You may remember a case from several years ago where a student of Arabic was detained by the TSA because he had Arabic flash cards. He was studying Arabic. Flash cards can actually be useful in studying a language.
Arabic is the fifth-most-commonly-spoken language on the planet Earth. It is the official language of 27 nations. Most importantly, it is language, not a weapon. If flashcards are dangerous, they are equally dangerous no matter what is written on them. What could a passenger do with Arabic on flashcards that he couldn’t do without the flash cards?
See my previous post, How Arabic is Like Parseltongue. https://snarla.wordpress.com/2009/06/27/how-arabic-is-like-parseltongue/
Here’s the recent news story at Raw Story: http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/12/25/federal-judge-rules-that-tsa-fbi-can-detain-and-arrest-you-for-carrying-arabic-flashcards/
Observe the fool-proof logic:
TSA AGENT: Do you know who did 9/11?
GEORGE: Osama bin Laden.
TSA AGENT: Do you know what language he spoke?
TSA AGENT: Do you see why these cards are suspicious?
With all the protests over the past several years, it has become known that if the signs are misspelled, it’s a right-wing protest.
If you ever wondered if the same holds true for those signs you see written in Arabic in the protests in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, etc., no, it doesn’t.
Arabic, like many languages more sensible than English, is spelled how it sounds and sounds how it’s spelled. They don’t have spelling tests and spelling units and spelling bees. There are some regional variations in pronunciation, admittedly, but it’s nothing like the orthographic free-for-all we have in English.
So, as my picture above indicates, you can’t reliably guess an Arab protester’s alignment by the spelling.
Filed under arabic, pedantry
An American student was handcuffed and jailed for attempting to take Arabic-English flashcards onto a plane. LA Times article here.
Nicholas George planned to brush up on his Arabic vocabulary during a flight in August from Philadelphia to California, where he was to start his senior year at Pomona College. So he carried some Arabic-English flashcards in his pocket to study on the plane.
George, a physics major who is considering a career as a U.S. diplomat in the Middle East, is suing the Transportation Security Administration, the FBI and Philadelphia police for jailing him after his flashcards were found and confiscated in a Philadelphia airport screening. His lawsuit, filed in federal court this week, said his four hours in detention, half of that in handcuffs, violated his rights to free speech and protection against unreasonable search and seizure.
My first thought upon reading this was, “Ha! My anxieties about taking my Hans Wehr dictionary on flights was well founded after all, and not paranoid!” Because you know what words appear in the world’s greatest Arabic-English dictionary? “Bomb” and “terrorism.” Swear to God.
The student acknowledged that a few of the vocabulary words, including “bomb” and “terrorism,” may have alarmed authorities, but he also said he needed to learn them in order to understand the news of the day in Arabic-language newspapers.
Indeed one does need to learn “bomb” and “terrorism” to understand many articles in newspapers. Especially some of the most interesting ones, assuming that’s where your interests lie.
The lawsuit, filed with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, details George’s allegations of abusive questioning. The suit contends that an FBI agent cursed him and asked George if he was Muslim or a member of any “pro-Islamic” or communist student groups, to which he replied no. The student said he was later released without an apology. Having missed his original flight, he flew to California the next day.
Ben Wizner, the ACLU attorney who helped file the suit, said George “is the kind of young man that this country should be encouraging and creating more of. He has traveled the world with an open mind and an open heart, and he is studying the language that the State Department and the military have made clear we need more Americans to study.”
What’s a pro-Islamic group? Something like Students United for Supporting Islam Even Though We’re Not Muslims? I wonder if an interfaith group like the Virginia Interfaith Center would be considered a “pro-Islamic” group.
Hey TSA guys, sometimes the person who reads Arabic is exactly the person you most want on your side, fighting terrorism.
The font’s kind of small. Here’s what it says:
English: I think the wrong person just left.
Arabic: أعتقد أن الشخص الخطأ اليسار
Long, probably boring explanation in the comments for anyone who’s interested.
I seriously cannot believe this never occurred to me before. I mean, I’ve been annoyed that there seem to be no language classes at Hogwarts–not only do students there not even learn the English they need to hold down a job, but they don’t even consider the importance of learning foreign languages so they can travel the world acquiring useful spells and potion recipes–but I didn’t realize until today that Parseltongue in the Harry Potter universe is very similar to Arabic here.
Parseltongue is the language of snakes, and the wizarding world considers it a sign of a dark wizard. At first I thought maybe Parseltongue is only the language that snakes use to speak to humans, not to other snakes. But at one point Harry overhears a snake talking to himself.
When Harry speaks to a snake in Parseltongue in front of his classmates, they assume on the face of it that he was telling the snake to attack. This reminds me so much of the “joke” answers I keep seeing on Yahoo Answers, that go something like this:
Question: How do I say, “I love you, mom” in Arabic?
Answer from some ass: “Blow urself up ur virgins r waiting.”
Possibly because Parseltongue can only be learned with great difficulty, Harry conveniently receives the ability from his early encounter with Lord Voldemort. It would make logical sense for Parseltongue to be difficult for a native English-speaker to learn, since only a witch with patience and determination would stick with studying it until reaching fluency.
Why on earth should we assume the entire snake species is up to no good, though? The issue is not addressed.
هل انت بخير يا اخي؟ الحمدلله بخير و انت؟
Don't be afraid of a little Arabic
It’s funny, I first saw this cover in an airport newsstand. A few years ago, something like this on a plane could have caused flights to be cancelled. Now that I think about it, I should have bought an issue and carried it on the plane with me.
As I suspected, ignorance abounds on the internet about this. Some true patriots are refusing the buy the issue. Some are pointing out the use of Hamas and Hezbollah colors (I know, huh?*). Others cry foul because the Arabic print is larger than the English (if only real life were like that–tiny Arabic fonts are the bane of my existence).
I just wish they hadn’t ruined the fun by including the English translation. Drat!
*Well, since green is the favored color of Islam, and the article is about radical Islam, that might explain the use of green. Or maybe they wanted to evoke the Saudi flag. Only Newsweek knows for sure. Yellow, of course, is the official color of 2009.
Filed under arabic, arabist