year (which is lunar, not solar, so that hajj and Ramadan fall sometimes in summer, sometimes in winter). Pilgrims wear special clothes: simple garments that strip away distinctions of class and culture, so that all stand equal before God. 

The rites of the hajj, which are of Abrahamic origin, include going around the Ka'bah seven times, and going seven times between the hills of Safa and Marwa as did Hagar (Hajir, Abraham's wife) during her search for water. The pilgrims later stand together on the wide plains of 'Arafat (a large expanse of desert outside Mecca) and join in prayer for God's forgiveness, in what is often thought as a preview of the Day of Judgment. 

The close of the hajj is marked by a festival, the 'Id al Adha, which is celebrated with prayers and the exchange of gifts in Muslim communities everywhere. This and the 'Id al Fitr, a festive day celebrating the end of Ramadan, are two key holidays of the Islamic calendar.


The Family. 

The first major factor overshadowing all other societal demands of an Arab is that of family and kin. 

The family is the foundation of Islamic society. The peace and security offered by a stable family unit is greatly valued and seen as essential for the spiritual growth of its members. A harmonious social order is created by the existence of extended families; children are treasured and rarely leave home until the time they marry. 

Parents are greatly respected in the Islamic tradition. Mothers are particularly honored: the Qur'an teaches that since mothers suffer during pregnancy, childbirth, and child rearing, they deserve a special consideration and kindness. 

It is stated in the Qur'an: "And we have enjoined upon man (to be good) to his parents. With difficulty upon difficulty did his mother bear him and wean him for two years. Show gratitude to Me and to your parents; to Me is your final goal." (Qur'an 31:14) 

A Muslim marriage is both a sacred act and a legal agreement, in which either partner is free to include legitimate conditions. As a result, divorce, although entirely uncommon, is permitted only as a last resort. Marriage customs vary widely from country to country.

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. He is surrounded by the circle of his immediate family, and outside that circle is his extended family or tribe. Next are his immediate geographic region and then his country. Outside of his country ring is the rest of the Arab world; then the rest of the Muslim world, the "Dar al Islam," or the area of Muslim peace and stability. Outside this ring is the rest of the world viewed by the Arab as the "Dar al Harb" or war area.

The principal means of reinforcing familial relationships is through marriage. Arab marriage patterns are usually within their own family group with the most desired partners being cousins. One of the long-term results of this custom has been the development of a highly organized social structure among a closely-knit family. Even with extended family members, the goals of family well being and honor are principal considerations.

The style of Arab parenting is responsible for much of their behavioral traits according to the noted Arab cultural expert, Dr. Raphael Patai who claims that Arab children have difficulty establishing a predictable pattern arid a differentiation between love and discipline. This fluctuation between a loving mother and stern disciplinarian father can add to the complexity of growing up and often fosters schizoid personality traits. Many Arabists have commented on the rapid change of Arab emotions and reasoning. Lawrence of Arabia spoke of this when he said that the Arabs view "everything black or white with no middle ground." This roller coaster type of behavior is often demonstrated by cool self‑control followed by uncontrolled public outbursts of emotion. This also illustrates the ease with which a crowd can become violent in the Arab world. No doubt, tightly controlled families, closeness of living space and intense family pressures contribute to another important Arab behavioral trait stemming from group dynamics. That trait is conflict.


Arab behavior has a propensity for conflict. 

The Muslim community expanded rapidly after the Prophet's death. Within a few decades, the territory under Muslim rule had extended onto three continents--Asia, Africa and Europe. Over the next few centuries this Empire continued to expand its conquests and Islam gradually became the chosen faith of the majority of the world’s inhabitants. Among the reasons for the rapid spread of Islam was the simplicity of its doctrine--Islam calls for faith in only One God, Allah, and it was made relatively easy for conquered peoples to convert.. 

Reasons for Arab conflict may lie again with the family where competitiveness is instilled at an early age, and life generally exists under various forms of intense pressure. An old Arab saying aptly describes the competitive, hostile spirit bred into Arab children:

"I against my brother, my brother and I against our cousins, my brother, my cousins and I against the world."

