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** Paper presented to Speech Communication Association, 1995.

Rhetorical Ethnocentricism:
Understanding the Rhetorical Landscape of Arab-American Relations

R. S. Zaharna
American University


. . . it has been aptly said that in European languages one has to read in order to
understand, while in Arabic one has to understand in order to read.(1)
In a recent study on the differences between American and Arab perceptions of "effective" persuasion, Anderson(2) noted that basic misunderstandings resulted from "rhetorical enthocentricism." Anderson found that both cultural groups assumed the other cultural orientation was synonymous with its own. That both viewed each other's communication through their own cultural prism is hardly surprising. The inability of transcending one's own cultural boundaries is the problem that Hall wrote so eloquently about in Beyond Culture.(3)

While the phenomenon of rhetorical ethnocentricism is an interesting research question, it can become a much more critical issue in complex, adversarial scenarios within the international political arena. Anderson's analysis focused on a rather innocuous case of an advocacy piece by Mobil Corporation and an "Open Letter" by the Saudi Arabian government. However, in the instance of the Gulf war, some scholars have suggested that the inflammatory language contributed to the perceived tensions between the then U.S. President George Bush and the Iraqi president Saddam Hussien.(4) "The mother of all battles" is perhaps symbolic of the rhetorical landscape of the conflict.

To better understand the ongoing rhetorical divide between Arabs and Americans, this study turned to another prominent conflict -- the Arab-Israeli conflict. Early in the conflict, Arabic rhetoric, often called "propaganda," surfaced as a pivotal focus in many American accounts. Robert Adler, writing on "Rhetoric and the Arab Mind," claimed that "the conflict has been swollen and distorted by twenty years of Arab propaganda".(5) Heisey labeled it "dysfunctional rhetoric," and called on both sides to reduce the use of propaganda techniques and provocative threats and accusation.(6) More recently, Raymond Cohen said "attacks made by Arab leaders in public speeches on the United States have done more over the years to complicate relations than almost anything else."(7)

This study explores the phenomenon of rhetorical ethnocentricism in the dialogue of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The popular American news magazine, Time, was chosen as a vehicle for illustrating the American view of Arab rhetoric. In an historical analysis of Time's coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the magazine's description of Arab leaders and events as well as their selection of quotes revealed a distinctly American cultural perspective.(8)The current study focuses on the early years of the conflict (1946-67), when little was known about intercultural communication and many cultural images were drawn about the Arabs from their public statements.

While several scholars have explored the various intercultural differences between Arabs and Americans(9) as well as cross-cultural variations in rhetorical styles,(10) this study highlights the distinct ways in which the two cultures view the very fundamental role of language and message presentation. The analysis focuses first on Arabic and American cultural differences and how they define cultural preferences in message presentation. Examples from Time are then used to illustrate the rhetorical divide and highlight cultural preferences.


Although America is rapidly becoming a more multicultural society, the time period under study (1940s-1960s) represented a period when American society was characterized by a dominant cultural pattern.(11) Therefore, in this study when I refer to "American culture," I am speaking of the dominant American culture of this earlier time period.

There are several ways in which scholars have distinguished the Arabic and American cultures. Most intercultural scholars tend to view the Arab and American cultures as cultural opposites. This section briefly reviews five theoretical frameworks useful in highlighting the salient differences among cultures.(12) These theoretical frameworks were used to develop the cross-cultural chart of rhetorical styles at the end of this section.

Low-context versus High-context
Perhaps the most well-known cultural continuum is Edward T. Hall's discussion of high-context and low-context cultures.(13) Hall views meaning and context as "inextricably bound up with each other."(14) The difference between high and low context cultures depends on how much meaning is found in the context versus in the code. In low-context cultures such as the American culture, very little of the message meaning is imbedded in the context. As a result, low-context cultures tend to place more meaning in the language code, or message. For this reason, messages in low context cultures tend to be specific, detailed, and explicit.(15)

In high-context cultures, such as the Arab culture, meaning rests primarily in the context. Most of the information is either in the physical context or internalized in the person while very little information is transmitted in the message itself.(16) As a result, in order to grasp the fulll meaning of a message, the listener must understand the contextual cues. As Hall states, in high-context cultures, more is expected of the listeners than in low-context cultures.

When talking about something that they have on their minds, a high-context individual will expect his interlocutor to know what's bothering him, so that he doesn't have to be specific.(17)

In other words, in high-context exchanges, much of the "burden of meaning" appears to fall on the listener. In low context cultures, the burden appears to fall on the speaker to accurately and thoroughly convey the meaning in her spoken or written message.

