By Barry Rubin
What do you tell soldiers who are risking their lives on Middle East battlefields about the people they are fighting for and against simultaneously? That’s a tough task. And now we have a fascinating picture of how it’s done.
“Arab Cultural Awareness” is a 73-page text by the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence. It’s easy to make fun of some things in it. Yet how can one briefly explain a complex, different society riddled with exceptions to soldiers who have other concerns, little knowledge, and no experience with it?
Remember, we’re talking about a text whose first section is, “Where is the Arab World?” followed by “What is an Arab?” I think they did a conscientious and honorable job, avoiding prejudice without generally creating a fantasy image, and doing a reasonable job of explaining Islam and social customs.
But here’s what makes this text especially interesting to me: It was published in January 2006, after September 11 and the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan made this information vital but before hard-core “Political Correctness” set in to freeze American brains. I’m certain this book couldn’t be written today because it is too honest.
The section, “Commom (sic) Misconceptions about Arabs” has to contend with lots of difficulties.
“Stereotypes of Arab males:
I shudder to think what an equivalent text prepared today would say.
Today, being honest about Islam has come to be seen as an act requiring being dishonest.