The Language of Terrorism
Have you ever felt discriminated against because of your
skin color, nationality, religion, or political affiliation? What about your
language? It is no secret that a considerable number of people would somehow
associate speakers of Arabic to terrorism – which is entirely incorrect
correlation – just because of the language they speak. The distinction between
Arabic as a language and Islam as a religion is growingly disregarded, just
like the distinction between Islam as a religion of mercy and grace and
extremist islamists as criminals regardless of their religious affiliation.
Therefore, Arabic is becoming as unfairly demonized as Islam now is.
Language-based fear resulting from prejudicial
categorization has reached an extent that it made a 13-year old Iraqi schoolboy
living in London with his parents give up speaking Arabic because of the
ongoing war on terrorism. Everyday, the news relayed images of bombs destroying
their homeland and media depictions of his country made him stop speaking
Arabic for good. It was his childhood language, and he was always working on
developing it. But as the “Iraqi liberation” war escalated, he developed an aversion
from and sense of shame of the language. When his mother would call him from
the school gate in their native tongue, he would feel so embarrassed. To
prevent more blows to his self-worth, he gave up any associations with Arabic –
that being viewed as a villainous other or a weak war victim. To grow more co-opted
in the growing Western fear against the Middle East, he even denounced Islam.
He tried by all means to disown the language that represented an integral part
of his identity because of all the social pressure he was subject to for being
an Arabic speaker.
On April 6, 2016, a student at the University of
California who was simply having a conversation with a family member was kicked
off a Southwest Airlines flight to later get searched and questioned by the FBI
after another passenger was alarmed to hear him speaking Arabic and labeled the
conversation as “potentially threatening”, according to a New York Times
article. All of this occurred because the other passenger associated Arabic
with danger. While that was an incorrect correlation, no one can imagine in
their most dreadful nightmares being humiliated and criminalized for speaking
their mother tongue.
Another jaw-dropping acts of language prejudice that ever
happened was that right after a terror incident happened, the story editors
were quoting a witness who said he heard “someone speak Arabic” in the area as
a telling evidence! What is supposed to mean? This is no guarantee that an Arab
is definitely the terrorist.
Nowadays, the negative connotations of the Arabic have
become worse, and in effect, reproducing racism and Islamophobia and creating traumatic
social rifts, mostly in the West. For example, a passenger reading Arabic on
the subway will probably have an empty seat beside him/her. And if someone is
speaking Arabic on a bus, people would spy on nervously. Ironically, the
Islamic equivalent to Amen – “Allahu Akbar” – is perceived as an ISIS staple
rather than a religious term of praise. That is adding nothing but to the
ever-widening social gaps driven by stereotyping.
Also, cultural representation has a lot to answer for why
the Arabic language is perceived this way. On screens, characters speaking
Arabic are usually villains who need to be eliminated so that the good wins. For
example, in Howard Gordon’s TV shows like “Homeland” or “24” or FX’s “Tyrant”,
the only savior – an Arab in the script – is played by a white American. Also
marrying malice to Arabic was pursued in Thomas Bidegain’s Les Cowboys, a
racist story about a French father trying to rescue his daughter from the
Middle East. When the father discovers an Arabic text in his daughter’s diary,
the soundtrack plays into something more suited to the movie “Jaws”.
Today, I’m angry at the Western ideologies that taught me to
demonise my own language. As I move forward, I am slowly repairing my
relationship with Arabic, which has love in its very grammar, in its
beautifully calligraphic form. The only barbaric language we need to eradicate
is that of extremism; for this can develop in any culture, and its idiom is
Arabic is the sixth most spoken language on earth
with 420 million Arabic speakers. Classifying those hundreds of millions in the
same group with terrorists is sheer injustice. Additionally, instilling fear in
Arabic speakers prevents them from exercising their identity, which can force a
large proportion of them into isolated communities rather than opening up to
others. This in turn will promote the logic the extremists use to recruit young
people. Therefore, associating an
entire language with such evil acts and treating its speakers accordingly is
completely wrong, illogical and discriminatory.