Another probable cause of this intense conflict is Arab history itself, which has been dominated by warfare, domestic upheaval and struggles against invasions from outside the Arab world. The legacy of this history is a basic, almost visceral mistrust of‑ any outside group, or more specifically, any Western state whose true ultimate intentions cannot readily be determined, but which they feel will most likely be bad for the Arabs.

There are many other internal sources of conflict in the Middle East, which have existed among the Arabs themselves for centuries. Some of these long‑standing sources of conflict are strategic conflicts, economic rivalries, ideological wars, tribal and religious disagreements--and just plain cultural differences. For example, there has been strategic rivalry between the Mesopotamians of the Fertile Crescent and the Egyptians since ancient times. More recently, strategic struggles have taken place over the Lebanon, the White Nile, the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf (as most commonly refer to as the Persian Gulf). 

Also economically, the conflict over scarce resources now continues with oil, land, water, and mineral rights taking the place of food, (although still strategically important in some countries), and caravan routes. Today's ideological conflicts often place the progressive socialists (Iraq, Libya, Syria and Algeria) against the conservative traditional states. There are also problems within these groups as Iraqi Baathi's against Syrian Baathi's, various "isms" such as Pan Arabism, progressivism, Wahabism, and socialism all typify the general ideological fragmentation of the Arab population and add to the spectrum of conflict. In the area of tribal and religious conflict, numerous rivalries predate recorded history. Consider that the early Islamic wars after the death of the Prophet brought on the Sunni‑Shiite tensions, which remain today in many areas such as Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. 

When asked why the more recent Iran‑Iraq war began, one Arab historian noted that it really began at the battle of Qaddisiya over a thousand years ago when Mohammed's son‑in‑law, Ali, was defeated by the forerunners of today's Sunni Arabs. Viewed from this perspective, even the Christian‑Muslim struggle in Lebanon appeared to be part of this historic trend of religious conflict. Dynastic rivalries, such as between the House of Saudi and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has always been a factor in Arab life. Also, there is the age old struggle between the desert bedouin and the townsman such as was rekindled in the intense 1970 conflict between the Jordanian Army's bedouins of the Desert Legion and the Palestinian townsmen in Jordan.

In dealing with Arabs, consideration must always be given to their patterned behavior for dealing with potential conflict. Especially in military affairs, the undercurrents of traditional conflict can limit the number of options available to a decision maker and limit his overall capability to correct a problem. Historically, this has been evident in the difficulty in making and maintaining Middle Eastern alliances. Suspicion of a traditional enemy's territorial ambitions die hard, and international troop movements to shore up Arab allies or as part of a peacekeeping force are usually very difficult because of the fear that the visiting soldiers may be used against the host government or that they will be very reluctant to leave. Likewise, new pacts on military agreements with western foreign powers are initially viewed negatively by an Arab state's neighbors because of the potential impact on inter‑Arab affairs as well as a xenophobic fear of the West. Experience has shown that it is fairly unusual for an Arab state to enter into an agreement with an outside power without first consulting with its neighbors to allay their fears about a potential change in the local balance of power and to forestall potential conflict.

Because conflict appears to be such a normal behavioral characteristic in Arab group dynamics at the individual. group or even international levels, it seems reasonable that the Arabs would have developed a traditional means of settling their differences--and they have. Over the centuries they have developed a ritualized. form of mediation for dealing with conflict. A study of Arab history, and even present day events. points out that the traditional methods of mediation have been used time and time again. In large scale hostilities the mediation may at times seem ineffective to a Westerner, but it does serve several purposes. It interrupts the fighting, lets cooler heads prevail and gives each side an honorable way out of the quarrel. 