Direct versus Indirect
Scholars have also distinguished the Arabic and American cultures in terms of direct versus indirect communication styles. Levine introduced the cultural variations of directness versus indirectness and clear (univocal) versus ambiguity in communication patterns.(18) Levine said that the American cultural preference is for clear and direct communication as evidenced by their many common expressions: "Say what you mean," "Don't beat around the bush," "Get to the point."(19) Another feature of univocal communication is its "affectively neutral" tone: "Univocality works to strip language of its expressive overtones and suggestive allusions."(20)

Whereas univocal communication strives for emotional neutrality or objectivity, ambiguous communication deliberately uses language to evoke an emotional response. As Levine stated, "by alluding to shared experiences and sentiments verbal associations can express and evoke a wealth of affective responses."(21) This reference to "shared experience" is similar to the notion of "context" that Hall referred to. Additionally, whereas univocal stresses openness, the ambiguous style would be more likely to conceal or bury the message. Similarly, univocal stresses specific factual and technical aspects of a message that the ambiguous style would omit.

Doing versus Being
Another dominant cultural divide stems from Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck's(22) two proposed value orientations. One orientation focuses on activity, the other on being and becoming. The activity orientation places a premium on "activity which results in accomplishments that are measurable."(23) Stewart calls the activity orientation "doing."(24) He noted that such features of "doing" cultures are characteristic of the American culture's emphasis on the importance of achievement, visible accomplishments, and measurement of achievement.(25) The proclivity toward "doing" is found in the common American greeting as "How are you doing?" or "What's happening?"

Opposite of the "doing" cultures are the "being" cultures such as the Chinese, Japanese, or Arab cultures. Okabe contrasts the American "doing" culture to the Japanese "being" culture.(26) He observes that achievement and development are not as important in a traditional vertical society such as Japan where an individual's birth, family background, age and rank is much more important. For an individual of the "being" culture, "what he is" carries greater significance than "what he does."(27) In Arabic, the equivalent of "How are you doing?" is literally "What is your condition?" In which you would respond with your emotional or physical state, or Thank God for his blessings.(28)

Oral versus Literate
Anthropologists have long posited the distinctions between oral versus literate dominant societies. The print or literate dominant society relies more on the factual accuracy of a message than its emotional resonance.(29) This may relate to the historical purpose of the written word -- to record, preserve, and transmit.(30) Literate societies also favor evidence, reasoning, and analysis over the less rational, more intuitive approach.(31) This contrasts to the logic of oral cultures, where a single anecdote can constitute adequate evidence for a conclusion and a specific person or act can embody the beliefs and ideals of the entire community.(32)

Whereas literate cultures may place a higher premium on accuracy and precision than on symbolism, in the oral cultures the weights are reversed. In oral cultures there appears to be greater involvement on the part of the audience, and this in turn, affects the importance of style and devices that enhance audience rapport.

Gold highlights numerous features of the oral tradition, including repetition as a means for keeping attention as well as making the speech "agreeable to the ear."(33) In terms of message comprehension, Henle noted that auditors will "go to considerable lengths to make sense of an oral message."(34) Thus listeners play a valuable part in constructing meaning within an oral exchange. As Gold states, "the audience cooperates with the speaker by trying to understand the meaning or 'gist' rather than the actual content."(35) Thus, the audience is quite active.

With heightened listener involvement, the aesthetics of style and audience relations may supersede the informational aspects of a message. An oral message may be valued more for its affective power than its cognitive merits. Tannen noted the interpersonal involvement between speaker and audience, as speakers strive for a more emotional and participatory responses from their audience.(36) Clearly with style overriding substance, aural ornaments such as formulas, humor, exaggeration, parallelism, phonological elaboration, special vocabulary, puns, metaphor, and hedges are critical.

Linear versus Non-linear
Similar to the oral/literate framework, intercultural scholar Carey Dodd suggests linear versus configurational (non-linear) thought framework.(37) In this divide, the American culture would be more representative of a linear thought framework, and the Arab culture more configurational or non-linear. According to Dodd, the linear orientation "has transformed auditory and oral communication into visual communication by means of written symbols, organized into linear thought patterns."(38) The linear cultural pattern stresses beginnings and ends of events, unitary themes, is object oriented rather than people or event-oriented, and is empirical in its use of evidence.

