Two articles in the Middle East Forum explain to the Western Mind much about the how the Arab Mind works and fails to deal with our modern, technologically advanced world.
By the Arab Mind, we must understand that this means the ideological mindset promoted by Islam, but not inclusively, since tribal and clans figure in this too. So it is not unique to Saudi Arabia, but includes all the countries under the influence of Islam and tribalism. The authors of these articles are not inimical to Arabs or even to Islam.
Some of these books referred to are used to help our military and diplomats and others deal with a culture that seems illogical and very foreign to Western ways of thinking. I'm just going to make a few points, as both of these articles are lengthy, and I just wish to inspire you to read them.
I think it might be beneficial to many, and not just in the West.
The first one is 'Why Arabs Lose Wars', by Norvell De Atkine, a U.S. Army retired colonel with eight years residence in Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt, and a graduate degree in Arab studies from the American University of Beirut, .. instructing U.S. Army personnel assigned to Middle Eastern areas. The opinions expressed here are strictly his own.
In every society information is a means of making a living or wielding power, but Arabs husband information and hold it especially tightly. U.S. trainers have often been surprised over the years by the fact that information provided to key personnel does not get much further than them. Having learned to perform some complicated procedure, an Arab technician knows that he is invaluable so long as he is the only one in a unit to have that knowledge; once he dispenses it to others he no longer is the only font of knowledge and his power dissipates. This explains the commonplace hoarding of manuals, books, training pamphlets, and other training or logistics literature.
Training tends to be unimaginative, cut and dried, and not challenging. Because the Arab educational system is predicated on rote memorization, officers have a phenomenal ability to commit vast amounts of knowledge to memory. The learning system tends to consist of on-high lectures, with students taking voluminous notes and being examined on what they were told. (It also has interesting implications for foreign instructors; for example, his credibility is diminished if he must resort to a book.) The emphasis on memorization has a price, and that is in diminished ability to reason or engage in analysis based upon general principles. Thinking outside the box is not encouraged; doing so in public can damage a career. Instructors are not challenged and neither, in the end, are students.
Head-to-head competition among individuals is generally avoided, at least openly, for it means that someone wins and someone else loses, with the loser humiliated. This taboo has particular import when a class contains mixed ranks. (Heaven forbid a class with mixed sexes!)
Arab junior officers are well trained on the technical aspects of their weapons and tactical know-how, but not in leadership, a subject given little attention. For example, as General Sa'd ash-Shazli, the Egyptian chief of staff, noted in his assessment of the army he inherited prior to the 1973 war, they were not trained to seize the initiative or volunteer original concepts or new ideas.20 Indeed, leadership may be the greatest weakness of Arab training systems. This problem results from two main factors: a highly accentuated class system bordering on a caste system, and lack of a non-commissioned-officer development program.
Most Arab officers treat enlisted soldiers like sub-humans. When the winds in Egypt one day carried biting sand particles from the desert during a demonstration for visiting U.S. dignitaries, I watched as a contingent of soldiers marched in and formed a single rank to shield the Americans; Egyptian soldiers, in other words, are used on occasion as nothing more than a windbreak. The idea of taking care of one's men is found only among the most elite units in the Egyptian military.
The social and professional gap between officers and enlisted men is present in all armies, but in the United States and other Western forces, the noncommissioned officer (NCO) corps bridges it. Indeed, a professional NCO corps has been critical for the American military to work at its best; as the primary trainers in a professional army, NCOs are critical to training programs and to the enlisted men's sense of unit esprit. Most of the Arab world either has no NCO corps or it is non-functional, severely handicapping the military's effectiveness.
The military price for this is very high. Without the cohesion supplied by NCOs, units tend to disintegrate in the stress of combat. This is primarily a function of the fact that the enlisted soldiers simply do not trust their officers. Once officers depart the training areas, training begins to fall apart as soldiers begin drifting off.
The politicized nature of the Arab militaries means that political factors weigh heavily and frequently override military considerations. Officers with initiative and a predilection for unilateral action pose a threat to the regime. This can be seen not just at the level of national strategy but in every aspect of military operations and training.Taking responsibility for a policy, operation, status, or training program rarely occurs. U.S. trainers can find it very frustrating when they repeatedly encounter Arab officers placing blame for unsuccessful operations or programs on the U.S. equipment or some other outside source. A high rate of non-operational U.S. equipment is blamed on a "lack of spare parts"—pointing a finger at an unresponsive U.S. supply system despite the fact that American trainers can document ample supplies arriving in country and disappearing in a malfunctioning supply system. (Such criticism was never caustic or personal and often so indirect and politely delivered that it wasn't until after a meeting that oblique references were understood.)
As for equipment, a vast cultural gap exists between the U.S. and Arab maintenance and logistics systems. The Arab difficulties with U.S. equipment are not, as sometimes simplistically believed, a matter of "Arabs don't do maintenance," but something much deeper. The American concept of a weapons system does not convey easily. A weapons system brings with it specific maintenance and logistics procedures, policies, and even a philosophy, all of them based on U.S. culture, with its expectations of a certain educational level, sense of small unit responsibility, tool allocation, and doctrine. Tools that would be allocated to a U.S. battalion (a unit of some 600-800 personnel) would most likely be found at a much higher level—probably two or three echelons higher—in an Arab army.
I have observed many in-country U.S. survey teams: invariably, hosts make the case for acquiring the most modern of military hardware and do everything to avoid issues of maintenance, logistics, and training. They obfuscate and mislead to such an extent that U.S. teams, no matter how earnest their sense of mission, find it nearly impossible to help.
