Thursday, August 14, 2014

"Understanding Arabs" - I loved every page of this book

I may seem a bit boring but here is another post on Arabic/Arabs I have read lately. As a serious learner of Arabic language I believe it is essential to know something more about history, culture, traditions of people speaking it. The latest item I just finished reading is “Understanding Arabs. A Contemporary Guide to Arab Society” by Margaret K. Nydell.

The author is a highly esteemed academic, but this does not mean that the book is a boring scientific work. She has a gift of writiting with a light pen, in very clear words about the most complex historical, cultural, religious, political and social questions. Thanks to this, “Understanding Arabs” is a kind of handbook accessible to everyone.

Dr. Margaret K. Nydell is a widely respected scholar and professor of Modern Standard Arabic, Arabic dialectology and some of the Arabic regional dialects. She holds a PhD in applied linguistics and a master’s degree in Arabic. She was a visiting professor at Georgetown University and an Arabic linguist for the Foreign Service Institute and the U.S. Department of State. She has directed School of Advanced Arabic Training in Tunis (Tunisia). She has also headed several Arabic materials development projects. She has lived and worked in Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Egypt.

I had in my hands the fifth edition of her book, published in 2012, completely revised and updated. This is what the author herself wrote in the preface:


I wrote the first edition of Understanding Arabs in the 1980s to provide background and context for increasing cultural awareness between Westerners and Arabs. Since then, the world has been bombarded with conflicting images of Arab culture, from planes flying into the World Trade Center, to Arabs crying in grief over the actions of their extremist counterparts; from the self-immolation of a twenty-seven-year-old Tunisian street vendor that launched the “Arab Spring,” to the joyous faces of Tunisians voting in the October 2011 open election for the Constituent Assembly. The highs and lows of human nature apply to Arabs as they apply to all other cultures. Still, it is no wonder that Westerners (Americans and Europeans) don’t know what to believe when it comes to Arabs. These contradictory images involve one of the most ancient, complex, and interesting cultures in the world.
Here are titles of some of the chapters: Beliefs and Values; Friends and Strangers; Men and Women; Social Formalities and Etiquette; Religion and Society; Islamic Fundamentalism; Anti-Americanism; The Arab Countries, Similarities and Differences.

Dr. Nydell gives a very concise and clear overview of cultural, religious and social factors across the Arab world. She gives specific tips for various occasions and situations. She discusses also some of the social issues, such as unemployment or inequality, that challenge the region and how they have changed over time.

This book is an example of an insightful, intimate and well-organized knowledge based on long academic and professional background and experience of the author. I loved every page of this book.

Understanding Arabs. A Contemporary Guide to Arab Society
5th edition
Margaret K. Nydell
Intercultural Press, 2012
Pages: 320

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