Thursday, August 16, 2007

Lessons in Linguistics [& T-shirts]

Yes, 9/11 changed everything. Apparently now we 'merikuns, some of whom haven't managed to master our own language, are fluent in Arabic.

In a country not yet two hundred fifty years old with our fast-food attention span and a sense of history that barely extends beyond last week [unless of course we're talking about the Republican Party whose memory goes back further but then only to the Clinton years for blame and the Reagan years for praise -but I digress], we know the real definition of various Arabic words and they're always offensive.

Last week, the ACLU, on behalf of Raed Jarrar a U.S. resident, Iraqi-born architect and peace activist [and all around hunk - as a friend would say " I wouldn't kick him outta bed for eatin' crackers" -actually she had a more apropos phrase but this isn't cable], filed suit against the TSA and Jet blue. Last August, Mr. Jarrar's flight home was disrupted when he was not allowed to board his Jet Blue flight until he acquiesced and covered the T-shirt he was wearing which displayed the phrase We Will Not be Silent in both Arabic and English. He was also made to surrender his boarding pass and sit in the back of the bus plane. Aside from the obvious point that if he were dangerous placing him behind everyone in the plane was just stupid, can we please get over this Arab=Muslim=BAD phase?

Apparently not. The Kahlil Gibran International school was likely doomed from the start. The new Brooklyn middle school that is to include Middle Eastern Studies and Arabic in its curriculum has brought out all the usual fear mongers , bigots and loons.

Not satisfied with merely blocking the chosen site for the new school, the Stop the Madrassa Coalition manufactured a controversy that resulted in the resignation of the school's principal.

The controversy was about T-shirts bearing the slogan NYC Intifada. These T-shirts were neither made nor worn by the principal, Debbie Almontaser, but were produced by the subversive group, AWAAM (that's Arab Women Active in Art and Media - oooooh scary), that happens to share space with a nonprofit group, The Arab American Family Support Center, with which Almontaser is affiliated.

Yep, that's the connection - I feel Kevin Bacon should be involved here somewhere.

When asked to comment on the shirts, she explained, that intifada means "shaking off" (Mona Eldahry, co-founder of AWAAM, discusses it here as well), as in shaking off oppression - following the literal meaning in Arabic. But that wasn't good enough for the NY Post (critical of the school from the start). They deemed her explanation/definition "malarkey" and lectured that:
It would behoove Almontaser and her supporters to recognize that "intifada" is an incendiary word in New York City - with its large Jewish population, and with its singular understanding of just where Islamist extremism can lead.
After several groups that had previously shown support for the school (primarily Jewish groups) became critical, Almontaser apologized:
"By minimizing the word's historical associations I implied that I condone violence and threats of violence," she said. "That view is anathema to me and the very opposite of my life's work."
So, where to start - Madrassa? Didn't we deal with that back when we found out that Barack Obama was an evil Muslim because he had attended a Madrassa -it means study/school. I'm certain that intifada, like war, or ammunition, or jihad can only have a single definition and a single context.

I mean you'd never hear about a war of, say, ideas where words were the ammunition and no one got killed.

Ironically, I caught a little of this last night and I don't recall precisely who they were interviewing but he said it (Haight-Ashbury) was about 'shaking off' and going a new direction. See it always comes back to hating those dirty, f#%&ing, liberal hippies. Peace man - intifada.

As far as some Jewish groups not being able to get beyond intifada relating only to 1987 - well, the holocaust was a horrendous thing and we should do everything in our power to ensure it never happens again. But we haven't. We aren't. But what I've also never been able to wrap my head around is how Jews (as a people), having gone through the ravage of Hitler's Germany, could ever, let alone such a short time afterward, have displaced another group of people - the Palestinians -as they did in 1947.

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