Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The Geography of the Arab Mind 

It was the day after Saint Patrick’s Day and there was nothing to do but drink coffee, smoke cigarettes and exchange accounts of our previous evening’s intoxicated exploits. A flask was passed surreptitiously, and the coffee spiked with enough hair to chase away the canine’s bite. Voices moved from slow and slurred to rapid and still slurred. After the last laughs about last night’s liquored lechery, the talk turned to politics.

A young man from Virginia who had spent the previous night pursuing the attentions of a young woman from Michigan mentioned an article he had read in The American Scholar in which Lawrence Rosen explored the “Arab Personality” to shed light on the Arab’s world resistance to “Western-style reform.” Rosen focuses on three “deeper cultural factors” to explain Arab culture—the concept of the undivided self, the equation of skepticism on fundamental matters with chaos and disorder, and the tendency not to separate political institutions from the individuals running them.

The problem with Lawrence's article is that it is written in the style of spectulative or popular anthropology. He might have studies to back-up his claims but I've been looking for exactly that sort of thing for some time without success. I would like to know more about the geography of the Arab mind. Certainly, I think it would have been a good idea to know more before we took over an Arab country. But now that we are running an Arab country, I hope someone is doing the kind of research Richard Nisbett did for his book “The Geography of Thought.” Wouldn't this kind of study be infinitely more profitable than time spent arguing about whether or not Islam is a religion of peace?