The methodology is essentially the same for a small personal quarrel or a war. It is arranged around a mediator who plays a specific role. The mediator or wasit is usually a man (or country) of personality, status, respect, wealth and influence with both sides. Picking or persuading the perfect mediator is obviously the sine qua non of successfully mediating a conflict. Traditionally it has been the rule that a mediator meets with much greater success if he is a man of prestige. Custom requires that the steps in mediation follow a specific pattern: separate the fighting parties, make it physically impossible to continue the fighting, arrange a solution which will not cause a loss of face or honor to either side, and then guarantee the restitution or final agreement. There are numerous examples of conflict mediation in the Arab world from the personal to the international level. They are all ritualized and it appears that the major difficulty lies in getting the right mediator at the outset. A lesson the United States has had difficulty grasping in its long quest for Middle East peace.


In the Arab world there is little stigma placed on the loss of self control and what westerners would consider hysterical public outbursts of emotion. This is a particularly frequent factor in group dynamics, and it is often demonstrated by the way in which a crowd can suddenly give way to outbursts of anger and violence. Reasons given for this generally lead back to the Arab family--closeness, competitiveness and conflict. Also, some cause might be related to the Arab means of vocal expression where they routinely express themselves by shouting, often accompanied by angry gestures in the marketplace, when correcting children, at funerals, etc. Opportunities for emotional outpourings are frequent in an Arab's daily life, and with the impetus of crowd mentality, these emotions are likely to break loose with chain reactions.

An Arab crowd is high strung emotionally, and violent crowds are a frequent occurrence during periods of stress and crisis. Deaths of national leaders, political rallies, anti‑western rallies, etc., all qualify as reasons for Arab disorders. There can even be less serious reasons, for example in Lebanon the author witnessed a severe riot in 1978 over the unpopular outcome of a beauty contest.


Arab Emotions and Hyperbole.

The second major factor influencing Arab culture is language. The Arabs place a high value on the Arabic language, and it exerts an overpowering psychological influence over their behavior. Arabic scholars have long known that even though most languages are influenced by the culture and people who speak it‑, Arabic has an influence over the psychology and culture of the people who use it. "English cannot even challenge Arabic for its sheer power and ability to impact on the emotions of the listener," according to the noted Arab‑‑American historian, P. K. Hitti who also states that "no people in the world has such enthusiastic admiration for literary expression and is so moved by the word, spoken or written."

Not only are the listeners moved, but Arabic has an impact on speakers as well. Orators are prone to be carried away in verbal exaggeration when speaking before an audience. This exaggeration is called mubalagha in Arabic, but it is not considered to be a derogatory term by the Arabs. Rather it is considered to be an admirable capacity for oratorical eloquence. A key point in understanding Arab hyperbole is that their mentality finds nothing wrong with eloquent exaggeration because they feel that words really shouldn't be taken at all times at their face value. The Arab Scholar, Edward Atiyah, supports this by his comment that Arabs as a people are swayed "more by ideas than by facts." The mastery of a rich rhythmic vocabulary with lyrical phrases is a highly valued oral skill which is often attained even by illiterates.

It is an understatement to say that the Arabs merely value their language, for it is a most beloved possession. One reason for their love affair with Arabic is the melodious pleasure derived from hearing and saying certain traditional words and patterns of words derived from its rich literary heritage. But probably the most important underlying reason for their love of Arabic is the Qur'an and the belief that this holy book, set forth in Arabic, is an expression of man's highest earthly linguistic achievement.

Understanding the Arab's love of Arabic makes it easier to comprehend that speakers are admired, not so much for what they say, but how they say it. For example, Egypt’s President Nasser could hold crowds spellbound for hours with his eloquence. After the Six Day War in fact, crowds of Arabs would gather around every village television set to admire and applaud the Rais—the President's--marathon speeches because of their elaborate flowing classical style. Even today, Nasser's speeches remain as a prime example of the orator's craft, and for years students of Arabic at the State Department's Foreign Service Institute in Washington. D.C. studied them as an example of mubalaghato hear his long speeches, appreciating not so much what he said, but how he said it.


Arab Emotions and Hyperbole. 

