Tag Archives: xenophobia

Judge Rules Arabic Flashcards Too Dangerous to Fly

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?

GEORGE: Arabic.

TSA AGENT: Do you see why these cards are suspicious?




Filed under arabic, arabist, bigoted idiots, language, Our glorious war on terror, Stupidity

Ignorant Xenophobe Americans Report “Arabic Writing” on Planes

Gawker story here

Fox News story here

It turns out the “Arabic writing” is neither Arabic nor writing, and scarcely resembles Arabic writing. Rather, it looks like a stylized drawing of a sword.

Gawker explains it here

UPDATE: I forgot to mock the people who think there are mysterious Arabic symbols. Arabic is a language. It has writing. There are no Arabic symbols. So no job for a Tom-Hanks-style Dan Brown mystery Angels and Demons kind of *symbologist*, more’s the pity.


Filed under arabic, language, Our glorious war on terror, Stupidity

Wonkette: The Year in Mosk

Wonkette has a year-end rundown of the media’s handling of Islam-related issues, summed in the word “Mosk.”

ANNOUNCING WONKETTE’S PERSON OF THE YEAR: The guy who can’t spell “Muslim,” “mosque,” OR “Ground Zero,” yet NOES ENUFF to know he should be bigoted against any two of these things aligning. Yes, it was a banner year for hate on Earth yet again, even when we thought Justin Bieber would finally eclipse it. He didn’t! Hate won at the last second. But at least he made it close. The so-called “Muslin Groud Zero Mosk” was the perfect chance for bitter ever-backwards white people to get mad at the world outside the insular hate Tupperware they reside in […]

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Filed under bigoted idiots

Everything I Needed to Know About…

Here’s the truck of real American. Ignorant, bigoted, angry. Found at Wonkette, posted at Gawker. Both comment threads are kind of fun.

Thank goodness there’s Loonwatch, a blog that has taken a lot of the wind out of my sails by doing what I want to but much, much better.
UPDATE: Thanks to Gawker’s post and the comment thread about this photo, the Virginia DMV has decided this license plate with the secret hate speech is illegal. See here.


Filed under bigoted idiots

Another Photoshop, Arabic, Crap Joke

From Friends of Irony, one of the many spinoffs of I Can Haz Cheeseburger, a bad joke by someone wholly ignorant of Arabic.

I don’t find it particularly offensive; I can see the grain of actual humor behind it. It falls apart because 1) the Arabic is obviously randomly selected from a headline somewhere and 2) England is about 3% Muslim, many of whom don’t read Arabic, and apparently the creator of this “joke” thought it was Urdu, anyway.

The comments on this posting over at Friends of Irony is full of accusations of racism, of not having a sense of humor, of not understanding racism, etc. A good thread to stay out of.

Incidentally, from Wikipedia:

As of 2001, 92.1% of the population identified themselves as White, leaving 7.9%[135] of the UK population identifying themselves as mixed race or ethnic minority.

I guess the joke could have been funnier if the numbers were anywhere near realistic. Incidentally, you know some countries where the native-born are really outnumbered by immigrants? Yeah, they’re in the Arabian Peninsula.

From Wikipedia:

In 2009, the UAE’s population was estimated at 6 million,[3] of which just under 20% were UAE nationals or Emiratis,[81] while the majority of the population were expatriates.[82] The country’s net migration rate stands at 22.98, the world’s highest.[83]

In 2008, Bahrain’s population stood at 1.05 million, out of which more than 517,000 were non-nationals.[79] Though majority of the population is ethnically Arab, a sizable number of people from South Asia live in the country. In 2008, approximately 290,000 Indian nationals lived in Bahrain, making them the single largest expatriate community in the country.

The Ministry of Economy estimates that in mid 2006 the total population was 2.577 million. Of those, 1.844 million were Omanis. The population has grown from 2.018 million in the 1993 census to 2.340 million in the 2003 census…Some 600,000 expatriates live in Oman, most of whom are guest workers from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, India and the Philippines.

And so on. I will keep my eyes peeled for Arabian Peninsula “humor” about being overrun by scary foreigners.


Filed under arab, arabic, bigoted idiots, language

“Flying While Arabist” a Crime Now?

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.


