THE WORD IN THE ARAB WORLD

PREFACE

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.

WORDS NOT ACTIONS

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.

Another one:
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.

THE EXAGERATION In Arabic, you do not say "Good morning" but rather" May your day be prosperous". You do not say "Thank you" but rather" May Allah increase your well being". And so on. Among themselves, Arabs relish rhetoricism which is a very important feature in the Arab modal personality. It is time we learn that Arab threats are most of the time empty. In fact, the Arab custom of trying to intimidate an adversary by verbal threats is such a prevalent feature of the Arab personality that it permeates their identity. These threats will never be translated into action . They are but one variety of the larger category of the substitution of words for acts. The verbal formulation of an intention or a demand not followed up with action is the norm. There are several classic examples of substituting words for action: Prime Minister Qasim of Iraq, in 1961 wanted to claim Kuwait as part of the Iraqi province Basra. All that Qasim did was to state that he intended to make a certain statement, which all knew very well , would have remained mere words, in view of the fact that the sheikh of Kuwait had no intention of giving up his British supported independence. To secure Jordan's defenses against Israel, King Hussein accepted a verbal/written declaration from Nasser. The hasty signing of this document was taken to be the equivalent of having "succeeded in organizing Jordan's defense". In reality the Egyptian-Jordanian defense pact resulted in no Egyptian help for Jordan. E. Shouby who wrote an essay on the influence of the Arabic language on the psychology of the Arabs, arrived to the conclusion that there is a difference between the Arab approach to action and reality. The language itself tends to bring about a "displacement of the perpetual images by the linguistic ones, which for all practical purposes are treated as if they were the real thing and not just a linguistic representation of it. He also noted a "confusion between words and the things they represent" E. Souhby, The Influence of the Arabic Language on the Psychology of the Arabs- The Middle East Journal,1951 In conclusion, the verbal statement of a threat or an intention achieves such importance that the question of whether or not it is subsequently carried out becomes of minor significance. There is no "confusion" between words and actions, but rather a psychologically conditioned substitution of words for action. Raphel Patai, The Arab Mind

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.