The non-linear orientation involves the "simultaneous bombardment and processing of a variety of stimuli" so these people would think in images, not just words.(39) The non-linear thought framework, according to Dodd, normally has multiple themes, is expressed in oral terms and heightened by nonverbal communication. Simiarly, time orientation is less important than people and events, and time is not segmented.


All these various ways of looking at the Arab and American cultural dichotomy are not only inter-related among themselves, but related to how each culture views the role of language in its overall cultural communication matrix.

English Language: Transfer of Information
From the Western historical perspective, written language was viewed primarily as a means for record keeping and documentation.(40) As such, language was used as a medium for conveying information across time and space. Focus necessarily thus is on accuracy of content or substance. Style serves primarily as a means for enhancing the accuracy and truth of the substance.

This view of language as a medium of information transfer parallels the cultural features outlined earlier. For example, as a low-context culture, one would expect language use as specific, technical and detailed. Speakers would be held responsible for being as accurate and factual as possible. In terms of direct culture, preference is for clarity, objectivity, and directness. Both linear and literate patterns emphasize accuracy, factual presentation of information for documentation purposes and for "doing things," as well as for argumentation and reasoning purposes. Linearity also stresses presentation of singular themes; ie, one point followed by second point, followed by third, etc. Points or facts are presented sequentially, in a linear progression. One "builds an argument" in a "step-by-step fashion" instead of "throwing things in all at once."

An important feature related to "doing" or activity orientation is that for the literate culture, words should match actions. "Symbolic statements," as Gold points out, "should not be a substitute for action."(41) Thus, there is a tendency to match words with deeds.

This view of language as a medium for conveying or "transmitting messages" is further reflected in Western-derived communication models. Most communication study in the U.S. begins by learning the basic communication components: "sender," "message" and "receiver."

Arabic: Creating a Social Experience
The socio-historical forces that influenced the role of Arabic for the Arabs include the Arabic language''s role as an art form, as religious phenomenon, and as tool of Arab nationalism. These forces appear to have shaped a view of language that is entirely different from the Western view. Rather than viewing language as a means for transferring information with a stress on factual accuracy, language appears to be a social conduit in which emotional resonance is stressed.

First is the role of the Arabic language itself as an artistic form. As an early scholar noted, the "magical sounds of the words" combined with the images, have a powerful effect on the psychology of the Arab.(42) Hitti perhaps summed it up best when he stated,

Hardly any language seems capable of exercising over the minds of its users such irresistible influence as Arabic . . The rhythm, the rhyme, the music produce on them the effect of what they call 'lawful magic' (sihr halal).(43)

The melodious sounds of the phonetic combinations and plays on words in the recitation of Arabic prose and poetry has been likened to music.(44) Indeed, as one Arab colleague once remarked, recitation of the Koran may be the Western equivalent of classical music. Because of their talent with words, poets throughout Arab history have been held in high esteem. As Chenje noted, "there had been hardly any scholar of consequence in Arab-Muslim society who did not try his hand at poetry."(45) With the stress always on style in Arabic, eloquence and effectiveness were equated.(46)

The power of the Arabic language for Arabs is also derived from its religious association through the Prophet Mohammed and the Koran. For the believer, the majesty of the language of the Koran is considered a miracle from God for the Moslem prophet was illiterate and unschooled. "It was the Koran -- the Revealed Book -- that was conceived to represent the highest linguistic achievement of the Arabic language.(47) The Koran was not only revealed in Arabic, but Arabic is the language used in prayer by Moslems throughout the world.

Finally, Arabic is associated with contemporary nationalism. Many throughout the Arab world have defined "an Arab" as anyone who speaks Arabic.(48) Language not only served to define, but to distinguish as well. Chejne explained the complementary role between Arabic and the growth of Arab nationalism: ". . . the language became the driving force behind Arab aspirations toward national and cultural ascendancy. As such, both Arabic and the nationalist movement have complemented each other to such a degree that they could hardly be separated."(49)

When looking at the three major socio-historical forces associated with the Arabic language -- art, religion, and nationalism -- one can see that symbolism is embedded in the very essence of the language use. Each are also participatory, subjective social experiences; the communicator cannot be truly disengaged from either the message or the audience. This contrasts dramatically with the very function of the written word -- to record, preserve and transmit -- which presupposes that the speaker may be physically separated from his audience. Similarly, whereas oratory or public speaking, by nature, is a group experience, reading and writing tend to be a singular experience. In fact, many have claimed that creativity in writing is best achieved in solitude.(50)

Thus, for the Arab culture, language appears to serve as a social conduit. As Cohen observed, "(Arabic) language is a social instrument -- a device for promoting social ends as much as a means for transmitting information."(51) In many Arabic expressions, the social function is stressed to the exclusion of any informational function. Further, language appears to be primarily used to affect people's feelings.

