It is in reading Raphael Patai's, the Arab Mind, that the idea came to me to write this paper.
I plan to show how the word used in the Arab language by Arabs tends to be exaggerated, then becomes a lie.
By the way, has anyone wondered why President Bush is adamantly refusing to speak, let alone see Arafat?
The answer is simple: he knows he is a liar.
Yes! The Arab culture is one of the great ones.
But this is only appreciated by those who studied it and who wished to know more about it.
Today, unfortunately, the radical Islamists have taken away from the beauty of their culture to impose on the world what they believe to be "the truth".
They are however forgetting that our era is one of modernism
(modern character) if not modernity(quality of being modern). They refuse to belong to the new catch word of the century "globalization". They are thus excluding themselves from the progress that each human being , regardless of his or her geographic location in the planet, is entitled to and wishes to acquire and enjoy.
I stand to be corrected when it comes to a special people within the Arab world known as the Bedouins, who do have a very distinct way of life, called Asabiyya that implies a boundless and unconditional loyalty to fellow tribesmen.
In the course of several centuries, a lot has been written about the Greeks and the Romans, the British and the French colonies, Christianity and Judaism, that I felt that the Arabs did not get their fair share of exposure.
If I were to add a more satiric reason for it, then I would say, like Karl Von Clausewitz, the German theoretician on military science, it is good to know more about your enemy.
This paper of mine will not solve this problem, it will maybe help understanding a bit the culture, the behavior, the rational behind the Arab world
THE ARAB CULTURE
Most Arabs will tell you that the Arabic language is the best of languages.
A witness to this statement is this message from a 13th century philologist Al Ta'alibi as quoted by Bernard Lewis in the "Historical Roots of Arab Nationalism".
It goes like this:
"Whoever loves the prophet loves the Arabs, and whoever loves the Arabs loves the Arabic language in which the best of books was revealed…whomsoever God has guided to Islam…
believes that Muhammad is the best of prophets…that the Arabs are the best of people…and that Arabic is the best of languages."
Al Ta'alibi, Figh al Lugha,Cairo 1284, cited by A.A.Al Duri-
The Historical Roots of Arab Nationalism, Beirut 1960, quoted by Bernard Lewis, The Middle East and The West, 1965.
From love the prophet to love the Arabs to love the Arabic language, we move to the best of books, to the best prophet to the best people to the best language. Quiet a lot indeed, which reminds me of the Arab particular trait: the exaggeration (mubalagha), which is indeed an accepted way of life.
There is a fact I cannot dispute: the Arabic language is very musical and the eloquence of its speakers is loud and clear.
Here is what an Arab expert, Edward Attyah, said on the relationship of the Arabs to their language:
" It is a characteristic of the Arab mind to be swayed more by words than by ideas, and more by ideas than by facts."
Edward Attyah, the Arabs, 1955
Facts, thus, becomes something Arabs do not pay attention to.
They express their ideas in words, nothing more.
This reminds me of Seneca who said on the teachers who talk the talk but do not walk the walk:" They turn love of wisdom into love of words"
They make promises but no need to implement them. They like their language so much that use of words is enough. They do convince themselves of what they say while others wait for action. We are living this on a daily basis and as long as people do not comprehend that this is the way Arabs behave, nothing will improve.
Here is a vivid example. On August 9,2002, MEMRI, had an interview in London with the head of the Islamic Religious Court, Sheikh Omar Bakri and this is how he ended:
"As long as my words do not become actions, they do no harm"
In other words he only confirms that we do not need any action.
A cartoon in the New York Times of August 18,2002, reprinted from the National Post of Toronto shows Sadam Hussein with four of his main men, saying:" The time for empty rhetoric is over and the time for hollow threats has begun"
I am starting to wonder if some people have finally understood the issue.
HOW THE EXAGGERATION BECOMES A LIE
In the 1920's, two linguist Edward Sapir and Benjamin L Whorf developed a hypothesis in which the central idea is that "language functions, not simply as a device for reporting experience, but also, and more significantly, as a way defining experience for its speakers.
