Fear and Anxiety in the Arab World By Michel G. Nehme (Gainesville, USA: University Press of Florida, 2003. 200 pages.)

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Amber Haque



The title is certainly catchy, as not much has been written on fears and anxieties
in the Arab world. Much, however, has been written on Muslims and
Islam post-9/11. While some writers genuinely try to understand the various
Islamic ideologies and Muslim cultures, others seek to paint a rather dim and
depressing picture of Muslim societies. This book attempts to describe
Arabs, as well as their fears and anxieties, in the garb of “interdisciplinary
research.” It is divided into seven chapters and contains a section on notes,
a bibliography, and an index. The chapters address issues related to Arab
politics (e.g., political identity, nationalism, and minority issues) and more
general areas (e.g., religion and Arab culture). The author is a professor of
political science and diplomacy at the Notre Dame University in Lebanon.
In the preface and opening chapter, Nehme introduces the growing
field of political psychology, which draws upon various psychological theories
to interpret human political behavior. Although he admits that the
best results can be obtained through collaborative research between
experts in each discipline, he dares to make an independent attempt to analyze
Arab fears and anxieties from a Freudian perspective.
The book’s first few pages are quite a turn-off, as many preposterous
statements are made. Playing psychologist, Nehme asserts that world
events are themselves natural experiments and, therefore, his assumptions
are “empirically based” (p. 2). He diagnoses the problem of violence
among Arabs as resulting from a “built-in consistency of anxiety” (p. 3),
“most Arabs no longer appeal to God … instead, they call on their governments
for relief” (p. 4), “they are afraid of everything” (p. 7), “Arab men
are afraid that their wives will be sexually attracted to other men if they
leave home to work” (p. 8), and so on. He goes on to characterize suicidal
tendencies among Arabs as a “death wish” that is not new in Arab history,
as it develops their inner power … through acquiring weapons, and states ...

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