FW: [ANTHRO-L] Book Review: "How the Arabs Appear to the Japanese"
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From: Anthro-L [mailto:Anthro-l@...] On Behalf Of Tim
Sent: Friday, January 23, 2004 5:09 PM
Subject: [ANTHRO-L] Book Review: "How the Arabs Appear to the Japanese"
This is fairly long, but if you have an interest in the subject it is
worth the read. Sounds like the book is worth reading, too.
In an article titled 'How the Arabs Appear to the Japanese,' the head of
the Kuwaiti National Council for Culture, Art, and Literature, liberal
columnist Muhammad Al-Rumayhi, reviewed the book 'The Arabs: A Japanese
Point of View,' by Japanese researcher Nobuaki Notohara. The book, which
was recently published in Arabic, included criticism of societal
patterns, oppression, and the absence of self-criticism in the Arab
world. In his review, Al-Rumayhi presents the book as required reading
for anyone interested in reform in the Arab world. The following are
excerpts from Al-Rumayhi's article:(1)
What Enabled the Japanese to Enter the New Cultural Age?
"Whenever some Arabs meet at a scientific convention and Japan is
mentioned, the participants compare Japan's revival to the yearned-for
Arab revival. They say that Japan succeeded in entering the new age
while at the same time preserving its social culture. Apparently, this
is the majority opinion among Arab observers. It appears that this is an
apologetic view or justification aimed at saying, 'You can enter the age
of modernization, globalization, and production without giving up your
social heritage, the traditional political pattern, and the behavioral
norms that are inappropriate for our time.'
"'And if they are told that the Japanese entered the new age because
they changed the political patterns and social behavior to which they
were accustomed and because they adopted new ideas, some Arabs respond
to this with amazement and denial...'
"Now a Japanese man comes along who expresses, in excellent Arabic, the
opposite of what certain Arabs think. This is what Nobuaki Notohara
wrote in his book. As soon as I read the book, I thought it [worthy of
being] a required book for every Arab statesman who believes that reform
is still possible in our Arab region.
"The testimony of Notohara - who dwelled among the Arabs for some 40
years and saw both Bedouin and urban culture, who speaks Arabic like an
Arab and who followed Arab literary works and translated them into
Japanese - is to the best of my knowledge the first Japanese testimony
written about Arabs in their own language..."
'Oppression is the Only Thing That Does Not Need to Be Proven in Arab
"The author points out the tension clearly apparent in the crowded Arab
cities; [he] refers to the tension in the Arab street. He thinks that
this tension stems from oppression. 'The people walk through the streets
as if they were being followed, faces frozen and silent, and [there are]
long queues. A person is harmed by oppression even in a taxi, as the
driver chooses his passenger according to where he [i.e. the driver]
wishes to go, and refuses to take someone he doesn't like.' The book
concludes with a comment that 'the residents of the Arab cities are
unhappy and dissatisfied. The people are silent and do not speak, but
out of this suffocating silence we hear a cry!'
"Notohara believes that the reason for this atmosphere lies in the
absence of social justice, and adds that he has the right to say
something to the Arabs after all these years of living among them: 'The
absence of justice means the absence of the fundamental basis for human
relations. Thus, people in the Arab countries say time and again that
[in the Arab world] everything is possible because the laws that exist
are not implemented and not honored.'
"The law does not protect the people from oppression because it is
violated, and Notohara cites many examples and adds: 'Oppression is the
only thing that does not need to be proven in Arab countries.'"
In the Arab World, 'The Ruler Rules For His Entire Life'
"One of the phenomena of oppression that surprise modern Japanese is
that 'the ruler rules for his entire life, while the Japanese prime
minister's term lasts no more than a few years. In every [Arab] country
there is a ban on some newspapers, and authors and publications are
subject to censorship.'
"A Japanese individual does not expect to see such phenomena. '...
Anyone visiting Japan sees cars with loudspeakers in the streets
[verbally] attacking the prime minister and the ruling party without
anyone harassing them... But in the Arab countries the regime and the
ruler are one. In most Arab countries, the only criteria for respecting
a citizen and for the extent of his patriotism is the degree of his
loyalty to the ruler. All these are alien to us Japanese of the modern
"The author is aware of the fact that Japan was in the past subject to
oppression. But the Japanese freed themselves from it, and it became
history. [The author] says: 'I think that oppression is an incurable
disease in Arab society, and therefore any author or researcher who
speaks of the Arab society without being aware of this simple and
obvious fact is not a serious researcher.'
"'As a result of oppression, the people try to be conformist in their
opinions, dress, and homes, and under such circumstances the
individual's independence disappears. Similarly, the phenomenon of
public responsibility is absent. Oppression engenders fear and creates
spurious respect [for the government].'"
No Justice - No Public Responsibility
"'Due to the absence of justice, there is no public responsibility. This
is why Arab residents destroy parks, streets, public drinking fountains,
and public transportation, thinking that they are destroying government
property, not their own. Similarly, responsibility for... political
prisoners [meaning those fighting for civil and human rights] who
sacrificed themselves for society is lacking; society itself has
abandoned these courageous people. People in Arab countries see the
problems of political prisoners as a private problem of the family of
"The Japanese individual wonders: 'I can understand that the regimes
[fight] prominent individuals, thinkers, authors, politicians,
scientists, and artists, but why does the people itself abandon them?'
"According to the author, 'the Arab adopts his ideas from outside, while
the Japanese shapes his ideas on concrete events in Japan that he
experiences every day. In Japan, new facts are added every day, while
the Arab makes do with reconstructing events from the distant past...'"
'People Need Domestic and External Criticism'
"The author compares Japan to the Arabs: 'The Japanese had to deal with
the bitter and difficult experience of the Japanese military taking
control of the emperor, the government, and the people and leading the
country to war... But we recognized our mistake and decided to correct
it. We expelled the military and decided to rebuild what was destroyed
by the military oppression. We learned that oppression leads to
destruction of national resources and the murder of innocents...
Self-criticism is a great value in the life of every people, and people
need domestic and external criticism.'"
Why Don't the Japanese Hate America (While the Arabs Do)?
"The author says that several times his Arab friends have asked him:
'The U.S. destroyed you by dropping two nuclear bombs on your cities.
Why don't you hate America?' He answers: 'We must admit our mistakes. We
were imperialist and we conquered peoples and destroyed many lands -
China, Korea, and Oceania. We must criticize ourselves and then correct
our mistakes. As to feelings, this is a limited personal matter that
does not build the future.'
"Notahara insists that awareness of problems is the right approach to
correcting them... The Japanese does not expect coming to a bank to
withdraw money and having the teller give him less than the amount
coming to him, or coming to the museum and having the museum director
offer to sell him archeological exhibits...
"In his book, Notohara describes many instances; once he saw a nun in
religious garb who paid a bribe. Why? Because in her institution, she
could not get any attention without it. The author shows that the Arab
value system contains many flaws that do not comply with the progress
for which the [Arabs] yearn."
'I Think We All Need to Read This Book With Open Eyes and Hearts'
"I have tried to present in brief this book, which opens the eyes of
anyone who wants to see. It presents two matters: Japan freed itself of
many of its old values ... in order to enter the modern age, [and] the
Arab value system requires revision...
"I think that we all need to read this book with open eyes and hearts."
(1) Al-Quds (Palestinian Authority), January 8, 2004.
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