Michael W. Suleiman complained vociferously about media coverage of Operation Desert Storm and the allegedly simplistic remarks by "experts" about Arab people and culture {op-ed, Feb. 4}. But it is Suleiman who is guilty of oversimplification.

Americans may well lack knowledge about Arabs. Unfortunately, the same can be said for their understanding of most foreign cultures. If anything, the commentary on the Gulf crisis has suffered from an inordinate focus on the psychopathology of Saddam Hussein, who has been made to appear as the personification of evil. Arabs, according to this view, are just like us and simply suffer from the misfortune of being afflicted with a bad leader.

In reality, much in Arab culture explains Saddam and the prevalence of other Saddams in the Arab world and throughout modern Arab history. As David Pryce-Jones pointed out in his excellent book "The Closed Circle: An Interpretation of the Arabs," such motivators as the "shame/honor" concept go a long way in helping us to understand the Arab world. They help explain the spectacle of Palestinians standing on rooftops in the West Bank (wearing gas masks supplied by Israeli authorities, one might add), cheering Iraqi Scuds launched at Tel Aviv. They help explain why Jordanians and other Arabs believe that Saddam was lured into Kuwait by the West as part of a diabolical conspiracy. And they help explain why Arab "masses" burn American flags and spew forth hatred against the United States when a few Jordanian truck drivers, violating the embargo, were accidentally killed, while no one in the Arab world uttered a whimper about Syrian leader Hafez Assad's massacre of more than 20,000 people at Hama in 1982.

The Arabs are no better and no worse than any other people. But they are not just like us. Very real characteristics of their culture cause them to behave as they do. Not to acknowledge that is bound to lead to more policy fiascoes such as the one exemplified by the obsequious visits of a group of U.S. senators and Amb. April Glaspie in the days before the invasion of Kuwait. -- Gil Kapen is a Republican staff consultant of the House subcommittee on Africa.