Archive for February 12th, 2007

Leroy Leroy Lama Sabachtani?

I was thinking about the use of ‘Allah’ to mean ‘God’ in English when talking about Muslim worshippers.

Brian Whittaker had a good piece in the Guardian on this recently:

There is no logical reason for this. Why use an Arabic word in English-language news reports when there is a perfectly good English word that means exactly the same thing?

Various Arabic words – “jihad” and “sheikh”, for example – have crept into everyday usage because no precise equivalent exists in English, but “Allah” is not of that type. It is simply is the normal word that Arabic speakers use for “God” – whether they are Muslims or not. Arab Christians worship “Allah” too, and the first verse of the Arabic Bible informs us that “In the beginning Allah created heaven and earth.”

This is what he ascribes the phenomenon to:

Essentially, this is a modern version of the orientalism that Edward Said wrote about in the 1970s, where western portrayals of Arab and Muslim culture highlight its “otherness” in order (Said argued) to control it more effectively.Since Said wrote his influential book, however, we have also seen the rise of another phenomenon which might be called “reverse orientalism”, where Arabs and Muslims deliberately “other-ise” themselves in order (they hope) to better resist western influence.

I would agree, but also highlight that what is happening here -where a word or phrase is lifted from one language to be used in another, like a fish out of water, to affect knowledge and therefore power-isn’t something confined to the western world’s relationship with the Islamic east.

Continue reading ‘Leroy Leroy Lama Sabachtani?’

Safe As Houses

Didn’t get much sleep last night. When it’s raining hard outside, I sweat like a… sweaty thing, for some reason. Maybe this is the same sort of thing as when you put a sleeping person’s hand in a bowl of warm water and they wet themselves.

We got a leaflet for a neighbourhood watch programme the other day, which made a change from the We Need Your Unwanted Clothes To Help The Poor People In Solidarity With The United Nations Please No Cash Donations stickers that come through daily.

(I have built a makeshift greenhouse out the back with the bags that accompany these stickers. I am growing Tomatoes And Scallions And Butternut Squash To Help Feed The Poor. All Vegetables Will Go To Poor People In Developing Countries So That They May Enjoy Decent Living Standards Because Of The Failure Of Their Governments)

Anyway, the neighbourhood watch thing got me thinking about burglars. Our house is the only house on the street that has no burglar alarm. Two main reasons:

  • There is nothing of resale value: if nosy evening strolls are anything to go by, we have easily The Worst TV Set In Town;
  • I’m damned if I’m going to get up in the middle of the night to turn off a burglar alarm because some pigeon has eaten too much alcohol-soaked egg fried rice vomit.  This does not mean that I do not often think about getting a burglar alarm. I do not like the idea of taking on a gang of baseball bat-wielding intruders in a t-shirt and underpants. (To clarify, that’d be me wearing the t-shirt and underpants)

Thinking about burglars had me dreaming about them. They were in our kitchen, rifling through the cereal boxes to locate the Really Important and Valuable Object that I had hidden, in what seemed perfectly rational in the course of the dream, at the bottom of a box of organic Weetabix.

Once they located the Really Important and Valuable Object, and made off with it, I was doomed. My life would fall to bits, not least because I would have to attend the Garda station in my t-shirt and underpants, where I would have to share a waiting room with assorted rapists, murderers and rugby supporters.

As I awoke to the sounds of the rain battering the windows and the creaking guttering outside, I was, quite naturally, convinced that the burglars were downstairs. I figured that I had been dreaming about burglars because I had heard them rustling about.

I thought about defence. There are very few useful weapons in our house. Oddly enough, we have a large ceremonial sword, but this has only ever proven useful in hillside battles where there is room enough to swing it. In the confines of the house, it is worse than useless. I would end up cracking a vase over one of the burglar’s heads instead,  sprinkling the episode with a hint of melodrama.

After a couple of minutes, reason had been restored, and I was sure there were no burglars, so I went downstairs and closed the bathroom window that had been left open. I rolled over and went back to sleep, cussing the Gardai and all those neighbours with burglar alarms and massive TVs for making me feel unsafe in my own home.

People of America, I Feel Your Pain. Where Is The Rest Room?

I came across this article by Amir Taheri. Amir Taheri does stuff for Benador Associates, which is a sort of PR company for the happy side-effects of high altitude bombing and military occupation. The article is the usual propaganda, a meet-the-new-boss puff piece railing against the defeat-mongers and pointing toward bright new days ahead.

There was one bit in particular which caught my attention though. Of the new General appointed to command US forces in Iraq, it says:

Petraeus begins his mission with three advantages over his predecessors.

The first is his reassuringly deep understanding of the Iraqis, their sensibilities and their complexities. Having picked up a smattering of Arabic over his long tenures in Iraq, Petraeus seems to have also developed a genuine sympathy for Iraqis.

This is a remarkable observation. Imagine, if you will, that the American-led alliance had been defeated by Iraq (it was the 45-minute weapons of mass destruction wot won it). Then, in a calamitous series of events, Iraq ended up invading the United States.

Met with severe resistance, the Iraqi forces chop and change personnel  in an effort to  restore stability.  A new man comes in, and this time, the Iraqi press reports, he’s different.  Why? Because -unlike his predecessors- he’s picked up a smattering of English after spending long periods in the US. He knows how to say “Have a nice day”, and ”Totally awesome” and “Are you comfortable?”.

This demonstrates his reassuringly deep understanding of the Americans, their sensibilities and complexities. Although he may not be able to string two sentences together (apart from “Are you comfortable? Totally awesome”), there can be no denying his genuine sympathy for the Americans, unlike his predecessors, who made no effort to speak English at all.

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February 2007