The contrast between language as a means of information transfer versus social conduit is reflected in the following chart.

Cultural Variations of Messages
In American and Arabic Communication Preferences

American Arab

Socio- Legal documentation Poetry, Islam

Historical Record preservation Nationalism


- need for accuracy - reliance on symbols

emotional resonance

- technical, concrete - abstract

- language used to - language used to

transmit information create social experience

Hall (1976) Low-context High-context

- meaning in message - meaning in context

- explicit - implicit

- include details in - details in context,

message not message

- speaker responsible - listener responsible

for message for understanding

Levine (1985) Direct/Univocal Indirect/Ambiguous

- direct, to the point - indirect, circular

- clear - ambiguous

- simplicity valued - embellishments valued

- objective - subjective

(strive for no emotion) (deliberately use emotion)

Kluckhohn & Activity/"Doing" "Being & Becoming"


(1961) - emphasize action, - emphasis relationship

measurable action in social context

- tie between word - words for social benefit

and deed

Dodd (1982) Linear Configuration/Non-linear

- one theme - may have more than one theme

- organized with - organization not stressed

beginning & end

- object-oriented - people & event-oriented

Literate Society Oral Society

- written word valued - oral experience valued

- singular experience - group experience

- factual accuracy - imagery and sounds

stressed stressed

- logic & coherence - emotional resonance

- speaker detached - speaker & audience linked

from audience

- analytical reasoning - intuitive reasoning



for Messages American Arabic

- simplicity - repetition

- accuracy - imagery

- understatement - exaggeration

- actions - symbols

Rhetorical Ethnocentricism: A View through Time

Based on the cultural preferences for messages, Time magazine articles on the Arab-Israeli conflict (1948-1967) were reviewed for evidence of rhetorical ethocentricism. "Rhetorical ethnocentricism" suggests that each culture has preferred rhetorical styles and that this culture-specific style will be used as a prism for viewing all other cultures.(52)

This early time period was selected because it came before the intensive period of intercultural communication study. Thus, American writers might not have known of the cultural influences on rhetoric nor might they have felt the need to censor their reactions to it, thus exposing facets of rhetorical ethonocentricism more readily.

A complete compilation of articles for three separate periods were examined. These periods, 1946-48, 1956, and 1967 were associated with the first three Arab-Israeli wars when there was extensive coverage. The analysis focused specifically on how Time portrayed Arab speakers. Of particular focus was Time's selection of quotes, descriptions of events and persons, and special techniques such as use of sarcasm, juxtaposition, understatements, unfamiliar or foreign terms, etc. A total of 496 articles were examined.

The devised "Chart on Cultural Preferences for Communication Messages" was used to identify rhetorical features within articles. Representative quotes were extracted from the material to highlight the various features. The first part of the analysis provides a general overview. In this section, there is an obvious awareness of cultural differences surrounding language, but little understanding of what these differences mean. It is as if the Time reporters are struggling to make sense of something that refuses to make sense.

The second part of the analysis focuses on the very specific rhetorical preferences of Arabs and Americans. Again, representative examples were used to illustrate how the two cultures use and view various rhetorical devices differently. In many examples, the perspectives on some devices are polar opposites.

Time's Cultural Perspective

Early in the conflict, Time highlighted the Arab's distinct use of language. Descriptions of the Arab people and leaders contain repeated references to pronounced verbal features which were not found in descriptions of any of the other parties. Time also appears to link strong verbal features with Arab leadership. Sometimes the Arab leaders were singled out individually as in the following examples.

In his last harangue Iraq's excitable Fadhil Jamali accused Zionists of financing a recent communist conspiracy in Baghdad.(53)

"Boumediene flew into Cairo and excited Cairo crowds with a shrill cry for an immediate resumption of the war with Israel."(54)

"Algeria's Boumediene, whose militant cries during the war have made him a rival of Nasser for leadership . . ."(55)

"Shukairy, the leftists, demagogic boss of the Palestine Liberation Organization. . ."(56)

"Jordan is a moderate Arab monarch . . . opposed to throwing anything more threatening than verbal brickbats at Israel."(57)

At other times, the connection between verbal component and leadership were suggested as sweeping generalization of all Arab leaders.

