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Understanding Arabs [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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Customer Reviews

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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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1.0 out of 5 stars Shallow and lacking depth March 15 2002
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. In that direction I took to the reading of "Understanding Arabs". The title of the book is very demeaning, as it suggests a highhanded approach in the subject. The connotation from the title makes it sound that the Arabs are a group of some animal species and the author is a silent observer writing on the social behavior of this species.
The Arab culture at present is under going immense changes under pressure from within but more from external influence. The Saudi ambassador to the United States made the following observation.
"Foreign imports are nice as shining or high-tech things. But intangible social and political institutions imported from elsewhere can be deadly. Ask the Shah of Iran. A constant problem with so much of the west is the pressure need for short focused solutions and instant gratification, our pace is more for long distance running, for durability. We Saudis want to modernize, but not necessarily westernize. We respect your society even if we disagree on some matters".
What I understood from the book is that Arab culture is complex but not unfathomable or totally exotic. The Arabs are demonstrative, emotional, subjective, hospitable and full of zest for life; while at the same time bound by stringent rules and expectation. Foreigners need not feel obliged to imitate Arabs to be accepted in their society, it is important to be non-judgmental and to avoid actions that are insulting and shocking. Arabs feel that the western society is too liberal. The Arabs have a great deal of pride and are easily hurt, they are sensitive to display of arrogance and to implied criticism. They also resent and disapprove of Western political policies in the Arab world. I felt this book was too generalized and void of depth in the subject. The examples given are not supported.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars It Changed My Life.
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... Read more
Published on June 24 2003 by Jedidiah Palosaari
5.0 out of 5 stars Packed with Knowledge!
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. Read more
Published on Feb. 25 2003 by Rolf Dobelli
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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