[All posts in this series can be found at The Arab Mind archive.]
Digression and Refinement
The more time I spend on this series, the more I recognize how inadequate the title is. When I began the series, inspired by my reading of Raphael Patai's seminal book, The Arab Mind, I was content to use his definition of an Arab, ie someone who speaks Arabic and identifies himself as an Arab. Patai spent a great deal of time traveling throughout the Middle East, primarily within Arab nations and Israel, and had little to say about Iran or Pakistan, two current examples of Muslim nations struggling with the implementation and interpretation of Islam and Sharia. From the vantage point of 2008, however, it is clear that despite the very great differences between such nations as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Pakistan, and stateless Islamist organizations such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and al Qaeda, and all its off shoots of Sunni Islamism, there are certain fundamental similarities between the way the minds of the fundamentalists work. Further, there are also similarities with secular authoritarian and totalitarian nations (Syria) and non-state actors (Fatah) which are shared with the fundamentalists.
This creates very difficult problems when trying to describe exactly who is culturally a part of what I have been calling The Arab Mind.
Perhaps it would be closer to say that what is being explored is the Muslim mind, yet this is clearly incorrect and inadequate as well. According to Michael Totten, Kosovar Muslims have rather specifically rejected Saudi funded attempts to radicalize them and have lived peacefully as Muslims among their European brethren for a very long time. Further, although there are continuing attempts being made to radicalize Indonesian Muslims, by and large Indonesia remains a moderate nation uninterested in conducting Jihad against their neighbors.
In an attempt to better address this conundrum, I would propose that what Raphael Patai has called The Arab Mind is a descriptive term for those people raised and nurtured in a particle cultural milieu in which the Koran and Sharia have been given primacy. The stricter the cultural adherence to a fundamentalist reading of the Koran and Sharia, the more closely do the individuals resemble the distillation referred to as The Arab Mind.
This definition offers several advantages.
First, it allows the opportunity to find similarities within the members of the Umma who identify themselves as part of the Umma. In other words, those who consider themselves Muslims allied with or part of the strict, expansionist, supremacist version of Islam. In this way, the radicalization of young Pakistani Sunnis living in Great Britain, who grow up in the mixed cultural environment of Great Britain, which often includes many of the features described in previous posts (especially the Shame-Honor dynamic within the family and the marginalization of females as lesser beings) can become more understandable. By the time such young men enter the radical Mosque, they are primed for the message of an intolerant and supremacist Islam under attack from various Western enemies by their exposure and nurturing in the dysfunctional "Arab" family.
The model also allows us to explain how a cosmopolitan and sophisticated population of Persians can contain a subculture ready to adopt the Arab mindset as a way to prove their Muslim bona fides and force their nation into a theocratic model similar in many ways to the Saudis even while espousing a competing version of Islam.
Second, it obviates any necessity to delineate Arab "racial" characteristics. In this more generalized attempt to understand the Arab Mind, an "Arab" could be as diverse as a Persian, a Baluchi, a Sudanese, et al, and yet still, by virtue of sharing some of the cultural tendencies of the strictest Arab archetype, be understood to share in the Arab Mindset.
For this formulation to work, it is necessary to start with a model and then see if it can be expanded and still retain explanatory value. The model of an individual who exhibits The Arab Mind would essentially be an Arab raised in the Bedouin tribal-Wahhabi milieu of Saudi Arabia. Wahhabi Islam holds up this model human being, modeled on the Prophet Mohammed, as the ideal to which a Muslim can aspire. Any culture and any individual who then accepts this characterization of the Arab ideal would then be a candidate for inclusion as part of the Arab Mind. Particular cultural tendencies would skew the Arab Mind in various ways which would need to be explored on a more local level, but all would share certain tendencies, variously supported by the surrounding culture moving outward in concentric circles from the confines of the family culture to the tribal culture to the larger national culture.
Time will tell if this clarification is helpful or if there remain problematic lacunae in this conceptualization, however, the problem of explaining how and why Arab and Muslim cultures are so often failed cultures remains and this should be considered a good faith effort to understand their failures, the contribution of the cultural surround to the failures of the Arab world, and help formulate approaches to either ameliorate those tendencies where possible or exploit them where necessary.