I recently read Bassam Frangieh’s book “An Introduction to Modern Arab Culture” and thought I would share my impressions.
Although I have studied the Arabic language for a couple years, I haven’t had much exposure to the culture outside the classroom. I’ve discussed certain aspects of the culture with my professors and fellow students, but never about the Arab Identity. Because of my studies in the Arabic language, I know how important the language is to the culture and its important ties to the Arab community. However, Bassam’s analysis of the “Arab Identity” both challenged and confirmed my understanding of their identity and their values.
I always thought that Arab and Muslim were basically synonymous. Bassam does not necessarily challenge this view. The Arab identity is primarily composed of language and Islam and it is nearly impossible to separate the two. Language and religion have preserved the Arab culture and unified the community throughout the centuries. Even with all the turmoil in the Middle East, these underlying concepts of the Arab identity remain. Religion plays a very large part in identifying as Arab.
Bassam spends the majority of the first thirty pages of his book attempting to define the Arab people. I never realized how important community is to the Arabs. They are constantly searching for a sense of belonging whether it be through culture, religion, nationality, heritage etc. Bassam seems to think that even if the Arab identity is destroyed by the modern political tension, the Islamic identity will persevere. Despite the political divide among the Arab World, the people are still connected through the Arabic Language and their cultural heritage. They share values, characteristics, and traditions which unite them through social, linguistic, and religious bonds.
Bassam’s introduction of the different religious sects was fascinating and challenged my basic understanding of the topic. I knew about the different religious sects but I always compared them to the different denominations in the Christian church. Where the Christian church’s denominations have different views or interpretation of the Bible, Islamic sects have their own rituals, traditions, and social interactions. It’s almost like a new culture.
It was fascinating to really get a firm grasp of the values of the Arab World. One thing that really stuck out to me is the importance of family. Most cultures stress the importance of the family structure, but in the Arab culture, the family is the focal point of Arab social life and plays an important role in teaching cultural values. The family is where religious and social expectations are set. Through the America media and various books, I’ve always viewed Arab values as very formal that focus on reputation and honor within the family. It was interesting to see Bassam’s emphasis on the family and emotion. Despite the media’s depiction, Arabs’ culture prioritizes warmth, trust, and openness with one another.
The Arab’s image of themselves was fascinating because of how much it differs from my own culture. Bassam paints the people as a group that seem resigned to their situation. Despite all the talk about community among the Arab World, to me, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of Nationalistic pride. Bassam states that Arabs lack self-determination. Despite previously talking about how the people are passionate about political topics, Bassam explains that there is no current conversation concerning a strategy to link Arab heritage to a political or economic plan. The people blame foreign influences and their rulers for their “under-developed society”. It’s strange seeing this analysis as an American. Even despite all the political turmoil happening in my own country, the people are still passionate about their country, take pride in their nationality, and work together to solve issue or corruption among our rulers.
In just the two chapters I have read in this book, it’s easy to say that the majority of the world has a skewed perception of the Arab world, especially concerning Arab values and views. Even books that claim to be “unbiased” tend to take a prejudiced look at the Arab World.