The second major factor influencing Arab culture is language. The Arabs place a high value on the Arabic language‑, and it exerts an overpowering psychological influence over their behavior. Arabic scholars have long known that even though most languages are influenced by the culture and people who speak it‑, Arabic has an influence over the psychology and culture of the people who use it. "English cannot even challenge Arabic for its sheer power and ability to impact on the emotions of the listener," according to the noted Arab‑‑American historian, P. K. Hitti, who also states that "no people in the world has such enthusiastic admiration for literary expression and is so moved by the word, spoken or written."

Not only are the listeners moved, but Arabic has an impact on speakers as well. Orators are prone to be carried away in verbal exaggeration when speaking before an audience. 

One should never underestimate the behavioral impact that the Arabic language has on the Arab people. Its psychological influence lies in three main areas: general vagueness of thought; overemphasis on words at the expense of their meanings and stereotyped emotional vocal responses to specific situations. The most difficult of these behavioral influences for Americans to understand is overemphasis and exaggeration. There are numerous examples of how exaggeration and emphatic overemphasis can lead Arab speakers down the path to outlandish public statements. For example, Patai tells the amusing story of the A‑‑bomb made by a Syrian tinsmith: "On the eve of the 1948 Israeli War of Independence, Musa Alami. a well known Palestinian leader was attempting to gain support in various Arab capitals. In Damascus the President of Syria told him: "I am happy to tell you that our Army and its equipment are of the highest order and we'll be able to deal with a few Jews; and I can tell you in confidence that we even have an atomic bomb ... yes it was made locally; we fortunately found a clever fellow, a tinsmith..."

Most Arabic scholars feel that this mubalagha as well as tawkid (assertion) is almost a linguistic game played between speaker and listener. In his article on the influence of language on Arab psychology, the Arab scholar, Dr. Edward Shouby, comments on mubalagha and tawkid, and his words are worth remembering:

"Arabs are forced to over‑assert and exaggerate in almost all types of communications, as otherwise they stand a good chance of being gravely misunderstood. If an Arab says exactly what he means without the expected exaggeration, other Arabs may think that he means the opposite. This fact leads to misunderstandings on the part of non‑Arabs who do not realize that the Arab is merely following a linguistic tradition."

Shouby's comments emphasize the important concept that the average Arab uses exaggeration and overemphasis without even being aware that he is doing it. It is very difficult for an Arab to make a simple statement of fact. For this reason it usually pays to be cautious about focusing on exact translations of Arabic statements such as the long rambling tirades of Gadhafi from which the emotional and inflammatory mubalagha statements are usually quoted directly by the Western press

There is also a bit of wish fulfillment in Arab exaggeration. They at times can have such a strong desire for an event to take place that they make a statement that confuses the desired action with an accomplished fact. The general vagueness of thought and ambiguous structure of the Arabic language itself also contributes to this tendency to exaggerate and substitute words for action. For example, in sentences expressing wishes such as Wallahi la fa' altu which can be literally translated "By Allah, I did not do (it) , can actually mean "By Allah I shall not do (it)." Another example is the word phrase badrab which literally translates "I want to beat," but actually means "I shall beat." This linguistic subtlety between desired actions and accomplished fact should be considered when listening to the emphatic statements of Arabs. It is obvious that time and action can have very subtle connotations in the translation of Arabic. Westerners should be wary of this.


Arab idealism as expressed through Islam is a dominant cultural feature. 

Based on its linguistic origin, the Arabic word 'Islam' means to achieve peace--peace with God, peace within oneself, and peace with the creations of God through submission to God and commitment to His guidance. 

Islam is not a new religion but the final culmination and fulfillment of the same basic truth that God revealed through all His prophets to every people. For a fifth of the world's population, Islam is not just a personal religion but a complete way of living. 