Filed under arabic, arabist, bigoted idiots

A Culture that Honors Martyrdom

Sometimes you’re reading along, internally nodding your head, and then you hit that one sentence, that one clause, that sets your nerves clanging. A clause like this one: “…particularly in a Middle Eastern culture that honors martyrdom…”

The article is otherwise great and I recommend you read it, Why Dissidents, Freed From Prison, Often Choose the Path of Most Resistance. But that clause is what inspired this post, which looks like it’s going to end up much longer than I originally thought it would.

A month or so ago I had a post mentioning the Shi’a Muslim holiday of Ashura, which commemorates the martyrdom of Hussein Ibn Ali, who died in the Battle of Karbala. He was not killed over his Muslim faith, as he and his army were fighting other Muslims, but because his supporters were fighting with the Umayyad Caliph Yazid’s supporters over who was the rightful Muslim ruler. So he was not a martyr to his religion, but to his nation.

The Sunni Muslims don’t even have a martyr figure at all. Christians, however, have a whole bunch of them. A calendar full of them and much, much more. I think you could even fairly say that crucifixion imagery amounts to honoring martyrdom.

Martyr is a word we don’t use much in the US. It’s kind of old-fashioned, definitely churchy. Wikipedia has a page on Christian martyrs:

The lives of the martyrs became a great source of inspiration for the Christians and their lives and relics were greatly revered. Second century Church Father, Tertullian wrote that “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church”, implying that the willing sacrificing of the martyrs lives leads to the conversion of many more.

Here’s a skimpy list of Christian martyrs.

Today I learned there’s something called a martyrology, which is a is a catalogue or list of martyrs arranged in the calendar order of their anniversaries or feasts.

Islam has nothing like this.

I’m seeing an amazing difference of opinion on how many Christians have been martyred lately, from an estimate of over 170,000 per year to just a few thousand a year. Here’s a notable quote from this page:

Have there been more martyrs in this century than in all others combined, as the current quote suggests? During this century, we have documented cases in excess of 26 million martyrs. From AD 33 to 1900, we have documented 14 million martyrs. So, yes, this quote is correct.

On the other hand, martyrdom has been on the decline for the past decade. The current rate is 159,000 martyrs per year — down from 330,000 per year at the height of the cold war.

I also found the site of this organization, the Voice of the Martyrs, (web address ‘persecution.com’) that wants to, among other things

emphasize the fellowship of all believers by informing the world of atrocities committed against Christians and by remembering their courage and faith.

Wikipedia’s page about martyrs even included a high school student at Columbine High School, who rates as a martyr apparently because she was asked if she believed in God right before she was shot.*

But enough about the church kind of martyr (although you wonder why this isn’t enough yet to conclude that the US has a western culture that honors martyrdom). An astute colleague pointed out to me that in the US we use the phrase “ultimate sacrifice” instead.

When you look at it that way, we have two national holidays honoring martyrs, Memorial Day and Veterans Day, and monuments all over the country honoring those Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice. Many other countries have national holidays to honor their soldiers who have died in war, and many of those countries call that holiday Martyrs Day.

Here are a few of the countries who have a national Martyrs Day: Panama, Albania, Burma, Armenia, Vietnam, India, Tibet, Israel. One of those is in the Middle East, anyway, but I don’t think it was what the author had in mind when he mentioned the Middle East culture that honors martyrdom.

Anyhow, that’s how one little clause led me to hours of Googling. In an otherwise very nice article, there was one little niggling phrase that was aimed at making Arabs seem strange, harsh, brutal. Wanting us to think Arabs are not like us, they don’t value their lives, they don’t love their children as much as we do. Backing up the arrogant assumption that we have evolved a little bit more than those people over there who dress like George Lucas’s Sand People.

As serendipity would have it, a friend sent me the link to this article today. From it:

I wish more Americans had an opportunity to get to know Muslims. Then they would not be susceptible to the silly anti-Muslim propaganda that is floated by some right-wing Christians.

Muslims are good folks. One fellow e-mailed me quite convinced that Muslims lop off the heads of every infidel they meet. I’ve been a guest in the homes of many Muslim friends, and the only thing they lopped off were extra servings of lamb.

Racism is a monstrous injustice because it imposes a stereotype on millions of innocent individuals. The only real solution is education and broad experience.

Disclaimer: I know that Arab doesn’t equal Muslim and vice versa.

*Apparently this has been debunked, and the girl who was asked if she believed in God survived the Columbine shootings.
Special last-minute bonus link: Which Pope am I?


Filed under arab, arabist