On September 1st I posted about a flight being cancelled because some passenger was frightened by the presence of Arab-looking men. The men were working for the Marine Corps as part of a program to teach Marines about Iraqi customs and some basic Arabic. Here’s an article about that program:
Since then, more than 50,000 Marines have completed the curriculum. They’ve learned phrases as diverse as “hands up” and “may peace be upon you” and studied the importance of honor, family and tribe in Iraq’s complex society.
The benefits can be seen in Anbar province, said Capt. Dave Meadows, who attended the session yesterday.
That vast region west of Baghdad was once a haven for insurgents. In 2004, the Marine Corps fought one of its most intense battles ever in the city of Fallujah, which is part of the province.
Today, the Sunni majority in Anbar has chased off or killed most of the homegrown and foreign insurgents. Sunni sheiks have aligned with U.S. forces, thanks in part to the Marines’ heightened cultural awareness and language skills.
“Having someone who can speak good Arabic is like having another infantry battalion,” he added. “It’s just that valuable.”
Mehson recalled how a serviceman prevented an agitated Iraqi man from being shot by his unit when he shouted the Arabic word for stop – pronounced “owe-giff.”
“If you learn just a few words and phrases, you will make the Iraqi people happy and you will surprise them,” said Mehson, who peppers his sentences with the word “sweet” when describing the payoff of learning Iraqi ways.
“At the end of the day,” he added, “these words will help the Iraqis fall in love with you.”
The article includes a sidebar about Iraqi customs. This is one of the pointers:
Servicemen should avoid making eye contact with women. Speak only to men.
Another blogger complained about this one. I want to point out that there are American servicewomen serving in Iraq, and there would be no reason for them not to make eye contact with or talk to Iraqi women.