"Like all Arab leaders, he (Abdullah) had to make warlike noises and


"The screeching disunity of the Arab world is never more obvious than

when Arab leaders get together for stabs at Arab summitry."(59)

"Arab chiefs rattled threats against Israel."(60)

As scholar Norman Daniels once observed, when intercultural differences are not perceived as "different," they are perceived as right and wrong.(61) This is especially true when cultural differences are hidden below the level of awareness. Time appears to express its disapproval of Arab rhetorical style through the use of sarcasm or unflattering descriptions.

"In Cairo, Nasser's own two sons volunteered for military service, inspired not only by their father's swollen rhetoric but by the martial music that suddenly took the place of whiny Arab folk songs on Radio Cairo."(62)

"The Arabs have no conception of news in our terms, no hard facts. Their press conferences are soap-box diatribes against the Jews." (63)

"Ambassador el-Kony scrapped a 20-page diatribe against the Jews and slipped Secretary General U Thant a meek, 60-word note announcing Cairo's acceptance of the cease-fire."(64)

Following the 1967 War, the significance of the Arabic language to the Arabs as well as its rhetorical devices and oral history was explicitly recognized.

"Whether the Arabs really mean it -- in the Western, rational sense of meaning something -- or whether they are merely caught up in a phantasmagoria of words, is beside the point. The Arabs have shown time and time again that they are the prisoners of their hyperbole."(65)

Israel, also knowledgeable of Arab preference, used an oral approach in its

communication with the Arabs:

Throughout the new territories, Israel has begun a multi-pronged program of education in coexistence. The lessons are all oral or visual, since the Israelis have found that the written word is not effective among the Arabs. . . Precisely because the spoken work is so important to the Arabs, (Israeli) government censors at first felt compelled to red-pencil portions of the regular Friday sermon from the El-Aksa mosque. (66)

In a Time essay entitled, "Arabia Decepta: A People Self-Deluded," language as a tool of nationalism is highlighted, albeit unflattering:

"'An Arab is anyone whose mother tongue is Arabic,' say Gamal Abdel Nasser. It (Arabic) is not only the chief bond, but a chief source of

trouble. (67)

as well as the language's stylistic value:

". . . Its (Arabic's) whole stress is on rhetoric and resonance, not meaning and content. How poetically an Arab speaks is far more important than what he says. 'In Arabic,' asserts one specialist, 'the medium squared is the message.'" (68)

However, while the essay is strikingly informative from an intercultural perspective, it demonstrates aspects of rhetorical ethnocentricism. What may be viewed as positive by Arabic stylists is presented somewhat negatively by Time.

"Sophisticated Arabs often explain that in the Arab world, everyone understands that exaggerated language is not to be taken literally and that the West must not take it literally either. Arabic tends to act as a compensatory mechanism, producing a world far more attractive than the real one."(69)

Although the American view of exaggeration may be negative, in Arabic, the word for eloquence is derived from the same root as exaggeration.


Not only do the two cultures differ in how they view the role of language, they also exhibit distinct preferences in their use of rhetorical devices. The following examples highlight the rhetorical tension between the two cultures.

Repetition vs. Simplicity

Repetition in Arabic is a decidedly positive feature. It is not uncommon to find a string of descriptive phrases or words all referring to one phenomenon.(70) For many Americans, using excessive repetition may have negative implication. For the speaker, it could imply that the statement was not heard or taken seriously, and thus it was necessary to repeat it. For the listener, repetition can imply that the listener was not paying attention or perhaps is not mentally capable of comprehending. Repetition, even as a rhetorical device in public speaking, is used sparingly for emphasis.

An example typical of the Arabic rhetorical style is presented below. Jihad in Arabic can have many connotations and is derived from the root verb meaning to strive, endeavor, or exert one's best effort. Literally it means holy war. Given the American tendency to take language literally and to view repetition as a sign of emphasis, it would be easy to see how an American reader could help but view the following as anything less than a declaration of war.

Council of Ulema (religious leaders) in Cairo: ". . . Let the echo of your voice carry from East to West the lovely word which is dear to the faithful -- Jihad, Jihad, Jihad -- and Allah be with you."(71)

Not only is there repetition within a message, but often times repetition is used as a strategy among messages. Time quotes from Israeli intelligence a strategy discussion between the Jordanian King and the Egyptian President Nasser.

