Be careful what you read about Arabs, Mark Zuckerberg

Be careful what you read about Arabs, Mark Zuckerberg
3 min read
09 Jun, 2015
Comment: The Facebook founder's decision to read Ibn Khaldun's Muqaddimah will give him a taste of racism among Arabs, says Amjad Nasser.
Mark Zuckerberg will find Muqaddimah hard going [Getty]

Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg has recently stated he will be reading Ibn Khaldun's Muqaddimah, which he said was "a history of the world" that "focuses on how society and culture flow, including the creation of cities, politics, commerce and science".

Zuckerberg chose the book as part of a Facebook club called A Year of Books.

The internet billionaire must have a good degree of knowledge about international literature to choose Muqaddimah, as it is less famous than Arabian Nights, for example, which would be a more understandable reading choice for someone like Zuckerberg.

Muqaddimah on the other hand, which was written as the introduction to Ibn Khaldun's lengthier work entitled Book of Lessons, Record of Beginnings and Events in the History of the Arabs and Berbers and Their Powerful Contemporaries, requires a person to possess a breadth of historical knowledge for it to appear on his reading list.

Arab reactions to Zuckerberg's reading choice have been varied. Some have expressed happiness, while others were mindful of Ibn Khaldun's opinion of Arabs.

Ibn Khaldun will tell Zuckerberg, "If a place becomes Arabized, it turns to ruin", and that they are "a savage nation due to their ways of savagery that have become ingrained in them, and their taste for disorder".

Ibn Khaldun will say: "They only need rocks for example to prop up their cooking pots, thus they destroy buildings and use the rocks for this purpose. Wood as well, they also need it as tent poles, therefore they destroy ceilings for this purpose, and thus the nature of their existence has become contrary to building, which is the basis of development. This is their general state."

These opinions have been used by Arab, nationalist, Marxist and Islamist writers over the past century, to bolster their own prejudices.

Some Arabs believed Ibn Khaldun referred to Arab Bedouins who were described in the Quran as "the Arabs of the desert are the worst in unbelief and hypocrisy".

Others believe he meant all Arabs in general, while a small group holds the position that Ibn Khaldun is not infallible and his opinion of Arabs, no matter who he meant is a mistake that borders on racism.  

In my opinion, Ibn Khaldun refers to Bedouin, as his description of the group implies constant travel and instability. That opinion is racist, as it is a generalisation and fixes these characteristics to their nature, rather than being traits due to their environment.

Who said that these traits do not change with the change of the social, economic and political variables? How does Ibn Khaldun's opinion differ from that of the most prejudiced orientalists who talk about an "Arab mindset"?

Ibn Khaldun is not infallible and his opinions of Arabs, in the standards of our time, are clearly bigoted and racist.

This is an edited translation of the original Arabic.