Mea Culpas, “The Arab Mind” and the White Man’s Burden

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Mea Culpas, “The Arab Mind” and the White Man’s Burden

David Ignatius wrote his Iraq mea culpa today and it’s a good one. He admits that Iraq was an epic strategic blunder and that he was wrong to have been such an enthusiastic cheerleader for it. But in chronicling his mistakes, I find this one to be almost shocking coming from a sophisticated man of the world:

Another lesson is the importance of dignity in the Arab world. Most Iraqis despised Saddam because, in addition to torturing their sons and daughters, he had taken their dignity. But many came to loathe America, as well, because for all our talk of democracy, we damaged their sense of honor and independence. As the Arab world proves over and over, from Palestine to Benghazi, people who are penniless in terms of material possessions would rather die than lose their sense of honor to outsiders.

Right. That’s unique to the Arab world. Imagine, if you will, how even a rich country would feel if someone crashed airplanes into their biggest city and killed thousands of their people? I’d expect they would be quite incensed.  It turns out that poor people, just like rich people, don’t care for it when strangers come in and start killing their families and taking everything they have. It doesn’t take a political genius or a psychologist to know that.

What Ignatius leaves out is that the Very Serious People not only believed that the Iraqis would greet them as liberators, they also assumed they were some kind of primitives.  They even consulted the “experts”:

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Bad Books For Stupid People

This business of using dogs to torture Iraqi prisoners actually is more depraved than is obvious, if you can believe that.

We know that big tough American guys like Trent Lott wouldn’t piss all over themselves if they were tied up naked while a 150 lb snarling German Shepard was allowed to back them into a corner and take a piece out of their flesh. They don’t have a problem with dogs like those arabs do.

This is but another example of the crude, stereotypical approach we seem to have taken toward the Iraqis (and undoubtedly the Afghans, as well.) And it is likely because the “intellectuals” who planned and implemented the war don’t have a clue.

Sy Hersh mentioned in his May 24th article in the New Yorker one of the many possible reasons why:

“The notion that Arabs are particularly vulnerable to sexual humiliation became a talking point among pro-war Washington conservatives in the months before the March, 2003, invasion of Iraq. One book that was frequently cited was “The Arab Mind,” a study of Arab culture and psychology, first published in 1973, by Raphael Patai, a cultural anthropologist who taught at, among other universities, Columbia and Princeton, and who died in 1996.

The book includes a twenty-five-page chapter on Arabs and sex, depicting sex as a taboo vested with shame and repression. “The segregation of the sexes, the veiling of the women . . . and all the other minute rules that govern and restrict contact between men and women, have the effect of making sex a prime mental preoccupation in the Arab world,” Patai wrote. Homosexual activity, “or any indication of homosexual leanings, as with all other expressions of sexuality, is never given any publicity. These are private affairs and remain in private.”

The Patai book, an academic told me, was “the bible of the neocons on Arab behavior.” In their discussions, he said, two themes emerged—“one, that Arabs only understand force and, two, that the biggest weakness of Arabs is shame and humiliation.”

You might as well read a ZOG comic on mudpeople as read this for any true understanding. The passages on sex could have been written during Queen Victoria’s reign which is, indeed, the period from which many silly, crude stereotypes about Arabs and sex really got off the ground. (The funny thing is that Patai’s book portrays middle eastern culture as being rigidly sexually repressed when during Victoria’s time they were reviled for being scandalously oversexed. It seems that no matter what, westerners believe the Middle East is all fucked up when it comes to sex. Unlike we Americans, of course, who define healthy sexuality.)

So, a bunch of second rate minds read a third rate book about people they know nothing about except what they’ve seen at parties where Ahmad Chalabi is holding court, and they fashion a torture regime based upon a ridiculous thesis that arabs (unlike Western he-men apparently, which is interesting in itself) are particularly uncomfortable with being herded around naked, forced to pretend to masturbate in front of women and piling themselves up in naked pyramids, among other sexually charged, homoerotic acts.

It’s always interesting to see people’s innermost fears and insecurities projected on to another isn’t it? These neocons have some serious issues.

One of the most fatuous aspects of the Iraq war was the supporters’ insistence that the US was doing something uniquely benevolent by invading and killing people in that country.  And even more absurd, that they would love us for it.  Let’s face it, the throwbacks weren’t in Iraq.  They were here.  That anachronistic belief in “White Man’s Burden”got a lot of people killed for nothing.

It turns out that human beings are all pretty much the same when it comes to being humiliated, dominated and killed by strangers. They don’t like it. Who knew?

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