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Culture and Conflict in the Middle East Hardcover – December 31, 2007
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"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
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.Read more ›
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.
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
It was well researched but biased - however, for a short overview informative enough, if combined with more in-depth reading on the subject.Published on February 25, 2014 by edithkyriazopoulos
Salzman brought me insights that helped me to unravel behaviour that I did not understand till I saw what tribalism mentPublished on November 24, 2012 by peter louter
A splendid book on the middle eastern tribes and how the tribal ethos affects the ways of islam. And how islam and tribal ethos affect the development (past, present, future) of... Read morePublished on August 17, 2011 by jukka aakula
there is not a lot i can say about this book, apart from it is a ground breaking, extremely insightful discussion on the tribal mind that still largely determines middle eastern... Read morePublished on August 10, 2010 by dune cruiser
A book by a culture warrior for culture warriors. The author is knowledgeable, and this is a book of ideas. Unfortunately the ideas are fascistic. Read morePublished on March 5, 2009 by n_da_FOB
From all I have read about the past and current situation in the Middle East, this book has provided the most illuminating account of the stumbling blocks Arab countries face... Read morePublished on September 1, 2008 by Amazon Customer
Salzman's book gets an qualified good review from me; I think he has made a strong case for his analysis of a very unfortunate dynamic of Arab tribal culture. Read morePublished on September 1, 2008 by RD_C_4_life
A great many of the references to the tribal lifestyle and Islam are 100% correct. The author does a good job of presenting aspects of tribalism and how tribes maintain... Read morePublished on June 23, 2008 by Jeremy Devor