Book Review: Very Simple Arabia by James Peters
Like most Americans I suspect, I don’t know all that much about the Arab world. While I have read and reviewed a handful of books about Saudi Arabia I fear that I remain somewhat ignorant about the Arabian countries of North Africa and the Middle East. So I was very pleased to happen upon James Peters’ Very Simple Arabia. Peters, an Arabic language scholar with over forty years of experience working in the Arab world has penned a very user friendly book which provides a useful and informative introduction to the Arabic speaking world.
Using short chapters with many simple line drawing illustrations, Peters presents the history, language, religion and customs of the region of the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Yemen. The chapters on the Arabic language, which provide some basic vocabulary, usage and pronunciation guides seemed particularly useful; Peters states that while English is widely spoken and understood in the Arab world, Westerners will gain considerable goodwill for trying however inexpertly to speak at least a little Arabic. Peters also provides much good information about Islam and educates the reader in both the how and why of demonstrating sensitivity to this religion which is very, very crucial to all of the Arabic cultures. There is also specific information and advice for doing business with the Arab world.
Peters advises much caution in dealing with Arab women and explains at some length that women are very much revered and protected in Arab societies, even though they are socially segregated in a way which is foreign and can be confusing to Western men. He also points out very strongly that alcohol is completely prohibited in some countries and available only to non-Muslims on a very restricted basis in others. He further notes that drug laws and penalties are much more harsh in the Arab world than in any Western country and that the death penalty is fairly common for drug smuggling/trafficking offenses.
If you are as unfamiliar as most Westerners about the Arabic world, Peters’ Very Simple Arabia is Highly Recommended.