Interacting with Arabs and Muslims. (Perspective)

By Navarro, Joe | The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, September 2002 | Go to article overview

Interacting with Arabs and Muslims. (Perspective)


Navarro, Joe, The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin


The terrible events of September 11, 2001, focused all of America, in fact, the world, on the Middle East, the various Arab conflicts, and Islam. For the most part, law enforcement has had little contact with the growing Arab/Muslim community because they are law-abiding, hardworking, family-oriented people seeking the same freedoms and aspirations as other immigrant groups before them. Law enforcement contact with these communities principally has been in administrative areas, such as with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service or the U.S. Customs Service.

The World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and the events of September 11, 2001, have changed the American perception of the Arab/Muslim community in the United States. These terrorist acts, perpetrated by a few individuals who do not represent the millions of law-abiding Muslims and Arab-Americans living in the United States, brought focus upon an otherwise quiescent Arab/Muslim community. Consequently, interactions between law enforcement and the Arab/Muslim community in the United States increased precipitously. To do their jobs effectively, law enforcement officers must understand more about the Arab culture to better interact with this community. (1)

The Arab Perspective

Twenty countries encompass the "Arab world." While political diversity among the Arab countries is notable (governmental systems include monarchies, military governments, and socialist republics), they all strongly embrace Islam. (2) Although vast social differences exist between the various cultures from the Arab world, Arabs are more homogeneous than Westerners in their outlook on life. Most Arabs share basic beliefs and values that cross national or social class boundaries. For example, Islam possibly can influence personal beliefs even among non-Muslims living in the Arab world; child-rearing practices are nearly identical; and the family structure is essentially the same, with a high regard for tradition. (3)

Similar to other cultures, ethnic identity remains very important for Arabs, regardless of whether they share the same religion. Their ethnicity and cultural background, their native city and country, and where they have traveled are very important to them. (4) Likewise, their dignity, honor, and reputation are of paramount importance, and they spare no effort to protect them. Arabs tend to behave in a way that will create a good impression on others. (5) Loyalty to one's family takes precedence over personal needs. Social class and family background constitute the major determining factors of personal status, followed by individual character and achievement. As with other cultures, Arabs place great importance on education and learning; many educated people of the Arab world speak several languages, including French and English, in addition to their native tongues.

Religion also plays a large part in Arab culture. While Islam is the Primary religion, the Arab world consists of Christians and Jews, as well as Bahais, Alaouis, and Zoroastrians. Nevertheless, in this region of the world, God or Allah, plays a vital role, and almost everyone acknowledges his power and has some sort of religious affiliation. Muslims tend to believe that humans cannot control all events; some things depend on God (i.e., fate). Religious piety constitutes one of the most admirable characteristics in a person and, unlike most Western governments, a large number of Muslims believe that there should be no separation between "church and state," the secular and the religious. They believe that religion should be taught in schools and promoted by governments because Islam encompasses the social, as well as the spiritual. (6)

Similar to other cultures, Arabs are generous, humanitarian, polite, and loyal people with a rich cultural heritage dating back thousands of years, as illustrated by their contributions to religion, philosophy, literature, medicine, architecture, art, mathematics, and the natural sciences.

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