Israel's Foreign Minister Shimon Peres once said : « Good policies are good P.R; they speak for themselves". Unfortunately, Peres was wrong. A lie can be more powerful than the truth, if you market your lie well enough for people to believe it. Which reminds me of a Josef Geobbels famous word « The more you repeat a lie, the more people will end up believing it is the truth » Closer to us, Palestinians media professionals have no qualm about deceiving the media for political advantage. In their attempt to convince the world that the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) massacred hundreds of civilian in the Jenin refugee camp during Operation Defensive Shield, they used animal carcasses to fill the air with the stench of rotting flesh in places where reporters and U.N officials were likely to visit. The IDF caught their ploy in video, as they did a staged funeral in which « the body » jumped out of the coffin and run for cover when an Israeli surveillance plane flew over the site. The Jenin Massacre had the world look at Israel as a mass killer of Palestinians. Every journalist worldwide fell victim to the Arab exaggeration and lie. When it was revealed that none of that took place, many refused to admit their mistake. Arafat and his gang are now known to the world as the most vicious liars. No one can trust them. So much so that President Bush refuses to talk to him let alone see him. Closer to us, the September 11, 2001 catastrophe. A lie is now considered as an unrootable Muslim belief. Millions of Arabs, according to a Gallup poll, that asked people in nine countries with a Muslim majority, Pakistan, Iran, Indonesia, Turkey, Lebanon, Morocco, Kuwait, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, representing nearly half of the globe's Muslim population. The results were that the hijackers were not Arabs, that it was a Zionist plot intended to pave the road for a joint Israeli-American military operation not only against Osama bin Laden and the Talibans, but also against Islamist militants in Palestine. On that day 4.000 Jews did not show up at work at the World Trade Center. They were informed ahead of time. Thomas Friedman from the New York Times who from Indonesia, the biggest Muslim country in the world, informed us that mo one there doubts that it is a conspiracy of the Mossad. In Pakistan, only 4% of the polled recognized that the killers were Arabs. Besides the known dull stereotypes about the barbarian Jews who contaminate water, here are few more lies : the Israeli authorities have injected the AIDS virus to 300 Palestinians kids during the Intifada; Israel has poisoned Palestinians with uranium and inervant gas; Israel has distributed chewing gum and chocolate containing a drug so that women become sexually corrupt; Jews use Gentiles blood to make Passover matzot. Last April, students from the State University in San Francisco circulated signs showing a baby slaughtered according to Jewish rites with a permit from the American administration. It is the « Protocols » that inspire the Hamas Islamic movement the teachings they give their children, that Jews control the wealth and the mass medias in the world. The Jews instigated the French and Russian revolutions as well as the first World War. More. Al Akhbar, the famous Egyptian government daily, wrote in April 29 : « All this question of the Holocaust, just like proven by French and British scholars, is nothing but a great Israeli plot to extort large sums from the German government. Hiri Manzour, in the official Palestinian Journal said : « The number of six millions Jews burnt in the nazi camps of Auschwitz is a lie, a deceit, a swindle, a trickery advanced by Jews in their international marketing skims In the Palestinian Journal Al Hayat al Jadida, Seif el Jarawn claimed : « They have concocted horrible stories of gas chambers, where Hitler burnt them alive. The truth is that this malignant persecution is an invention of the Jews. Closer to us, the second gulf war brought more lies this time well recognized by the Arabs themselves. The owner of a boutique near al Bireh, a twin city of Ramallah asked rhetorically:'' Where is the liar, the Minister of Information, Mohamed Sahhaf. He sounded and looked so confident when he told us that the Iraqis were slaughtering the crusaders and mercenaries at the gates of Baghdad. Everyone believed that the Iraqis were cleverly luring the Americans and British into Baghdad, which was supposed to be a huge graveyard for the crusaders. A 70 years old retired school teacher from Silwad village near Ramallah said: ''Once again the Arabs have fallen victim to the lies of their leaders and media. We never learn from our mistakes. When the war erupted, I warned my sons not to watch Arab TV stations, so they would not be disappointed and depressed when the truth eventually comes out. These two remarks coming from within are surprising but show that it is time for them to wake up. And now a fancy and sympathetic lie. Iraq offered to all non Iraqi combatants willing to fight along side its people, a special reward at the end of the war. A house and a bride. Many Lebanese took on the offer to return empty handed, once the coalition was all over Baghdad In conclusion, we can now say that most foreign journalists are easily swayed by Palestinian manipulation, which relies on the reporters' and editors' lack of background knowledge, combined with the lack of time an desire to take a deep look at the facts. On April 17, 2005, Netanya Academic College in Israel conducted the conference at the Strategic Dialogue Center with the topic being: " Multinuclear Middle East – Iran, the Bomb and Israel" One of the highlights of this very important conference was a telephone interview between Ronen Bergman, a journalist with Yediot Aharonot newspaper and Dr Manouchehr Gangi, former Iranian Scientist Minister under the shah of Iran before the Islamic Republic of Iran overthrew the shah. Mr Bergman asked Dr Ganji if Tehran is trying to obtain a lilitary nuclear capability. He replied: " The clerics are in charge, and their wish is to have nuclear weapons. They will use the exercise the so-called principle of , their concoction of an Islamic principle that permits them to lie whenever it is in their interest. They have been constantly lying, and they will lie until they get what they want. And here is for you another proof. Sixteen years ago, Bernard Lewis observed that anti-Semitism has become an integral part of the intellectual Arab life, just like it happened in Germany. If someone looked closely he or she will find how sad it is to see how one letter « s » in history has transformed the word to the sword. THE WORD IN THE ARAB WORLD JACQUES HADIDA, SEPT 02