Harry Hoijer, The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis- Language in Culture
The problem becomes: how can we deal with people who are satisfied with what they say and not what they do, when our world, I mean our western world, expects actions to follow ideas and words?
Yes! They are enthusiastic about their literary expression.
Yes! It exercises an irresistible influence over their minds, even if the masses vaguely comprehend the delivery of orations in the classic tongue, since they are accustomed to their local dialect.
Yet, this is their vision of the world when the sound of words has become the most perfect of arts.
Another Arab expert had this to say:
"No people in the world has such enthusiastic admiration for literary expression and is so moved by the word, spoken or written, as the Arabs. Hardly any language seems capable of exercising over the minds of its users such irresistible influence as Arabic…The rhythm, the rhyme, the music, produce on them the effect of what they call "lawful magic".
Philip K Hitti, The Arabs, a Short History, 1943
Through language and imagination, they exalt heroic virtues, loyalty to friends, family and tribe, honor and hospitality.
But where does all this lead them through when they have to deal with westerners who do not se eye to eye with them nor share their vision?
The proclivity of exaggeration in Arabic speech pattern is characterized by emphatic assertions and over emphasis.
A master orator using a rich vocabulary and complex phrases will convince his auditors by his eloquence of whatever message, good or bad, he wishes to share.
Examples can easily be found.
Here is one by the Deputy Minister of Health in the government of Israel Abdu'l Aziz Zu'bi, in Jerusalem:
"Our hearts do the job of our brains. We exaggerate in both love and hate. We are emotional rather than coldly analytical.
Honor is exaggerated at the expense of the real need.We would
like to see certain things and we think they are.''
Here is another one about what Nasser wrote in 1963:
"It sometimes appears to me that we content ourselves overmuch by wishsful thinking. In flights of fancy we fulfill our desires and enjoy in imagination things which we never bestir ourselves to realize."
Malcolm Kerr, The Arab cold War 1958-1967.. He remarked that the actions following the Syrian-Egyptian agreement of April 1963, were"the product of an absurd situation in which symbols seemed to count for everything and reality for nothing.
The predilection for repetition and superlatives is very familiar. It is found in all speeches, mostly political, where four or five times the same idea is repeated, each time with more emphasis to get the message across. So much so that when speakers who acquired knowledge of a different language, have difficulty in ridding themselves of the arabic linguistic tradition of exaggeration.
Here is what one of the leaders of the Algerian FLN (Front de Libération National) had to say :
« Here is the drama : most Algerians read and write a little French, hardly any Arabic, and yet claim root in a culture with a splendid past but one which has become a fiction because of colonization. »
Mostefa Lacheraf, The Future of Algerian Culture in Temps Modernes of November 30,1963
Knowing very well that « most Algerians » were illiterate(92% at time of writing) what Lacheraf should have said was :
« …most of that minority of Algerians who are literate, read and write a little French… »But when his attention was focused on making his point he unconsciously had recourse to exaggeration and wrote instead « most Algerians read and write a little French » although such a statement is patently untrue.
Raphael Patai, the Arab Mind
Whereas a yes or a no for an English speaker is a definitive statement, not so for the Arabic interlocutor.
A yes or a no is too brief and too simple a statement. It can't be that. Yes, means perhaps while no, has an indefinite meaning.
For him to be understood, the English speaker must say :
« Yes, I am telling you definitely, yes. I assure you positively and emphatically, yes; my answer is irrevocably and permanently, yes! »
The exaggeration phenomenon has been recognized by Dr Sami Farah Geraisy, probation officer of Nazareth, as being organically connected with the traditional socio-economic condition of the Arabs. It is hoped that the intrusive technological order will soon spell the end for the traditional Arab trait of exaggeration.