Over a billion people from all races, nationalities and cultures across the globe are Muslim--from the rice farms of Indonesia to the heart of Africa; from the skyscrapers of New York to the Bedouin tents in Arabia. Only 18% of Muslims live in the Arab world; a fifth are found in Sub-Saharan Africa; and the world's largest Muslim community is in Indonesia. Substantial parts of Asia are Muslim, while significant minorities are to be found in the Central Asian republics, India, China, North and South America, Eastern and Western Europe.

The Islamic religion has always been a source of law and sociopolitical ideology, and from past to present, 

As Muslim civilization developed, it absorbed the heritage of ancient civilizations like Egypt, Persia and Greece, whose learning was preserved in the libraries and with the scholars of its cities. Some Muslim scholars turned their attention to these centers of learning and sought to acquaint themselves with the knowledge taught and cultivated in them. They, therefore, set about with a concerted effort to translate the philosophical and scientific works available to them, not only from the Greek and Syriac languages (the languages of eastern Christian scholars), but also from Pahlavi, the scholarly language of pre-Islamic Persia, and even from Sanskrit, an ancient Indian language. Arab scholars became the keepers of the period’s science and knowledge—an accomplishment upon which many modern Arabs look back upon with great pride.

Over the years, Arab philosophers have attempted to rationalize and legitimatize their ideals in terms compatible with Islamic idealism. The Islamic scholar. W. Cantwell Smith, has aptly described the Muslim's almost quixotic loyalty to the Islamic ideal as "a passionate but rational pursuit of that social justice that was once the dominant note of the faith and the dominant goal of its forms and institutions." The idealism of Islam can be viewed as the ultimate set of personal rules for Arab behavior, and it provides an all encompassing code of interpersonal relations. This code is embodied in the Shari'a which is a sacred body of Islamic law derived from the Qur'an The Shari’a dominates all aspects of life and society in a way that is almost incomprehensible to an American. 

The Qur'an is the very word of God, Almighty. A complete record of the exact words revealed by God through the Angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad. The Qur'an was memorized by Muhammad and his followers, dictated to his companions, and written down by scribes, who cross-checked it during the Prophet's lifetime. Not one word of its 114 surahs (parts or chapters) has been changed over the centuries. The Qur'an is in every detail the same unique text that was revealed to Muhammad fourteen centuries ago. 

The Qur'an is the principal source of every Muslim's faith and practice. It deals with all subjects that concern us as human beings, including wisdom, doctrine, worship and law; but its basic theme is the relationship between God and His creatures. At the same time, the Qur'an provides guidelines for a just society, proper human conduct and equitable economic principles. For example, it encompasses how they run their government, their legal courts, their schools, their businesses, their social life, and their religion. It has been described as being as totally encompassing. It is as if one single document contained our constitution, our legal code, national education policy, business practices, inter‑personal etiquette, and the Bible.

Some might argue that Islam is another means developed by Arab culture as a way to cope with and forestall the Arab's basic behavioral tendency towards conflict. Nonetheless, Islam is interwoven with Arab culture and its rules give a distinctive pattern to the Arab's daily life. Various verses of the Qur'an symbolize this acceptance by man of God's pattern. The Arab doesn't always live in a tight patterned world of justice and order, but as Smith says: "he tries".

It is this mixture of Islam and Arabism which provides an interesting combination of many prized elements of Arab culture. Pride and sensitivity, the ideal of manly virtue, the Arabic language, dignity, and the all important concept of honor are all interwoven between Islam and Arabism. it is these valued ideals which hold Arab society together. Consider that Arab society, like most societies, has common loyalties and traditions. Yet, in the Muslim world there is an additional system based on personal conviction with a carefully worked out system of values and beliefs based on Islam as the common ideal. In a very real sense the Arab community is a living example of a religious ideal with "religious" being used in a truly personal sense.


