BOOKCASE : Understanding Arabs: A Guide for Modern Times

• Margaret K Nydell • Nicholas Brealey Publishing • $49.99

As an Arab born in Iraq and raised in the United Kingdom, it was joy and relief to discover in Margaret Nydell’s book, non-Arab presenting well-written and balanced account of the Arab world.
The usually negative media portrayal of Islam and Arabs as religious fanatics, oil-rich Sheikhs, or men who strap bombs around them, meant I was initially apprehensive about reading book on Arabs and Muslims by western author.
As I read, however, I came to admire Margaret Nydell’s work. In her book, she explains in simple, jargon-free terms how to understand Arab people and their diverse culture.
Arab countries are resource rich and provide Westerners with employment and business opportunities. Many Arabs consider Westerners as intellectual because of ‘overseas’ education (a point Nydell discusses throughout her book).
Understanding Arabs explores the roots of Arab values and attitudes. Nydell outlines what – and what not – to say and do in the company of Arabs and highlights how two favourite discussion topics – religion and politics – need to be sensitively addressed.
She discusses Arab hospitality and the protocols considered important to Arab life. Arabs are generous and welcoming to visitors and go to extreme lengths to ensure guests have enough to eat. Many have special guest living rooms.
Nydell also raises sensitive gender issues and social interaction with Muslim men and women. She advises male readers, for example, not to shake the hand of woman unless she initiates it. In chapter dedicated to the topic, Nydell explains and corrects negative Arab and Muslim stereotypes.
Included in the book is an extensive appendix which includes Arabic words, pronunciation and simple phrases for basic conversation. Nydell is correct in suggesting by using few words in Arabic, Arabs will respond to Westerners with much appreciation and admiration. This information can be of great importance to western and foreign visitors.
Most importantly, Nydell draws the attention to the fact that Arabs do not “hate” Westerners or Americans as people. Rather, they disapprove of Western and American political policies.
I would recommend this book to any person visiting or residing in an Arab country and to western intellectuals keen to gain more insight into the Muslim Arab way of living.

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