"Nasser: By God, I say that I will make an announcement and you will make an announcement and we'll see to it that the Syrians will make an announcement . . . We will stress the matter, and we will drive the point home.'" (72)

Accuracy vs. Imagery

Because of the powerful group experience in the oral tradition, a speaker seeks to engage the imagination and feelings of the audience. Gold, in her discussion of Ronald Reagan's oral style noted that the former American president had little concern for factual accuracy.(73) The examples below capitalize on the image, not the fact.

"At the UN, Palestine Arabs promised, 'defense of our beloved country with the last drop of our blood.'" (74)

One Arab Legion captain, lifting a glass of tea, called out: "May Allah grant that the end of the war come before my next glass of tea!" (75)

King Abdullah "There is in Palestine a fire which must be extinguished. The Western states wish to bury this fire under embers which might rekindle and again burst into flames." (76)

Exaggeration vs. understatement

As scholars have noted, distinct cultural preferences exist regarding how much one may stress an event or feeling. Scholars have observed a tendency of overassertion by Arabs and understatements by American. Prothro went so far as to caution that "statements which seem to Arabs to be mere statements of fact will seem to Americans to be extreme or even violent

assertions."(77) Overassertion may have contributed to the American stereotypical perception of Arabs as violent.

"Whatever set him off, Nasser in a blind rage counterpunched. Screaming: 'Americans, may you choke to death on your fury!'" (78)

"Damascus radio called on all Arabs 'to undertake the liberation battle that will tear the hearts from the bodies of the hateful Jews and trample them in the dust.'" (79)

"Nasser proclaimed: 'We are so eager for battle in order to force the enemy to awake from his dreams and meet Arab reality face to face!'" (80)

In the Time essay cited earlier, exaggeration was described in particular detail.

"Forbidden wine by the Prophet, Arabs often grow intoxicated on words. Florid exaggeration is a supreme Arab art. The Arab refugee does not tell the facts; he utters an epic of lament . . . An Arab general does not say he will attack with 50 tanks; he is more likely to mention 50,000 . . . Damascus radio is not just critical of US policy; it depicts 'fat, mad' President Johnson 'drinking Arab blood,' and warns, 'O Johnson, drinking blood will destroy your stomach.'" (81)

Words vs. Action

Because of the symbolism of Arabic derived from the aesthetic realm of art and the spiritual realm of religion, words may be more tied to emotions rather than concrete realities. In contrast, the American cultural preference tends to directly link word and action. The American preference for "words matching the deeds" is evident in many common American expressions such as "Practice what you preach," "Do what you say," and "Walk the walk, talk the talk." Indeed, action appears preferable over verbal statement: "Actions speak louder than words." If one does not "keep one's word," by fulfilling a promised action, then one's "words ring hollow." The divergent cultural perspectives of what words are linked to -- emotion or action -- are evident in the following examples.

"Despite Nasser's ego-building bellicosity, he does not seem to want a showdown . . ." (82)

"The trouble was Hussein's tone was more convincing than his words." (83)

"The Arabs," declaimed Syria's Faris el Khoury in reply, "are ready to be killed by your bombs." Khoury and everyone else knew that it would not come to that. (84)

"Yet, in the best Arab manner, shouting won out over shooting." (85)

Frequently Time used the word, "boasting" to refer to Arab statements, implying that the action was unlikely to be carried out. The constant display of the "word versus deed" gap in Arab rhetoric may have contributed to the stereotypical image of Arabs as "lazy," or "dishonest."


For the American culture, language appears to be a medium of communication used to convey information. Emphasis is on function and by extension substance, meaning, and accuracy. A message may tend to be valued more for its content than style. For the Arab culture, language appears to be a social tool used in the weaving of society. Emphasis is on form over function, feeling over meaning, and effect over accuracy. Accordingly, content may be less important than the social chemistry a message creates.

This wide discrepancy between the two cultural styles provide fertile ground for rhetorical ethnocentricism. In the early stages of the conflict, (1948-67), cultural differences had not been as extensively documented as they are today. Recalling Daniel's observation that when differences are not perceived as differences, they are perceived as right and wrong. It does appear that hidden rhetorical "differences" were perceived as "wrong." Overwhelmingly, Time's word choice and descriptions associated with the Arab style were negative rather than neutral or different.

Although the Arab-Israeli conflict is undoubtedly filled with complex political issues, what role rhetorical ethnocentrism played in the conflict is unknown. The negative perception of the Arab cultural differences could have contributed to the negative Arab stereotypes that many scholars have noted in the American media.(86) Further study might explore the parallels between rhetorical differences and the cultivation of negative cultural stereotypes.

