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Understanding Arabs: A Guide for Westerners [Paperback]

3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)

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Understanding Arabs: A Contemporary Guide to Arab Society Understanding Arabs: A Contemporary Guide to Arab Society
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Book Description

Aug. 15 2002 Interact Series
From the rise of fundamentalism to the historically uneasy relationship between the Arab World and the West, Margaret Nydell has expanded her highly respected book to bring today's complex issues into clearer focus. This third edition of "Understanding Arabs" introduces the complexities of Arab culture and Islam in an evenhanded, unbiased style. The book covers such topics as beliefs and values, religion and society, the role of the family, friends and strangers, men and women, social formalities and etiquette, and communication styles.

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars FASCINATING & INFORMATIVE Jan. 28 2004
I came to this book hoping to receive insight into the mindset of those responsible for 9/11. In a way, it was billed that way to me. But the closest UNDERSTANDING ARABS comes to answering the question Why? is that many Arabs feel the US backing of Israeli boarders is in direct conflict with US reasoning behind going into Iraq in 1991 to enforce the boarders of Kuwait. According to UA, a 2001 poll of various Middle Eastern countries indicate 90% of residents feel the Palestinian issue is among their top three concerns. Unfortunately, this issue is not looked at in depth, no doubt because the author is not qualified to comment.
According to the author, "Arabs will rarely admit to errors if doing so will cause them to lose face. To Arabs, honor is more important than facts." Additionally, "In arguing the Palestine issue...they (Arabs) often placed the greatest emphasis on the suffering of individuals rather than on points of law or recital of historical events." For someone who is trying to assist the lay person in understanding Arabs, this does not do much to portray Arabs as rational. Much of what I've mentioned was sprinkled in between Arab complaints that they are maligned and vilified in the media.
By contrast Arabs do not like being judged by Westerners. However, whereas the US makes a big deal of separating church and state, Arabs, fundamentally believe the two cannot be separated, and the religion of choice is Islam.
I found the section that describes the current socioeconomic conditions to be the most informative. Many of the Arab nations suffer severe poverty. The richest countries tend to be the most authoritarian. (Saudi Arabia and Iraq.) Surprisingly, the author found Iraq to be the most progressive, until recently. (Saddam, progressive?
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2.0 out of 5 stars Good on Arabic customs, poor on geopolitics Sept. 4 2003
This book is two books into one. The first book is essentially how to get along in Arabic countries. The second book is on geopolitics.
When the author writes about Arabic social customs and misunderstanding between Arabs and Westerners, she is more often than not right on the mark. The two populations are obviously very different in their overall behavior and approach to many aspects of life. In a sense it is an extrapolation of the North/South behavioral axis you find in many countries. If you meet a Northern French or Italian, he typically will be more reserved, more serious, and somewhat introverted than his Southern counterpart who will be more joyful, louder, extrovert. The North/South behavioral axis is not so pronounced in the U.S., as it is in many European countries. In any case, take this North/South axis and compound it several times, and you get an idea of the gulf between the typical Western behavior and the Arabic one. The author does an excellent job at explaining the differences between these two cultures. And, the information she imparts on this subject is truly useful for anyone traveling, working, or living in Arabic countries.
When the author shares her opinion about geopolitics, she is on quick sand. Her views on this subject are full of fallacies, contradictions, and errors. The author has no credentials and knowledge to support any of her subjective opinions. After all, her academic background is as an Arabic teacher. She has no academic degree in political science, international economics, demographics, or any other relevant discipline. And, it really shows. Had she stuck to Arabic customs, her book would have been so much better.
There are many authors who will shed much light on the subjects of Arabs, Islam, and their relationship to the Western World. Some of the luminaries in this field include Bernard Lewis, Samuel Huntington, Thomas Friedman, and Robert Kaplan.
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5.0 out of 5 stars It Changed My Life. June 24 2003
When first learned to fall in love with the Arab people through reading this book. As I delved into Islamic and Arabic culture studies, I came across Understanding Arabs, and was fascinated by what I found. A culture that put the group over the individual, that valued honor so highly, that had no word or concept for privacy (not as it is defined in American culture) . . . The more I read, the more God put them on my heart, and the more my heart became one with the Arab people, for here I found a culture so like my own. Over the years, in further reading and further experience, I've learned a lot more beyond Nydell's terse etic generalization of Arabic culture, but most of what she shares is accurate, and limited enough to be a very easy read, while making you pant for more. She writes with a Semitic style, sharing stories which illuminates the people far more than dry text. Come and read this book, and see for yourself the beginnings of a love affair with the Arab people.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Packed with Knowledge! Feb. 25 2003
Margaret K. Nydell has recast this cross-cultural guide to getting along with Arabs in a new light in the midst of the war on terror. In so doing, she navigates sensitive territory, a no-man's land stuck between understanding another culture, and becoming an apologist for its negative behaviors. Properly executed, cross-cultural guides enhance one's awareness of the vast cultural gap between social norms and customs. Occasionally this volume lapses into cultural generalities, but that's inevitable when you're trying to explain norms of some 20 diverse Arab countries. Understanding Arabs will help you do just that, and although it may not shed a lot of light on the current conflict, it's very timely. We from getAbstract highly recommend it to anyone who wants a better understanding of Islam and Arabs. As Nydell says in her introduction, seeking understanding should not be confused with appeasement.
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Shallow and lacking depth
Since the September event I have spent much time to read in subjects of the Middle East, in an attempt to better understand the issues and people of that region. Read more
Published on March 15 2002 by M. A. ZAIDI
5.0 out of 5 stars A Word from the Author
Interest has suddenly peaked, reviews are more numerous, and I want to say something about how the book is intended. Read more
Published on Oct. 30 2001 by "mknmisspiggy"
1.0 out of 5 stars The Hopelessness of 'Hope' - A Study in Outdated Orientalism
The title should have put me off the book. The review of a particular pseudo-academe should have warned me of the shallowness and ingrained 'cultural' single-vision of the author -... Read more
Published on Aug. 23 2001 by Khaled El-bizri
5.0 out of 5 stars The only book on Arabs that helped me in Saudi Arabia
Before I went to Saudi Arabia to teach English, I read everything I could on Arabs and the Middle East. Read more
Published on Aug. 10 2001 by Victor Ferreira
4.0 out of 5 stars Understanding Arabs: A Guide for Westerners
An American supervisor in Tunisia reprimands a local employee for habitually arriving late for work, and does so in front of the Tunisianï¿s subordinates. Read more
Published on July 31 2001 by Daniel Pipes, Middle East Forum, Philadelphia
5.0 out of 5 stars Understanding Arabs
I recently spent 7 months living in the Gulf and am heading back again shortly. I found it very frustrating dealing wiht the cultural differences until a friend gave me this book... Read more
Published on May 8 2000 by Jo-Ann
1.0 out of 5 stars Arabs, but no Aliens
I haven't read the book. I am Arab so i know my people well enough. My comment though, and from the description given above, is that the book seems to suggest Arabs need to be... Read more
Published on July 19 1999 by marwanhz@netscape.net
5.0 out of 5 stars Not Bad
This work has refreshingly few stereotypes. Its one greatest mistake is the statement that Arab children are taught not to do things wrong because it is shameful rather than... Read more
Published on Dec 20 1997
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