Even though the nomadic bedouins presently make up a very small portion of the Arab population, they have always been considered the "Arabs par excellence" and the repository of traditional Arab culture and values. The bedouin ethic is thought to be the ideal moral code by most Arabs. The code of the bedouin is simple: it is essentially based on courage, hospitality, honor, generosity and self‑respect. These simple but admirable virtues make up the basic code of the desert which is admired as an ideal by all Arabs. In fact, tracing one's lineage to bedouin stock has been considered a claim to social status for many Arab leaders. For example, in Iraq both former President Kassem and Saddam Hussein both had their genealogy traced to desert tribes. 

Some motivation for this could be attributed to a form of nostalgia for a better time, when life was simpler and more manageable, such as it was with the nomadic bedouins. It must be emphasized here that most bedouin traits are derived from honor, dignity and self‑respect, and an American would heed well the importance of these to an Arab. Honor (sharaf) has been highly valued since early Arab history because it was conducive to group cohesion and survival. Sharaf probably follows from the fact that shameful behavior or cowardice would weaken the group and endanger society. 

Arabs are extremely sensitive to any slight to their honor, and it follows that any insult to one's honor must be revenged. There are even times when a personal incident can bring dishonor on an entire family, such as a scandal involving a female family member's sexual honor or in the instance of a blood feud. During 1968, the author observed that as part of their security duties, Israeli Druze border guards would kill or injure Palestinian commandos operating in the Jordan Valley area. The Palestinian's family was then honor bound to take revenge against the Druze guard or his family unless a conciliation involving blood money could be arranged.

Honor can also be the collective property of as large a group as an entire army. For example the relaxed, conciliatory approach taken by King Hussein towards the gradual takeover of the country by Palestinian fedayeen in 1970 shamed and angered his Bedouin Army. The King's strategy was essentially to avoid a fight until a solution could be worked out, but this situation, along with strident Palestinian actions, caused the Jordanian Army to feel insulted and to have lost face (more specifically in Arabic terms "to blacken their face"). Symbolically, some armored units tied women's brassieres to their vehicle antennas to express their collective dishonor and the feeling that Hussein had made them into women.

A key point to consider is that right or wrong, in all matters involving honor, an Arab must behave with dignity and self‑respect or lose face (wujah). It is important in any confrontation to leave the Arab a way to withdraw or back down without losing face. Nasser's dispute with Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles over Aswan in 1956, served to illustrate this. What Dulles began as a routine reappraisal of our foreign aid program became personalized by Nasser into a matter of national honor. 

Because dignity, self‑respect and honor are so vulnerable to external actions, the Arab is extremely heedful of being slighted and may often see personal insult in comments or deeds which carry no such intentions. Even long‑time residents of the Middle East, such as Jordan's legendary Glubb Pasha, could mistakenly provide such an unintended slight. The day before a ceremonial review of the Arab Legion was to take place, Glubb said to his orderly: "I don't really want you tomorrow; you can have the day off and take your wife to the review, if you like." Whereupon the deeply insulted orderly replied: "So you think I am the kind of person to sit with women?"

Any discussion of the role of bedouin traits in Arab ideals would not be complete without mentioning hospitality and generosity which go hand in hand. Providing hospitality is a matter of both face and honor to an Arab. To be inhospitable is shameful. During the hospitality, the host is always expected to be generous and Arabs often entertain lavishly. It is interesting to note that the Arab word for generosity, karim, also means distinguished, noble‑minded, noble‑hearted, honorable and respectable. This gives some idea of the esteem with which generosity is valued.


The Pan Arab movement involves a "one world" consciousness of the Arab world as well as an important Arab political concept. Indeed, this feeling of a monolithic Arab entity is enhanced by the strong religious, linguistic, social and economic ties uniting most Arabs. This would appear logical because of their similar attitudes toward life, language and history. The Islamic religion itself provides a powerful cohesive effect and gives a further spiritual sense of commonality within the Arab world. 

