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Culture and Conflict in the Middle East Hardcover – December 31, 2007

4.1 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"...argues that the confrontation that has erupted across the globe may have as many Arab as Islamic roots. Culture and Conflict in the Middle East defines the patterns intrinsic to Arab culture and shows how they shape behavior in ordinary daily interactions in the region as well as in broad-based political confrontations. This lucidly written study should be on the reading list of every introductory course on the Middle East. Salzman's book blends fascinating case studies with a deep understanding of how culture functions across time and space in the Middle East." -- Donna Robinson Divine, Morningstar Family Professor of Jewish Studies and Professor of Government, Smith College, author of Women Living Change and Politics and Society in Ottoman Palestine

"Salzman, an anthropologist, has peered deeply into the social structure of Middle Eastern societies to develop an original, powerful, and persuasive theory about the reluctance of peoples from that region to accept modern ways. In a nutshell, he points out that they overwhelmingly divide into tribal members or the subjects of despotism; they are not citizens. The insights are deep and the implications plentiful. It's one the handful of most important books I've read during nearly four decades of studying the Middle East." -- Daniel Pipes -- Director, Middle East Forum

About the Author

Philip Carl Salzman (Montreal, Canada) is professor of anthropology at McGill University; the founding chair of the Commission on Nomadic Peoples of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences; the founding editor of Nomadic Peoples; and the author of Black Tents of Baluchistan; Pastoralism: Equality, Hierarchy, and the State; Thinking Anthropologically; and Understanding Culture.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Humanity Books (February 27, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1591025877
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591025870
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.8 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,097,665 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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Dr. Salzman has hit a home run with this book. I have spent a number of years in the Middle East and have dealt with virtually every segment of the population there, from nomads to farmers to businessmen to politicians, engineers, doctors, women, soldiers, and even insurgents. What I saw while I was there coincides completely with the information contained in this work. Not only does he draw from personal experience, Dr. Salzman also pulls from expert research in the field of Middle Eastern Studies to weave a masterpiece.

Be advised: Dr. Salzman does not pull his punches regarding the shortcomings of Middle Eastern culture. While much of what he writes may be difficult for some to swallow, it is true. Other reviewers may fault him for not conducting a similar review of Western culture, but please note the title; this is a survey of Middle Eastern culture, not Western culture or even culture in general. There are many similarities among cultures across the world, but each culture stresses certain qualities and attributes differently, and Dr. Salzman's expertise in the field of Middle Eastern culture enables him to make an excellent analysis of its particular strengths and weaknesses. Those who take issue with his work will do so along emotional lines because his writing is not "polite" or flattering. When any culture is exposed to the harsh light of educated analysis, the warts will show; Middle Eastern culture is no different from any other in that respect.

In conclusion, for any potential reader, I would like to make this comment. If Dr. Salzman had published this work in 2001, and every American and Allied officer had been required to read this before the invasion of Iraq, the current Iraqi conflict would have ended 3-4 years ago. This book is that accurate, powerful, and insightful. Everyone who has any contact with the Middle East should read it, or ignore it at their own peril.
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Format: Hardcover
McGill University Anthropology Professor Philip Carl Salzman in 1978 founded the Commission on Nomadic Peoples and served as its chair through 1993. In three earlier stints (1967-68; 1972-73; 1976) he had done field research studying n Iranian Baluchistan nomadic, pastoral tribes, and subsequently wrote the anthropology texts, Black Tents of Baluchistan and Understanding Culture: An Introduction to Anthropological Theory. Salzman therefore conceives of Middle Eastern Arab culture as a formal social control he labels "balanced opposition," which he describes in this brief and excellent work.

Salzman notes that within this "ingenious" anthropological "collective responsibility" system, proved by observing actual constructs of the society in question, everyone belongs to "a nested set of kin groups, from very small to very large," each one "vested with responsibility" to defend "each and every one of its members" as well as for any harms its members might cause to "outsiders." Similarly, anthropologists label whatever the group simultaneously does to defend itself "self-help."

Confrontations within this social structure aligns small groups against opposing small groups, mid-sized groups against other mid-sized groups, large groups against opposing large groups etcetera, that is "family vs. family, lineage vs. lineage, clan vs. clan, tribe vs. tribe, confederacy vs. confederacy, sect vs. sect, the Islamic community (umma) vs. the infidels.
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Format: Hardcover
Watch out for the negative reviews that are bound to be posted by multiculturalists.

This book is a powerful, lucidly written and unique contribution to the discussion which brings an ethnographers eye and work to the question of tribalism and its link to Arab political corruption and lack of social progress. Far from a damning ciritcism of Arab culuture Salzam elucidates the brilliance of the tribal dynamic of balanced opposition in reducing violence and granting the strength of group idnetity. For Salzman the problem arises when that same dynamic is so structurally pervasive that it inhibits a society's ability to adhere to abtsract principles such as rule of law and maintenance of individual rights.

Some will accuse Salzman, very unfairly and inaccurately, of being a western triumphalist, trust me, such people are simply outraged that his objectivity has led to critical judgments. His section on the myth of an Islamic tolerant golden age is particularly necessary in light of the usual drivel on the topic.

Salzman's work is part of a growing body of correction to the vision of Edward Said and an all the more important one as it comes from an anthropologist/ethnographer perspective.

Salzman's writing exhibits commendable brevity and clarity considering the nature of the subject.
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Format: Hardcover
The thesis of this book is that traditional Arab society is based on "balanced opposition" between tribal groups. Loyalty is always to the group closest to yourself, groups being tribes based on kinship. You defend your tribe against the neighboring tribe, but when attacked by outsiders you unite with the tribe you were formerly fighting against.

Balanced opposition is decentralized, in that no central organization is required. It is democratic, kin that decision making is collective. It is egalitarian, in that there is no ascribed status, rank or hierarchy into which people are born. Everybody is a member of a nested set of kin groups. These groups are vested with responsibility for the defense of each and every one of its members and responsibility for the harm each and every one of its members do to outsiders. If there is a confrontation, groups face other groups of a corresponding size: family vs. family, lineage vs. lineage, clan vs. clan, tribe vs. tribe, sect vs. sect, Arabs vs. non-Arab Muslims, and finally the Islamic community (the umma) vs. the infidels.

Arab society is based on much the same individual freedom, egalitarianism and responsibility as the West. The difference is the tribal orientation as opposed to the western orientation toward rule of law.
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