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Arabs in the Mirror

Arabs in the Mirror

NISSIM REJWAN
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7560/717275
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    Arabs in the Mirror
    Book Description:

    To bring new perspectives to the question of Arab identity, Iraqi-born scholar Nissim Rejwan has assembled this fascinating collection of writings by Arab and Western intellectuals, who try to define what it means to be Arab. He begins with pre-Islamic times and continues to the last decades of the twentieth century, quoting thinkers ranging from Ibn Khaldun to modern writers such as al-Ansari, Haykal, Ahmad Amin, al-'Azm, and Said. Through their works, Rejwan shows how Arabs have grappled with such significant issues as the influence of Islam, the rise of nationalism, the quest for democracy, women's status, the younger generation, Egypt's place in the Arab world, Israel's role in Middle Eastern conflict, and the West's "cultural invasion."

    By letting Arabs speak for themselves,Arabs in the Mirrorrefutes a prominent Western stereotype-that Arabs are incapable of self-reflection or self-government. On the contrary, it reveals a rich tradition of self-criticism and self-knowledge in the Arab world.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79448-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. PROLOGUE. THE BEDOUIN, THE CAMEL, THE SAND, AND THE PALM TREE
    (pp. vii-xiv)

    The Arabian Peninsula is the cradle of the Semitic family of peoples, who later became known as the Babylonians, the Hebrews, the Assyrians, and the Phoenicians; it is one of the driest and hottest areas in the world. In the words of Philip Hitti, an Arab historian: “Though sandwiched between seas on the east and west, those bodies of water are too narrow to break the climatic continuity of the Afro-Asian rainless continental masses. The ocean on the south does bring rains, but the burning winds which seasonally lash the land leave very little moisture for the interior. The bracing...

  4. ONE IDENTITY AND SELF-DEFINITION
    (pp. 1-9)

    On the personal, individual level, identity can be defined as the understanding of oneself in relation to others. On the national, corporate level, identities are formed partly in relation to other nations, collectivities, and states. In both cases, identity is essentially a matter of self-definition—of how individuals, nations, states, or any other corporate groups choose to observe and define themselves.

    In their attempts at self-definition, the Arabs have generally been soft-spoken, and their writings about themselves have been scant and inexplicably unwieldy. True, the Arabs, renowned as they justly are for the richness of their language and the beauty...

  5. TWO IBN KHALDUN’S APPRAISAL APPRAISED
    (pp. 10-19)

    In their attempts to explain Ibn Khaldun’s derogatory though somewhat ambiguous remarks on the Arabs, some modern Arab scholars have tried to attribute his “vagueness” and “inconsistency” to the fact that he was an opportunist, a self-seeker, and an arriviste who was willing to serve any master in order to attain self-promotion.

    Two renowned Egyptian scholars and historians, Dr. Taha Hussein (1889–1973) and Muhammad Abdullah ʿAnan, his contemporary, tried to trace Ibn Khaldun’s ancestry, asking whether the famous historian was an Arab himself. In his bookFalsafat Ibn Khaldun al-Ijtimaʿiyya(Ibn Khaldun’s Social Philosophy), Taha Hussein—at one point...

  6. THREE “ARABIZING THE ARABS”
    (pp. 20-30)

    Abdallah Laroui and Edward Said, some of whose views were discussed in the last chapter, represent a new generation of Arab intellectuals whose knowledge of and familiarity with Western culture and Western ways have evidently given them new insights into their own society and culture, as well as the tools to cope with what they consider a challenge posed by traditional Orientalists to their culture and self-image. Members of the older generation of Arab thinkers, however, were less suitably equipped. Those who were forward-looking and reform-oriented seem to have accepted, almost as given, the findings and conclusions of traditional Orientalism;...

  7. FOUR SELF-IMAGES OLD AND NEW
    (pp. 31-49)

    One of the more striking results of the Yom Kippur War (October 1973) was how Egyptians, Arabs, and the world as a whole tended to change their images of the Egyptian as a person. Not only the Egyptians and their leaders, but many foreign observers also went on record, a few days after the outbreak of hostilities, as being greatly impressed by the discipline, daring, and resourcefulness the Egyptian soldier displayed in the course of the fighting. One foreign correspondent—Eric Silver of theGuardianof London—asserted that whatever the outcome of the war, the Egyptians had already shattered...

  8. FIVE CALLS FOR “CRITICAL SELF-ANALYSIS”
    (pp. 50-64)

    Variations on the themes of responsibility and morality are to be found in most Arab writings on self-interpretation and self-appraisal, though mostly in a political vein. George Hanna—a Marxist of sorts, a Lebanese Christian, and an advocate of revolution and socialism who was often excited by the Egyptian revolutionary experiment of the 1950s and 1960s—wrote a good number of books and pamphlets exhorting contemporary Arabs to take matters into their own hands and start freeing themselves from the many fetters that impede their movements and their progress. Some of these fetters are self-imposed or at least “homemade,” Hanna...

  9. SIX UNITY IN DIVERSITY
    (pp. 65-76)

    The death of Arab nationalism and Pan-Arabism has been proclaimed so often during the past thirty years that one cannot help being reminded of that other much-celebrated demise—the alleged death of the novel. However, while the novel seems to continue to thrive despite recurrent ups and downs, pan-Arab nationalism and aspirations for an all-Arab unity have both gone into something like a coma.

