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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

For the Love of Gossip

So I decided to come out of hibernation. I’m really riled up about this whole ‘Arabic is scary’ language drama that’s going on right now. Really? To put things in context: a guy was escorted off a plane a few weeks back because he was speaking Arabic on the phone. A passenger heard him say a common Arabic phrase ‘inshallah’ (God willing), misinterpreted it and reported the poor guy as a possible terrorist.

I’ve read several articles about the incident, but what’s really making me nuts is the ignorance over the language. First of all, Arabic is not an Islamic language. It is spoken by some Muslims but it is the language of the people of Arabia, who happen to also be Christian, Jewish, Druze, Buddhists, Atheists, etc and, in Lebanon at least, 18 different religions. The Arabic language pre-dates Islam, the alphabet was actually created by the Ancient Phoenicians. FYI: the first three letters of the Arabic alphabet – aleph, be, te – is where the word ‘alphabet’ comes from. 

Many non-Muslims, like myself, speak Arabic in public. I am really shocked by the idiocy of the people in the comments sections of these articles justifying the removal of this guy for saying ‘inshallah’, because it’s an ‘Islamic terrorist war cry’. I understand there is a lot of fear, but that is no excuse for such extreme stupidity. There is nothing remotely terrorist-like about the word 'inshallah'. In fact, the so-called 'war cry' these people are referring to is 'Allah wu akbar' (God is great), which is totally, completely different. Where the latter is indeed from an Islamic prayer, the former is a universal, pan-Arab saying.

I say ‘inshallah’ all the time and NEVER in a religious context. We use it whenever we are talking about a future plan. ‘You coming to dinner, tonight?’, ‘Yes, inshallah’. It is commonly used in the context of ‘hopefully’. In Lebanese culture, it’s said mostly out of superstition by all communities. You should never say you’re definitively doing something, because then you are tempting fate to stop that thing from happening. So, you always tag a ‘hopefully’ at the end, just in case. It’s also used when you want to avoid giving a definite answer: ‘You coming to my kid’s violin recital?’, ‘Um, inshallah.’

Now, of course things are different. I have to think twice about saying something in Arabic when in public to avoid Homeland Security detaining me. This is a problem, because you know, how am I supposed to talk about people when they’re right in front of me? I’m sure people are like, Oh, how can she be making light of this? People have died because of terrorists. Yes, people killed them, not a language. People can be scary, not a language. The fact that I’m ridiculing the vilification of a language is because the notion is entirely ridiculous. Arabic is not scary, but ignorance surely is.

And this is coming from a person who freaked out at a movie theater not too long ago because a dark looking youth left 10 minutes into the movie. I was convinced he left a bomb and was freaking out. I had to calm myself by rationalizing that the theater was far from crowded, so why waste a bomb on so few people? A few minutes later, the poor kid came back with some nachos. Then I was just annoyed at all the noise he was making chewing. And, on top of all that, I don’t even think he was Arab.

So, we’re all afraid. We’re all suspicious. We’re all secretly profiling people in our heads. We’re all in the same boat. But, let’s use some common sense. And, for the love of gossip, let me talk about people in Arabic in public without turning me in to the authorities!

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