When outsiders forget their place

I expect the occasional troll to drop by, especially given how I openly mock some of the Beltway’s most sacred cows (e.g., the so-called War on Terror).  But even the most obnoxious trolls generally pick fights over substantive issues.

So you can imagine my surprise when I found myself in a spat with somebody over my use of Arabic words in my posts.  Yes, someone–and a blogger who evidently fancies himself an informed firsthand observer of the Middle East and Islam–was outraged at my use of common Islamic words and phrases such as din ("religion") and Suratul Fatihah ("the Opening Chapter" of the Quran) in my post on sectarianism in Pakistan ("Barelvis and Deobandis, still takfir-crazy after all these years").

We’ve gone back and forth a bit.  I dismantled his arguments and implicit assumptions.  I think he ended up looking rather silly and ill-informed and, judging by the guffaws of onlookers, I don’t think alone in that perception.

I’m quite struck by the presumption, rudeness and strikingly anachronistic provincialism of this gentleman’s complaint.  A non-Muslim and a person who did not grow up in a Muslim cultural environment feels he can lecture me–a person who grew up in the Muslim community in the midst of a discussion with other Muslims–about using overly "ethnic" language.  Moreover, he is so closed to other cultures that he feels my exotic jargon an assault on native sensibilities that justifies a rude intervention.   It’s fascinating.  Archie Bunker lives on in the Blogosphere, and among "allies".

The bottom line is that, whatever he thinks, this is none of his business.  He has no more standing to whine about whether Muslims confuse him by saying Suratul Fatihah rather than blandly intoning "The Opening Chapter" than I have a right to complain about all these uppity Latinos who go around confusing the uneducated by wishing each other Felix Navidad instead of "Merry Christmas" like proper WASPs. 

I had moved on, both because of how trivial this matter is and because he never mustered a coherent rebuttal to my points, but now he’s back and incensed enough to escalate it by posting a slam on his blog.

Once again, the mix of half-digested facts, unrepentant boorishness, and a neo-Victorian penchant for half-baked declarations about other cultures raises its ugly but psychologically intriguing head. Reading this condescending lecture to brown people over their supposed bastardization of the Queen’s English you find yourself expecting it to close with "Rule Britannia!"

Anyway, here is his latest spitball (to call this anemic response a "salvo" would be flagrant hyperbole to which he’d undoubtedly be the first to object on semantic grounds).

Lounsbury: Razor’s and Preciousness, or I’m so very Muslim posturing

Tardily, but I thought I would share this. Of course I am right, as always, but I am sure many will disagree with my viewpoint but frankly I am tired of reading Muslim [it seems esp. an Indo-Pak non-native Arab speaker disease] writing in English that pretentiously uses Arab-lish translits for religious terms that are perfectly adequately experessed in ordinary Enlgish  Worse, the idiotic responses pretending to tell me how "Muslims" speak about such issues (amusing pretention that), or trying to imply a lack of familiarity – rather than grasping the unnecessary self-segregation and foolish pretentiousness of injecting such terms.

In my responses on my blog, I ran through the most glaring problems with his argument, but this latest bit got me thinking about a less obvious but equally pervasive fallacy implicit in this thinking:  Namely, the linguistically and sociologically clueless assumption that the stylistic norms of Arabs are normative for  Arabic loan words or expressions in English because Arabs are native speakers of Arabic.

The linguistic naivete of this expectation is quite striking, as is the way it repackages the widespread stereotype that Islam is an "Arab" religion.  Never mind, says Lounsbury, that few Arabs speak English as a second much less first language–their usage of these terms in Arabic is what should determine our usage in English.  As I noted in my comment below, it’s like looking at contemporary French to determine how to use an expression like double entendre in English.  In English it means something very specific, whereas in French it means a number of things. 

This Arabo-centric perspective is also reminiscent in its snobbery of the longstanding tradition  of imposing Latin style on English, despite the fact that it is a German language.  Just as patrician grammarians long claimed–utterly and indisputably incorrectly, as the rule applies only to Romance languages that descend from Latin–that it was grammatically incorrect to end a sentence in English with a conjunction, the gentleman is implicitly arguing Arabic stylistic usage is "classier" than all these "low" non-Arabic Islamic languages.    Again, a strikingly elitist and unscientific attitude that could’ve come out of some 19th century intellectual dilettante’s musings on "Oriental" cultures.

Another intriguing tick to his latest riposte is how he interprets my use of a few mundane  and instantly recognizable expressions–it’s not like I was dropping fancy terms from Islamic jurisprudence that rank & file Muslims might find confusing or stilted; these are as culturally familiar to Muslims around the globe as mazeltov or hallelujah are to even culturally illiterate Jews and Christians, respectively–is how it interprets speaking normally as feverish "posturing".  It appears that he is so insecure vis-a-vis subcultures that he finds it impossible that cultural differences could arise naturally and organically from one’s background.  You see, it must be psychologically and/or politically motivated.  They’re not just different–they’re agressively imposing their fraudulent difference on us besieged white folk.

And such differences are inherently threatening to many.  Hence this neurotic need to police the Blogosphere and reestablish WASP cultural norms. 

Neurotic armchair shrink, psychoanalyze thyself. 

Here’s the  comment I posted to his blog.

I see you wish to prolong this bizarre skirmish.
I’m the rogue whose use of this overly "ethnic" jargon incurred your Archie Bunker-like wrath.
People can weigh the arguments for themselves by looking at the comments on my post. Seems to me that you’ve been beat.
BTW, I’m not only not South Asian–I’m a lilly white Bostonian of Scandinavian descent–but I’m a native speaker of "Muslim English". Aside from French and Danish (languages in which I’ve, incidentally, heard the very same expressions), it’s what I grew up with and indeed all that I know. I most certainly grew up hearing the phrases that you find so artificial and pretentious around the Muslim community in Boston.

How you figure that the usage of *Arabic speakers* is inherently normative for English speakers really eludes me. Seems to me that you turn to Arabs to find out how to speak Arabic, not English. Would you ask a Frenchman what "menage a trois" or "double entendre" mean in English just because the words are French? These loan words don’t mean the same thing in their original language.

Browse Our Archives