Pan Arabism as a powerful political ideal has been a unifying force in the Arab's struggle for independence, first from the Turks, and in recent times, from the West. Arabs can become very emotional about Pan Arabism, and a strong feeling of solidarity with Arabs in other countries has become a potent political consideration. These feelings of Arab solidarity have also been given expression by the Arab League which was founded to promote inter‑Arab cooperation. It is in these expressions of brotherhood that Pan Arabic ideals actually can occasionally cause political motives to disappear and internal differences to be smoothed over in the emotional climate of Arab unity‑ It must be understood, however, that although Pan Arabism is an emotional state of mind which is very important to Arabs, the Arab people are still a long way from becoming one nation.


Although the Arab considers the family as the basis of Arab society, he holds even stronger views about Islam as the complete solid structure of society. Another area where there is a challenge to traditional Arab identity is with the elite class, and especially the western trained technocrats. These bilingual individuals frequently suffer an ethnic identity crisis, not belonging to the West, yet not able to fully return to basic Arab life.

The most dramatic response to the Arab identity crisis is presently being made by the Islamic fundamentalists. These fundamentalists such as seen among al Qaeda, the muhajidiin of Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Syria, and the Afghan Taliban, who all signify a change in the political behavior of Muslims. According to Professor Leonard Binder of the University of Chicago, these fundamentalists are seeking cultural authentication through domination of the political scene.

Another significant concern is the danger of the loss of Arab identity. The proud Arab sees and intimately feels the daily impact of modern technology, new social mores and western culture. The long haul diesel trucks are replacing the camel caravan, the quick snack shops are replacing the coffee shops, and western movies and music are frequently preferred by Arab youth. Infringement on Arab identity may cause a nostalgic quest for the good old days, and even in some cases, a reactionary backlash against symbols of western progress. 

One of the most bitter and frequent complaints of theses groups against the West is that it is attempting to corrupt Arab society. Some Arabs feel that even simple, innocuous entertainment such as Western films and music are counter to the general morality of the Arab world. Relaxed standards of dress, women's liberation, alcohol and rock music are all considered by some Arabs to be an affront to Islamic purity. Not only do Arabs see tangible evidence that individuals are falling prey to Western influence, but they frequently sense that the fundamental values of the population are generally being corrupted.

The disintegration of traditional Arab society, along with loss of identity and outside corruption, is another paramount concern of the Arab. Huge segments of the population simply cannot cope with modernity and the social and political changes taking place. No one really knows where it will end. Westernization of the education system, women’s rights and inclusion in the work force, vastly improved literacy levels, better nutritional standards, advanced health and hygiene, introduction of social services and inclusion of the poorer classes in democratic political processes are all having tremendous impact on the old way of life. The Arabs wonder if it will be for the better. 

This paper was initially written by Ed Badolato in 1980 when he was a student at the US Naval War College in Newport, R.I, and it was part of a three-part research effort on Arab culture. Part I . "A Clash of Cultures: The Expulsion of Soviet Military Advisors from Egypt," was published in the Naval War College Review, March-April 1984, pp.69-81. It was a standard handout used by various military attaché offices in the Middle East to describe how not to act when dealing with the Arabs. Part II. “A Short Guide to Understanding the Arabs”, formed the basis of this article. Part III.” The Cultural Mindset of the Arab Military” was also used in training US military personnel headed for the Middle East. 

Ed Badolato, a career Marine officer, was the distinguished graduate of the War College’s Class of 1980. He began his first of several tours in the Middle East in 1967, shortly after the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War, when he was stationed on the Golan Heights. He was one of the first US military to actually deal with emerging Middle Eastern terrorists. He spent three tours in Viet Nam serving mainly with infantry and long-range Marine reconnaissance units. During his career, he commanded every sized Marine unit from platoon to regiment. 

He served in various capacities in nearly every country in the Middle East and Persian Gulf, including tours as the Defense and Naval Attaché in Beirut, Damascus, and Nicosia where he organized various special counter terrorism activities. Following his retirement from the Marine Corps, he served as a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Energy for Presidents Regan and Bush, (1984-89)where he was the principal architect of the U.S. government's readiness and response to terrorist threats to our energy infrastructure--as well as all counterterrorism security planning for the US’ fifty-eight nuclear weapon facilities.