THE WORD IN THE ARAB WORLD
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
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
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
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
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.
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
I am starting to wonder if some people have finally understood the issue.
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 Irak, 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 shaykh 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 a bout 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. Shouby, 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 see 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 Lib?ration
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 Ffuture of Algerian Culture en Temps Modernes of
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
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.
On February 29-2004, I received from IMRA the following article which one more time confirms what is said all over this paper. It has to do with Former President Anwar Sadat:
Disregard for Basic Facts
Human beings are frequently disposed to ignore facts that threaten their
basic assumptions. But those among us who may belittle the power of spoken
and written words and their practical significance should recall the period
preceding the Yom Kippur War when Sadat, the Egyptian president, declared
that he was prepared to sacrifice an enormous number of soldiers for the
liberation of Sinai. In Israel, his words were received with absolute
This could only have happened because our Jewish-democratic value system was and remains absolutely different from that of leaders of Sadat's ilk and his contemporaries, especially in the context of goals that justify the sacrifice of human life. Sadat intended his words to be understood literally, yet in Israel they were understood rather generously:
"he doesn't really mean it," "it is impossible for a leader to act in that
way," "it was a statement intended for internal consumption," etc. The results of Israel's contempt are well known, but the lesson was not learned, and we continue to understand the words of Arab leaders in accordance with a
value system which is irrelevant to the subject of our interpretation.
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 capapble 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) a d tawkid(overassertion) . This becomes natural throughout life to an Arab.
He will use exaggeration and overassertion 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
1)Israeli planes have started to bomb air bases of the U.A.R and about 75%
of the ennemy's aircraft have been destroyed.
2)The coubnterattack 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
ennemy'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
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
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 ennemy?
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'?tude de la Philosophie Musulmne,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 Practises
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 portay 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 verrsion 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 witnesed
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.
LIE AS A WAY OF LIFE
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 Goebbels 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 thay 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 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, Koweit, Jordan and Saudi Ar4abia, represeenting 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 no one there doubts that it is
a conspiration 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
slaugthered according to Jewish rites with a permit from the American
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
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 Palestinain Journal said: The number of six
millions Jews burnt in the nazi camps of Auschwiitz is a lie, a deceit, a
swindel, a trickery advanced by Jews in their international marketing skims
In the Palestinain Journal Al Hayat al Jadida, Seief 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
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.
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.