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Racism Watch 2004 Calls for End to Anti-Arab Books

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June 2, 2004

2004 Racism Watch Calls for Action to
End Use of Anti-Arab Books by the U.S. Government

Manning Marable, Director of African American Studies at Columbia University, today called for immediate action to be taken to end use by the U.S. military of a book, ''The Arab Mind,'' by Raphael Patai. In the words of Brian Whitaker, Middle East correspondent for Britain's Guardian newspaper, the book presents "an overwhelmingly negative picture of the Arabs."

"It is outrageous that a book full of racially charged stereotypes and generalizations would be a major source of alleged 'knowledge' about Arab people within any branch of the government," Marable charged. "It reminds me of how Africans and Native Americans, later joined by Mexicans, Asians and other Latin people, were dehumanized for centuries over the course of our nation's history. Such overt racism is not only wrong and backwards, it is dangerous, having a direct connection to what took place at Abu Ghraib and other U.S.-controlled prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan."

In an article posted on May 24th on the Guardian website,,7792,1223525,00.html,

Whitaker explains that the use of "The Arab Mind" was mentioned earlier this month by Seymour Hersh in an article in the New Yorker magazine. Hersh says, "The Patai book, an academic told me, was 'the bible of the neocons on Arab behaviour.' In their discussions, he said, two themes emerged-'one, that Arabs only understand force, and two, that the biggest weaknesses of Arabs is shame and humiliation.'"

Whitaker explained that "my own further enquiries about the book revealed something even more alarming. Not only is it the bible of neocon headbangers, but it is also the bible on Arab behaviour for the US military. According to one professor at a US military college, The Arab Mind is'probably the most popular and widely read book on the Arabs in the US military.' It is even used as a textbook for officers at the JFK special warfare school in Fort Bragg."

Among the racist generalizations made in the book, according to Whitaker:

-that, as the title implies, there is one "Arab mind." "The idea that 200 million people, from Morocco to the Gulf, living in rural villages, urban metropolises and (very rarely these days) desert tents, think with some sort of single, collective mind is utterly ridiculous," Whitaker charged.

-that Arabs "hate" the West;

-that "the Arab view (is) that masturbation is far more shameful than visiting prostitutes;"

-that "once aroused, Arab hostility will vent itself indiscriminately on all outsiders."

Other disturbing statements made in the book include:

-"The fact remains that under traditional Islam, efforts at human improvement have rarely transcended ineffectuality."

-What emerges. . . is the picture of a human type which readily and frequently throws off the restraints of discipline and, especially in mass situations, is likely to go on a rampage."

-"The unwillingness of the Arabs to 'dirty their hands,' to engage in manual labor, is a trait not easily overcome."

Patai concludes his book by stating that "the challenge facing the Arab world in the 1980's [conclusion written in 1982] is to digest the overwhelming influx of Western things, techniques, skills, and knowledge . . . Its successful accomplishment will require total dedication and concentration, which will be possible only if the Arabs can rid themselves of their obsession with and hatred of Zionism, Israel and American imperialism. . ."

Whitaker describes the book as "a classic case of orientalism which, by focusing on what Edward Said called the 'otherness' of Arab culture, sets up barriers that can then be exploited for political purposes."

Marable called upon George Bush to immediately issue an order that this book should no longer be used within any branch of the U.S. government, and he called upon John Kerry, Ralph Nader, members of Congress and others to demand that he do so. He also called for a Congressional investigation into the curricula being used in the military and government departments interacting with Arab countries.

"A public repudiation of the views expressed in this book and a Congressional investigation into the nature of the curricula being used to 'educate' those interacting with Arab and Islamic cultures is one part of what is necessary to demonstrate to the world that action is truly being taken to get to the bottom of the Abu Ghraib scandal," Marable explained. "Those who claim the mantle of political leadership must demonstrate that they 'get it' when it comes to opposing racism, and taking these steps is a clear-cut way to do so."

2004 Racism Watch was founded in early February at a national meeting in Atlanta, Ga. Members of its Advisory Committee include Edward Asner, Ed Begley, Jr., Noam Chomsky, Ron Daniels, Barbara Ehrenreich, Bill Fletcher, Jr., Manning Marable, Elizabeth Martinez, Cynthia McKinney, Phil Tajitsu Nash, Susan Sarandon, Ron Walters, Tim Wise and Howard Zinn. George Friday and Ted Glick are the National Co-coordinators.

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