Archive for June, 2004

Sex, violence and “The Arab Mind”

Tuesday, June 8th, 2004

Sex, violence and “The Arab Mind”

I still support the war in Iraq, but we need to rid ourselves of our perverse myths about Middle Eastern men and women.

By Ann Marlowe

“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 … The book includes a 25-page chapter on Arabs and sex, depicting sex as a taboo vested with shame and repression … The Patai book, an academic told me, was ‘the bible of the neocons on Arab behavior.’”

– Seymour M. Hersh, the New Yorker, May 24.

Poolside in Baghdad last June, I told some American journalists that I thought Iraqi men were pretty cute. They thought I was joking. The invective exploded: “Fat, sexist Arabs” was the party line. I was shocked, not least because these same reporters routinely criticized the American occupation for treating Iraqis poorly. And I was hurt, too. Many Iraqis looked like my own people. They looked like Jews. If Arabs are fat and sexist, what are they saying about Jews behind my back? Slurs against Arabs are, after all, just another form of anti-Semitism.

At the time, I worried that these casual bigotries showed an American inability to see Arabs as fully human. Perhaps this incident should have served as a wakeup call for me that my optimism about our ability to win Iraqi hearts and minds was misplaced. But as a supporter of the war I buried these doubts, and hoped for the best. Even if the journalists were giving vent to prejudices they would have been ashamed to voice about Jews, blacks or Asians, I thought better of the American soldiers I met. (more…)