My mother told me about Hisham Sharabi (History Professor at Georgetown University) long time ago, but I didn't get to read some of his books until recently, and I have to say I am extremely impressed.
Sharabi simply tries to answer the question: "Why Arabs behave in a way that lead them to be so unsuccessful in the past few hundred years?"
The answer to a large extent is "We are raised to be dysfunctional". The solution that follows is "to revise the methods of raising our children and revise the values the society forces on them" in order to change our situation in the future.
All this seems a bit "too obvious". But Sharabi's brilliance shows in his attempt to scholarly analyze the Arabic Society in terms of psychological and sociological forces, and come up with clear and detailed recommendations. His diagnosis does NOT apply to ALL people in the society - but it applies to the majority of "normal" people, who go to school and graduate and just go on living and multiplying until they die.
His theory can be roughly summarized in three points: (see Patriarchal Society book)
1- Our society is mostly "patriarchal", in that there's an "oppressor leader" in all social sittings (father in the family, teacher at the school, and government in the country, etc.). Social values teach us to respect this leader and not to disagree with him - largely to be subdued.
2- This continuous oppressing authority causes followers to feel:
- Inability: one feels he cannot do anything on his own.
- Reliance: one feels he's in constant need for others' help to do anything.
- Blame-game: since one feels unable and does not take-initiative, one becomes good at learning how to blame others for all problems.
3- These behaviors cause many of the society-wide problems we see today:
- Consumerism: our society feels "unable" to make things. We are not an industrial society. We do not "make", but mostly just "consume".
- Khawaja-syndrome: We "need" foreign expert help. Anything foreign must be great. Anything local must be worthless.
- Conspiracy Theory: We are a "great nation" but all these people are conspiring against us. It's never our fault. We blame "others" for the misery we live in.
- Condemtation: "Nashjob Wa Nastanker" - we are very good and quick at showing our dissatisfaction of any "change" in the world that went wrong. We never seem to put ourselves on the "side that attemps the change".
I do not fully agree with Sharabi's books (I think he goes a bit too far at times). But I love two major things about his books:
- I really commend him for a very accurate and clear Arabic writing. Most (and I mean 90%) of Arabic texts today are filled with hollow and ambiguous statements that add no meaning at all. Sharabi's book feels like an English textbook for its accuracy and lean style. Every word has a very specific meaning that will not get confused or reused differently throughout the book. It gave me faith again in Arabic as a scientific language.
- Sharabi's method of using classical Psychological and Sociological frameworks to analyze Arabic society is eye-opening. Questions like "how would slapping a kid on the face affect his relationships 20 years later?" are discussed in a very scientific way and backed by real social studies. I have a new respect for psychology after reading this book.
Bottom line: Highly recommended. 4.5 out of 5.