    One of the first to announce the death of Pan-Arabism was Fouad Ajami, a Shiʿi Muslim scholar from Lebanon who lives and teaches in the United States. His thesis was that Pan-Arabism, both as an idea...

  10. SEVEN THE QUEST FOR DEMOCRACY
    (pp. 77-91)

    Despite their protestations that democracy is not a purely Western creation fit only for Europe and North America, Arab political intellectuals were slow to realize that the road to a democratic system of government in the Arab world would be long and difficult. A recent example from Iraq is worth citing, although the democratic experience in that country is seen as vastly different from that of any other Arab country. In the course of a meeting he held with representatives of the Iraqi press shortly after the end of the war with Iran, Saddam Hussein assured his listeners that henceforth...

  11. EIGHT RESOURCES AND DEVELOPMENT
    (pp. 92-100)

    The question of how to set themselves and their society free from the fetters of what they variously call the West’s “cultural imperialism” or “mental invasion” has exercised the minds of many Arab writers and intellectuals in recent years. The problem, as most of them formulate it, has been that since the Arabs have finally managed to liberate their lands from the political and economic dominance of the West, the time is ripe for them to try and do away with the cultural, psychological, and intellectual manifestations of that dominance.

    There has been no uniformity of views about how best...

  12. NINE THE SOCIAL SCENE
    (pp. 101-121)

    Observers generally treat the status of women in the Arab world as if it were uniform or at least very similar all over the area. Islam’s perceived rulings concerning that status are habitually cited, and generalizations made accordingly. The actual situation, however, is vastly different, as the experience of one Arab country, Yemen, shows. In Yemen, whose two “parts” were reunited in 1990 after two centuries of separation, a new law of personal status was passed in May 1991, driving women of former South Yemen (Aden) to the streets in protest.

    The new law, while in part a considerable improvement...

  13. TEN THE CASE OF EGYPT
    (pp. 122-135)

    Egypt’s cultural orientation, or identity, a subject that in the 1930s and 1940s gave rise to fierce controversies and wide differences of opinion, has all but ceased to be the cause of such debates. Time was when intellectual leaders and pathfinders like Taha Hussein, Salama Mousa, Muhammad Hussein Haykal, and ʿAbbas Mahmoud al-ʿAqqad found themselves troubled by the question of where, precisely, Egypt belongs culturally: Europe, the Mediterranean, Africa, or the Arab world. Since the 1950s, however, there has been something very near a consensus that Egypt belongs to the Arab world and, as Abdel Nasser told the Egyptian National...

  14. ELEVEN THE WEST’S INROADS
    (pp. 136-146)

    In November 1956, shortly after the Suez crisis, the American writer Dwight Macdonald (1906–1982) asked Taha Hussein in Cairo what he thought of the Hungarian revolt. Hussein, the gray eminence of Egyptian letters and one of the chief disseminators of Western culture in the Arabic-speaking world, had this to say in reply: “I am not informed of what has been happening in Hungary, because I have only seen the reports in the British and French press and they are not trustworthy” (as reported inEncounter, January 1957, 12–13).

    Hussein’s reply was a fair reflection of the attitude of...

  15. TWELVE THE DIFFERENCE ISRAEL HAS MADE
    (pp. 147-159)

    In mid-May 1948 the regular armies of Transjordan, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq—as well as a Saudi Arabian formation fighting under Egyptian command—crossed international borders into what until then was Mandate Palestine. Their declared aim was to prevent the implementation of the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine, passed on November 29, 1947. Their advance was checked, and ultimately the invading armies were driven back—and within just over a year armistice agreements were signed between Israel and Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria, in that order.

    For the Arabs, that defeat was nothing short of a “disaster” (nakba)—...

  16. THIRTEEN NEW LESSONS FOR OLD
    (pp. 160-169)

    Many hundreds of years ago the Romans reached the conclusion that the only thing one learns from experience is that one never learns from experience. Nevertheless, men kept drawing lessons from the experiences they happened to go through in frantic attempts to learn from them and thus avoid making the same sort of errors in their future dealings.

    And Arabs have been no exception. Since the nakba that befell them in 1948, when their armies were defeated at the hands of “Zionist bands,” they have kept relentlessly drawing lessons—hundreds of them—from that as well as subsequent experiences, but,...

  17. FOURTEEN THE INTELLECTUALS
    (pp. 170-182)

    Intellectuals have always been a subject of controversy in the Arab world, and the intellectual’s role in society and politics remains a point at issue among the educated classes there. The Gulf crisis, precipitated by the invasion of Kuwait by Iraqi forces in August 1989, served only to intensify the debate, as some academics and writers took sides in favor of this party or that.

    In Egypt, especially, intellectuals came under heavy fire—and from all directions. Groups and circles opposed to Iraq’s move assaulted those who showed sympathy or even leniency toward Baghdad, while they in turn tried to...

  18. APPENDIX. PORTRAITS IN A MIRROR: Three Fictional Versions
    (pp. 183-198)
  19. SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 199-204)
  20. INDEX
    (pp. 205-210)