A lack of cooperation is most apparent in the failure of all Arab armies to succeed at combined arms operations. A regular Jordanian army infantry company, for example, is man-for-man as good as a comparable Israeli company; at battalion level, however, the coordination required for combined arms operations, with artillery, air, and logistics support, is simply absent. Indeed, the higher the echelon, the greater the disparity.
First, the well-known lack of trust among Arabs for anyone outside their own family adversely affects offensive operations.
Second, the complex mosaic system of peoples creates additional problems for training, as rulers in the Middle East make use of the sectarian and tribal loyalties to maintain power.
Third, Middle Eastern rulers routinely rely on balance-of-power techniques to maintain their authority. They use competing organizations, duplicate agencies, and coercive structures dependent upon the ruler's whim. This makes building any form of personal power base difficult, if not impossible, and keeps the leadership apprehensive and off-balance, never secure in its careers or social position. The same applies within the military; a powerful chairman of the joint chiefs is inconceivable.
More on Security and Paranoia, Indifference to Safety, in article.
in conclusion: Until Arab politics begin to change at fundamental levels, Arab armies, whatever the courage or proficiency of individual officers and men, are unlikely to acquire the range of qualities which modern fighting forces require for success on the battlefield. For these qualities depend on inculcating respect, trust, and openness among the members of the armed forces at all levels, and this is the marching music of modern warfare that Arab armies, no matter how much they emulate the corresponding steps, do not want to hear
THE ARAB MIND REVISITED: a review by the same author, Norvell De Atkine, of The Arab Mind, by the cultural anthropologist Raphael Patai (1910-96)
The officers returning from the Arab world describe the cultural barriers they encounter as by far the most difficult to navigate, far beyond those of political perceptions. Thinking back on it, I recall many occasions on which I was perplexed by actions or behavior on the part of my Arab hosts—actions and behavior that would have been perfectly understandable had I read The Arab Mind. I have hence emphasized to my students that there must be a combination of observation and study to begin a process of understanding another culture. Simply observing a culture through the prism of our own beliefs and cultural worldview leads to many misconceptions. More often than not, this results in a form of cultural shock that can be totally debilitating to a foreigner working with Arabs. Less common, but equally non-productive, is the soldier who becomes caught up in a culture he views as idyllic and "goes native." Inevitably there will come a time (usually during a political crisis) when the cultural chasm will force unpleasant reality to resurface.
Patai devoted a large portion of this book to the Arabic language, its powerful appeal, as well as its inhibiting effects. The proneness to exaggeration he describes was amply displayed in the Gulf war by the exhortations of Saddam Hussein to the Arabs in the "mother of all battles." This penchant for rhetoric and use of hyperbole were a feature of the Arab press during the war. The ferocity of the Arab depiction of Iraqi prowess had American experts convinced that there would be thousands of American casualties. Even when the war was turning into a humiliating rout, the "Arab street" was loath to accept this reality as fact.
(But is it unique to just the Arab language?)
Perhaps the section of this book most relevant to today's political and social environment is the chapter on the psychology of Westernization. After centuries of certitude that their civilization was superior—a belief evolving from the very poor impression the European crusaders made on the Arabs and fully justified by the reality—the Arab self-image was rudely shattered by the easy French conquest of Egypt in 1798. A declining Middle East had been far surpassed by a revitalized Europe. The initial shock among the Arab elite was followed by a period of limited emulation, at least in the form of Western political and social values.
In his section on the "sinister West," Patai gets to the heart of the burning hatred that seems to drive brutal acts of terrorism against Americans. Despite its lack of a colonial past in the Middle East, America, as the most powerful representative of the "West," has inherited primary enemy status, in place of the French and British. Patai points out the Arabs' tendency to blame others for the problems evident in their political systems, quality of life, and economic power.
The Arab media and Arab intellectuals, invoking the staple mantras against colonialism, Zionism, and imperialism, provide convenient outside culprits for every corrupt or dysfunctional system or event in the Arab world. Moreover, this is often magnified and supported by a number of the newer generation of Western scholars inculcated with Marxist teaching who, unwittingly perhaps, help Arab intellectuals to avoid ever having to come to grips with the very real domestic issues that must be confronted.
The Arab world combines a rejection of Western values with a penchant for carrying around historical baggage of doubtful utility. At the same time, there is a simplistic, if understandable, yearning for return to a more glorious and pristine past that would enable the Arabs once again to confront the West on equal terms. This particular belief has found many Arab adherents in the past decade.
(and this is where the Ghost Dancing take place)
Patai also delves into the extremely sensitive issue of the nature of Islam in a particularly prescient manner. He views the fatalistic element inherit in Islam as an important factor in providing great strength to Muslims in times of stress or tragedy; in normal or better times, however, it acts as an impediment. Given their pervasive belief that God provides and disposes of all human activity, Muslims tend to reject the Western concept of man creating his own environment as an intrusion on God's realm. This includes any attempt to change God's plan for the fate of the individual.
Certainly one can point to numerous exceptions. But, having worked for long periods with Arab military units, I can attest to their often cavalier attitude toward safety precautions, perhaps reflecting a Qur'anic saying, heard in various forms, that "death will overtake you even if you be inside a fortress." Just observing how few Arabs use seat belts in their automobiles can be a revelation. This manifestation of Arab fatalism is often misconstrued as a lesser value put on human life.
(and it's one thing to be cavalier and fatalistic regarding a seatbelt in an automobile, and quite another to exhibit that same attitude in a multi-million dollar jet fighter, especially one that might not be adequately cared for and maintained.)
There's more, and I hope I have intrigued you enough to explore further.
Just one point of humor here, somehow the Arabs have ascribed Western culture and technology with 'jinn'. We are the genies they don't want to be let out of the bottle. and if anything goes wrong, they blame it on the 'jinn'.