Sunday, 20 February 2011

The Bedouin Temper

Enough has been said of the Bedouin ethos to make us understand one additional juxtaposition which it impresses on the Bedouin mind, and which found its way from there into the Arab mind in general. The juxaposition is that of activity-passivity. The typical Bedouin's life alternates between relatively long periods of passivity, of spending all day in what the Italian mind, with a similar appreciation and inclination, considers the "dolce far niente" "the sweet doing nothing," and brief spurts of frantic activity best exemplified by the ghazw. The Bedouin temper is characterized by sudden flare-ups, which can easily lead to violence and even murder, followed by remorse and long periods of tranqulity, inactivity, almost apathy. This alternation between two poles has been observed and commented upon by numerous students of the Arabs, for it is characteristic not only of the nomads but also, although to a lesser degree, of the settled people, villagers and city dwellers alike. Even in semi-Westernized Arab society, in a generally friendly gathering, such sudden, violent outbursts of temper occur not infrequently, but they cause only a momentary flurry, since everybody knows they mean nothing serious, and that the even flow of give-and-take will return after what normally proves to be but a short interruption.

Raphael Patai: The Arab Mind

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