Few more examples :
On the eve of the 1948 Israeli War of Independence, Musa Alami, a well-known Palestinian Arab leader, made a tour of the Arab capitals to sound out the leaders. Here is what he got : In Damascus, the President of Syria told him : « I am happy to tell you that our army and its equipment are of the highest order and well able to deal with a few Jews, and I can tell you in confidence that we have an atomic bomb…Yes, it was made locally, we fortunately found a very clever fellow, a tinsmith… » In Iraq, the Prime Minister informed him that
all that was needed was « a few brooms » to drive the Jews into the sea ». In Cairo, confidents of King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia assured him that « once we get the green light from the British we can easily throw out the Jews. »
The common denominator in all these verbal assurances was that they were greatly exaggerated statements as to what the Arabs intended or hoped to do, as to what they believed they were capable of doing once they began to fight the Jews; in reality, these statements were not followed by serious or sustained efforts to translate them into action.
Raphael Patai, The Arab Mind.
Finally, it will be right to say that in the course of learning to speak, Arab children acquire Arabic vocabulary and grammar along with stylistic devices known as mubalagha(exaggeration)
As well as tawkid (over assertion) . This becomes natural throughout life to an Arab. He will use exaggeration and over assertion without realizing he is.
Now let us move on to see how the exaggeration becomes a lie.
We need examples : The 6 day war is full of them.
On June 5.1967, early in the morning, the Israeli Air Force destroyed practically all the combat planes of the U.A.R (the United Arab Republic made of Egypt and Syria).
At 9 A.M., Marshal Amer, commander of the Egyptian forces in Cairo, sent a coded message to General Riad, the Egyptian officer in command of the Arab forces in the Jordanian front.
The message, according to the account given by king Hussein , read as follows :
1)Israeli planes have started to bomb air bases of the U.A.R and about 75% of the enemy's aircraft have been destroyed.
2)The counterattack by the Egyptian air force is under way over Israel. U.A.R troops have engaged and taken the offensive on the ground.
A few hours later another message confirms the destruction of 75% of the enemy's air force and that the U.A.R forces have destroyed the Israeli bases, that the Egyptian army has penetrated into Israel.
King Hussein could only say later : « These reports-fantastic to say the least-had much to do with our confusion and false interpretation of the situation.
Some of the proverbs reported by Michel Feghali, Proverbes et dictons syro-libanais,1938 do show to what extent the code of proper behavior requires an Arab to go to great lengths in order to save his face: « Let my left hand not need my right hand » « I'd rather die from starvation than ask for help »
To ask or accept help would mean a loss of face. So how can you imagine an army in disarray in front of an invincible enemy?
Leon Gauthier, a foremost exponent of an Arab school of thought went as far as explaining the reasons behind all the emotions and the extremes of the Arabs. He compared it to the desert that « left a profound imprint on the Arab soul » where a « torrid summer is followed by a rigorous winter and icy night come after a burning day…"*
*Leon Gauthier, Introduction a l'étude de la Philosophie Musulmane,1923
We now see the exaggeration to the extreme, to the lie to save the face.
Sania Hamady succeeded in showing how Arab emotionalism expresses itself. « The Arab communicates by shouting accompanied with signs of anger ».When hurt he « expresses his pain freely by words, sounds and gestures. He manifests his sufferings by groaning, moaning and crying ». When death occurs « he must weep and exhibit his pain and misery. »
Sania Hamadi, Islam :Belief and Practices
During the 1982 Lebanon war, Dr Fatchi Arafat, brother of Yasser, exploited his position as director of the Palestinian Red Crescent to release grossly inflated casualty figures. His statement declared that « 10.000 Palestinians have died and 600.000 have become homeless in the first few days of the war »- a lie calculated to portray the Palestinians as the victim of a genocidal assault in Lebanon. In fact the total population in the war zone numbered less than 300.000.
Another incident was the Palestinian version of the « poster boy »Al Dura's death. This was a lie, an invention, issued three weeks after it happened. A thorough investigation confirmed by a German TV crew, showed that the bullets fired at the boy had come from the direction of Palestinian gunmen who had attacked an Israeli guard post. But the world had witnessed the shooting as the media scripted it.
One more. On July 2001, the Associated Press reported that a pregnant Palestinian woman was shot to death at an Israeli road block. In fact, she did not die, and the doctor who had told the AP reported she had been shot and killed had not even seen her. He was in a different town at the time.