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The Arab Ear and the American Eye: A Study of the Role of the Senses in Culture


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In what I found to be a fascinating essay entitled The Arab Ear and the American Eye: A Study of the Role of the Senses in Culture at the online journal Cultural Analysis, Sharif Kanaana of Birzeit University in Palestine writes that: “the reliance on the eye breeds a need for visual stimulation and constant change in American culture, while reliance on the ear leads to reliance on tradition and fear of change in the Arab world.” To put this distinction in the role of the senses in terms of western and Arab culture: ‘Seeing is believing’ and ‘He who forgets his past is lost. After nearly 60 years in Baha’i communities and 35 years as a teacher cultural differences have become of great interest to me. -Ron Price with thanks to Sharif Kanaana in Cultural Analysis, Volume 4, 2005.


Did you see the rock concert?

Or did you hear the concert?

Is the apparent priority of vision

over the other senses a universal?

What you see is what you get! and

I hear what you're saying or simply I

understand what you mean. I see what

you mean. I understand what it is you're

saying. Do you hear me? Do you see what

I'm saying. Do you understand what I'm saying?


Hesitate before buying something "sight unseen.”

You may wish to "look it over." Hence that huge

packaging industry. Travel for the purpose of a

little "sight-seeing." Go to a "seer" who looks into

the unknown. When American youths see beautiful

girls walking down the street, one might say to the

other, "Look, but don't touch," while Arab youths

will whisper….."Smell, but don't taste." And so I

give you this simple cross-cultural poetic analysis.1


1 Sharif Kanaana writes: “I have presented a number of perspectives that show differences between Arabs and Americans regarding the degree of dependence on the various senses. While it does not constitute proof of the thesis, I believe it is sufficient to persuade researchers that it is valid and merits serious investigation.”


Ron Price

7 August 2010

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