This review essay started as a book review; however, the importance of the subject matter reviewed necessitated more attention than ordinary. In fact, this is not just another book, but a turning point in contemporary Arab thought because this is a seminal work – in more ways than one – given that it addresses the issue of the Arab mind.

To understand the significance of the book, it is necessary to put it in historical perspective. Early in the past decade, in 2003, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) issued in conjunction with the Arab League its first Arab Human Development Report (AHDR). It depicted a rather sombre picture of Arab development. Indeed, despite tremendous resources and wealth, the combined Arab gross domestic product (GDP) did not exceed that of Spain in 2001, which is not a first-tier country of the European Union. The report addressed what it termed three major deficiencies in Arab society, namely: a lack of freedom; an undeveloped knowledge society; and finally, a lack of empowerment for women. Subsequent annual reports expanded on the findings of the first report and continued depicting a negative picture of Arab society. One must point out that the first report did generate a lot of debate. Since it was written by Arab scholars and experts on various subject-matters pertaining to Arab society, it was hailed in the Western media and academic circles as courageous self-criticism. However, the report was also used, misused, and even abused by many opinion-makers in the West as a justification for a robust intervention by the West in Arab affairs. The report appeared about the same time as the invasion of Iraq by the United States and a coalition of ‘willing’ countries and without the sanction of the United Nations. On the other hand, many in the Arab world perceived the AHDR as self-flagellation and rightly questioned many of its assumptions and findings. It is against this backdrop of Arab debates that Professor Alexander Abdennur’s book should be understood, especially since it addresses the process of thought-formation patterns leading to knowledge, a deficit depicted in the first AHDR.

Read full text here  The Arab mind: An ontology of abstraction and concreteness


Arab Mind


Alexander Abdennur


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