Additionally, the hidden cultural differences could have contributed to the political conflict itself, by exacerbating negative perceptions and distrust among the parties. Given the emotionally charged nature of the conflict, cultural misunderstandings may have served to reinforce political stances. Significantly, just a week before the June 1967 war broke out, Time ran an article entitled, "The Week that Talk Broke Out." Had policy makers at the time understood the distinctive features of Arab rhetoric, one wonders whether a war that changed the map of the Middle East could have been avoided.

1. E. Shouby, "The Influence of the Arabic Language on the Psychology of the Arabs," Middle East Journal 5 (1951): 297.

2. J. Anderson, " A Comparison of Arab and American Conceptions of Persuasion," Howard Journal of Communication 2 (1990):81-114.

3. Edward T. Hall, Beyond Culture (New York: Anchor Press, 1976).

4. See, for example, John R. MacArthur, Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992).

5. Robert Alder, "Rhetoric and the Arab Mind," Commentary 46 (October 1968): 65.

6. D. Heisey, The Rhetoric of the Arab-Israeli Conflict," Quarterly Journal of Speech 56 (1970):19.

7. Raymond Cohen, "Problems of Intercultural Communication in Egyptian-American Diplomatic Relations," International Journal of Intercultural Relations 11 (1987):35.

8. R. S. Zaharna, "The Palestinian Leadership and the American Media: Changing Images, Conflicting Results," The U.S. Media and the Middle East ed. Yahya Kamalipour (Westport, Connecticut: Greewood Press, 1994).

9. See, for example, M. Adelman and M. Lustig, "Intercultural Communication Problems as Perceived by Saudi Arabian and American Managers," International Journal of Intercultural Relations 5 (1981):349-363; A. Almaney and A. Alwan, Communication with the Arabs (Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press, 1982); J. O. Dean and G. Popp, "Intercultural Communication Effectiveness as Perceived by American Managers by Saudi Arabian and French Managers in the U.S.," International Journal of Intercultural Relations 14 (1990):405-424; A. El-Messiri, "Rhetoric of the Arab-Israeli Conflict," The Arab World 14 (May/June 1968):15-20; and Fathi Yousef, "Cross-cultural Communication: Aspects of Contrastive Social Values between North Americans and Middle Easterners," Human Organizations 33 (1974):383-387.

10. See, for example, S. Deetz, "Metaphor Analysis," in Methods of Intercultural Communication Research, ed. W. Gudykunst and Y. Kim (Beverly Hills: Sage, 1984); William Starosta, "On Intercultural Rhetoric," in Methods of Intercultural Communication Research, ed. W. Gudykunst and Y. Kim (Beverly Hills: Sage, 1984); J. Condon and F. Yousef, An Introduction to Intercultural Communication. (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1975); and Edward Stewart, American Cultural Patterns (Chicago: Intercultural Press, 1972).

11. See, Edward Stewart, American Cultural Patterns.

12. Other dominant cultural variations identified by scholars include collectivism versus individualism; informal versus formal; and ascribed versus attained.

13. Beyond Culture (New York: Anchor, 1976).

14. Edward T. Hall, "Context and Meaning," in Intercultural Communication: A Reader, ed. L. Samovar and R. Porter (Belmont: Wadsworth, 1982), p. 18.

15. For more on the high-low context divide, see, Stella Ting-Toomey, "Toward a Theory of Conflict and Culture," in Communication, Culture and Organizational Processes, ed. W. Gudykunst, L. Stewart and S. Ting-Toomey (Beverly Hills: Saage, 1985).

16. Hall, "Meaning and Context" 18.

17. Hall, Beyond Culture 98.

18. D. Levin, The Flight from Ambiguity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985).

19. Levine, The Flight from Ambiquity 29.

20. Levine, The Flight from Ambiguity 32.

21. Levine, The Flight from Ambiguity 32.

22. F. Kluckhohn and R. Strodtbeck, Variations in Value Orientations (Evanston, IL: Row Peterson, 1961).

23. F. Kluckhohn, "Some Reflections of the Nature of Cultural Integration and Change," in Sociological Theory, Values and Sociocultural Change: Essays in Honor of P. A. Sorokin, ed. E. Tiryakian (New York: Free Press, 1963), 17.

24. Stewart, American Cultural Patterns.

25. Stewart, American Cultural Patterns 36.

26. R. Okabe, "Cultural Assumptions of East and West: Japan and the U.S." in Intercultural Communication Theory, ed. W. Gudykunst (Beverly Hills: Sage, 1983).

