Suheir Abu Oksa Daoud reviews: An Introduction to Modern Arab Culture by Bassam Frangieh,

While the events of 9/11 spurred a growing interest in studying the Arabic language, Islam, and the Middle East among American students and Western Europeans in general, the so-called “Arab Spring” generated more interest in the region. It also revealed a desire among these populations to understand the circumstances that led to recent upheavals, culminating in the Syrian refugee crisis causing a ripple effect in the West. Because of this interest, the English language market has been swamped with a multitude of textbooks that discuss the Arab World, its culture, and its politics to English speakers. However, most of these books are extremely lengthy and detailed.
Bassam K. Frangieh’s Arabic for Life: a Textbook for Beginning Arabic, published by Yale University Press in 2011, was refreshing news for frustrated instructors and students. It is an important textbook that provided a cultural journey of the Middle East through beautiful and rich Arabic texts. Led by the passion of the language and dedication to his roots, Frangieh’s new textbook, An Introduction to Arab Culture, makes another significant contribution to a Western reader’s understanding of Arab culture and the challenges that have been facing the Arab region for many decades. It fills an existing gap in scholarship about contemporary Arab culture and society, as there is a dearth of serious textbooks in the English language on the subject.
Frangieh has produced a beautiful book that on one hand presents the struggles the region faces and their detrimental impact on cultural developments, and yet also challenges the stereotypes about the region and highlights the beauty and the rich tradition in its culture.
Spanning 13 chapters, the book discusses the main aspects of Arab culture, identities, language, religion, society, poetry, music, the Arabic novel, and modern thought. With accuracy and precision, Frangieh covers a vast spectrum of details and topics with a clear voice and appealing style. This style is no doubt one of the main strengths of this book; Frangieh conveys a wide range of information and ideas in a relatively short, easy-to-read book.
This book is thorough in its coverage of the Arab culture, yet the author does not burden the reader with unnecessary details for a reader who seeks a solid, comprehensive introduction to the topic. The author bridges the past with contemporary issues, discussing the rise of the prophet Muhammad, the Quran, and Islam, working its way up to discussing the most recent political upheavals such as “the Arab Spring,” terrorism, economic dependency and the Syrian refugee crisis.

Dr. Bassam Frangieh

Frangieh is a leading scholar of contemporary Arabic language and literature in the West. He is a master in identifying the topics he discusses in this book. The author reveals deep knowledge of the region and reveals the connections of different factors shaping the region’s culture by examining the broader political, social, and economic developments, highlighting the great challenges facing the region.
This book is an excellent resource for the general reader, and for undergraduate and graduate students. It provides very useful and important analysis and thoughtful discussion on major questions and issues influencing the region’s cultural dynamics. It is also a good source to establish deeper understanding of the range of the complex issues in the Middle East—an important and rapidly changing area of the world.

Bassam Frangieh, An Introduction to Modern Arab Culture (Cognella Academic Publishing August 9, 2018). Pp 403. Hard Cover $137.52, Paperback – $87.95

 

Suheir Abu Oksa Daoud, Professor, Department of Politics,
Coastal Carolina University. Conway, SC.