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Arabs and Westerners: The Widening Gap

An analysis of the difference in value systems.

August 2, 2015

An analysis of the difference in value systems.

Arabs and Westerners are still living in two different worlds, without even a bridge to connect them. Part of the reason is that we function according to two very different sets of values. All the efforts we have expended in order to get more attuned to one another have been unsuccessful.

Ultimately, this all boils down to using completely different thought processes and behavior patterns.

Acceptance, Denial and Lack of Cooperation

Westerners tend to recognize and accept their faults, believing that progress requires learning from one’s mistakes.

Conversely, Arabs believe that chances don’t come twice, and we therefore tend to capitalize on every tiny opportunity that presents itself from someone else’s misstep and to deny mistakes that could backfire on us.

Westerners are raised to believe in the concept of coming together to achieve success, working in groups to address their challenges. Meanwhile, Arabs tend to be individualistically oriented, working in zigzags and only reaching out to the people when the need arises.

Additionally, since we Arabs generally believe that only losers make mistakes, our pride often prevents us from acknowledging our faults. In our minds, conceding errors would categorize us as an inferior society.

Rational vs. Emotional

Broadly speaking, Westerners are raised with a rational mindset that is guided by the principle of “cause and effect.” Arabs may use the same mechanism, but it is always heavily culturally influenced by “emotions and spirituality.”

Arabs have their own particular emotional beliefs that are quite difficult to either validate or challenge. Yet, these beliefs continue to constitute the key driving tool of our thought processes.

Therefore, in order for it to be accepted, any message conveyed to Arabs must be molded emotionally.

Power, Prosperity and Government-Citizen Harmony

Power and prosperity are two fundamental facts of life. The West has managed to regulate power rationally by applying liberal democracy, placing the entire community in a position that allows it to think about progress and prosperity.

Arabs, however, are still fighting over power, a fact that is preventing us from achieving genuine prosperity. The manipulations of corrupt ruling powers constitute an indisputable obstacle to the realization of true prosperity.

Liberal democracy in the West has succeeded in harmonizing the relationship between governments and their citizens. This basically allows the entire society to share the same set of values, through proper governmental representation.

In the Arab World on the other hand, the lack of democracy leaves most Arab citizens harboring bitter feelings toward their governments.

The result is a segmented society where each segment functions according to a different value system shaped by its particular viewpoint.

Bilateral talks with Western governments tend to result in agreements with Arab governments or parliaments that do not represent their people.

Past vs. Future

We Arabs live in our past, which is replete with great achievements. Being proud of our history, however, often distracts us from thinking about building a better future. We routinely blame the West for ruining our glorious past.

Meanwhile, Westerners have managed, for better or for worse, to turn the page of their own dark and self-destructive history, actively engaging in designing a better future for themselves.

Bringing these two societies to live together in the present, without being influenced by either the drama of the past or concerns for the future, is quite a challenge.

Envy vs. Contradiction

Westerners believe that Arabs envy their modernity and democracy. In reality however, Arabs are by nature (and regardless of their actual social status) quite proud of themselves.

We enjoy what we have to the maximum and are not really eager to be counted among these modern nations. Arabs consider that (by advocating for moral values that they themselves do not apply to all their citizens equally), Western nations consistently apply an ethical double standard.

In conclusion, Arabs and Westerners think, function and behave according to completely different mechanisms. To comprehend the outlook of a society that is alien to us, we need to abandon the thinking tools that we were raised to use. We need to adopt (or adapt) those of the other society – in addition to a large dose of sympathy.


Arabs believe that chances don’t come twice and thus tend to capitalize on every tiny opportunity.

The West has managed to regulate power rationally by applying liberal democracy.

The lack of democracy leaves most Arab citizens harboring bitter feelings towards their governments.

Contrary to popular belief, Arabs aren’t really eager to be counted among modern nations.

To grasp the outlook of another society, we need to lose the thinking tools we were raised to use.