Wednesday, March 26, 2008

On Sandra Mackey. When Sandra Mackey's first book, the Saudis, came out, I immediately read it. I could not believe my eyes. I was told that the National Inquirer thought about serializing it--kid you not. I read astonishing things as in "science failed to penetrate the minds of Saudi men". She wrote that Saudi women drool when they eat, that Muslims stock for Ramadan like "nocturnal animals, and on and on. She also said that Saudi men and women keep their clothes on when they have sex. I was particularly curious of course. It was mentioned in the book that she lives in Atlanta with her husband, a physician. This was in the 1980s, prior to the time of the internet. So I called two or three physicians in Atlanta with that last name before I reached her husband in his clinic. He politely gave me his wife's number. I called her and told her that I just read her book and was quite displeased. I asked her whey she did not explain to the readers that she knew no Arabic (or any other Middle East language) when she was making generalizations about Arabic culture AND language, and offering suggestions on generalizations. I shared with her some of her silly sentences and reached my real purpose for calling. As I was going on, she kept telling me: I support the Palestinians. I am very critical of Israel. To that I said: I don't care where you stand on the Arab-Israeli conflict, and this is not why I am calling you. In fact, people like her are the last thing the Palestinians need. So I asked her: let us assume that Saudi men and women keep their clothes on when they make love, how would you--living in a separate compound for the White Man in Saudi Arabia--know about it. To that she said: "Well, everybody knew that in Saudi Arabia." I said: if this is your level of documentation, there is no need to continue further with this conversation. Of course, the book went on to become a best-seller and she proceeded to write several (all lousy) books on the Middle East. CNN made her their in-house resident-expert on the Middle East and Islam. Now she has a new book. "Although Mackey surely would not say the Arab world is timeless or uniform, her descriptions reinforce a picture of the Middle East as mired in its desert-dwelling past. Take, for example, this description at the beginning of a chapter titled "Identity in Pursuit of a Nation": "Day after day, year after year, the fellah scratches the dense, black soil with the same crude hoe devised by his ancestors, and milks the water buffalo that powers the same primitive apparatus that dips water from the river."" (thanks Nouri)