27. Okabe, "Cultural Assumptions" 24.

28. For a more detailed analysis on the Arab and American as doing and being cultures, see, R.S. Zaharna,"The Ontological Function of Interpersonal Communication: A Cross-cultural Analysis of Americans and Palestinians," Howard Journal of Communications 3 (1991):87-98.

29. W. Ong, "Literacy and Orality in Our Times," Journal of Communication 30 (1980):197-204.

30. B. Stock, The Implications of Literacy. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983).

31. J. Denny, "Rational Thought in Oral Culture and Literate Decontextualization" in Literacy and Orality , ed. D. Olson and N. Torrance (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991).

32. E. Gold, "Ronald Reagan and the Oral Tradition," Central States Speech Journal 39 (1988):159-176.

33. E. Gold, "Ronald Reagan" 160.

34. M. Henle, "On the Relation between Logic and Thinking," Psychological Review 69 (1962):366-378.

35. Gold, "Ronald Reagan" 170.

36. 32. D. Tannen, "Introduction, in Spoken and Written Language: Exploring Orality and Literacy, ed. D. Tannen (Norwood, NJ: ABLEX, 1982).

37. C. Dodd, Dynamics of Intercultural Communication (Dubuque: Wm. C. Brown, 1982).

38. Dodd, Dynamics of Intercultural Communication 163.

39. Dodd, Dynamics of Intercultural Communication 162.

40. Stock, The Implications of Literacy.

41. Gold, "Ronald Reagan" 41.171.

42. Shouby, "The Influence of the Arabic Language" 284.

43. P. Hitti, History of the Arabs (New York: Oxford University Press, 1958) 90.

44. See, E. Shouby, "Influence of the Arabic Language" and R. Patai, The Arab Mind (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1973).

45. Anwar Chenje, "Arabic: Its Significance and Place in Arab-Muslim Society," The Middle East Journal 19 (1965):447-470.

46. H. Hamod, "Arab and Moslem rhetorical theory and practice," Central States Speech Journal 14 (1963):97-104.

47. Chenje, "Arabic" 454.

48. Patai, The Arab Mind.

49. Chenje, "Arabic" 459.

50. Anthony Storr, Solitude (New York: Ballentine, 1989).

51. Cohen, "Problems of Intercultural Communication" 31.

52. Anderson, "Comparison of Arab and American Conceptions of Persuasion" 111.

53. Time (December 8, 1947) 31.

54. Time (July 21, 1967) 32.

55. Time (July 14, 1967) 26.

56. Time (September 22, 1967) 32.

57. Time (July 8, 1966) 30.

58. Time (May 24, 1948) 33.

59. Time (June 4, 1965) 30.

60. Time (July 28, 1967) 28.

61. Norman Daniels, The Cultural Barrier: Problems in the Exchange of Ideas (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1975).

62. Time (June 2, 1967) 20.

63. Time (July 19, 1948) 63.

64. Time (June 16, 1967) 16.

65. Time (June 23, 1967) 24.

66. Time (August 11, 1967) 21.

67. Time (July 14, 1967) 24.

68. Time (July 14, 1967) 25.

69. Time (July 14, 1967) 25.

70. Shouby, "The Influence of the Arabic Language" 291.

71. Time (December 15, 1947) 30.

72. Time (June 16, 1967) 27.

73. Gold, "Ronald Reagan" 170.

74. Time (October 6, 1947) 29.

75. Time (December 20, 1948) 31.

76. Time (June 21, 1948) 32.

77. E. Prothro, "Arab-American Differences in the Judgement of Written Messages," Journal of Social Pscyhology 42 (1952) 10.

78. Time (August 27, 1956) 25.

79. Time (June 2, 1967) 20.

80. Time (June 16, 1967) 22.

81. Time (July 14, 1967) 24.

82. Time (June 2, 1967) 3.

83. Time (November 17, 1967) 37.

84. Time (July 19, 1948) 31.

85. Time (June 2, 1967) 20.

86. M. Adams, Television Coverage of the Middle East (Norwood, NJ:Ablex, 1981); E. Ghareeb, Split Vision: The Portrayal of Arabs in the American Media (Washington, DC: American-Arab Affairs Council, 1983); Y. Kamalipour (Ed.), U.S. Media and the Middle East: Image and Perception (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1995); and J. Shaheen The TV Arab (Bowling Green: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1984).