Mar 31, 2010

Language, languages, and titles

Mullah Omar, head of the Taliban in Afghanistan, is usually referred to, in his own country, as ameer al mo’mineen, Commander of the Faithful, or commander of believers. (His strict orders to all Taliban never in any circumstances to cause explosions that harm civilians, but always to target only and exclusively foreign occupying troops, leave open the question as to who exactly is responsible for the civilian massacres.)

The title “Ameer” for a commander was brought back by the crusaders from the Holy Land, and has produced large numbers of English versions. The Arabic phrase they are drawing on is “Ameer al bahr” – sea leader. Eighteenth century scholars had as much trouble with it as twentieth century scholars had with “Semitic” and decided that the word lacked a letter “d," relying on their background in Latin, and produced the word “admiral” as an equivalent (retaining the “al,” you notice, describing commander of who or what) which survives in First Lord of the Admiralty, Admiralty Arch in London, and many other titles.

When he became president of Indonesia and visited the White house in Washington, Abdurahman Wahid (popularly known at home as “Gus Dur,” Gus meaning roughly elder brother and Dur being short for Abdurahman) was invariably referred to in the US press as a “half blind Moslem cleric.” It is quite true that he was a cleric; if we translated his exact position into western terms, you might say that he was an ordained priest (to translate his position into Roman Catholic terms) who was the head of a ruling council of Catholic boarding schools. It is also true that he had problems with his eyesight. Neither of these really had much to do with the fact that he visited the US officially as the president of the country with the largest number of Moslems in it of any country on earth, and the problem was that the country of which he was president guaranteed in its constitution the right of all Indonesians to switch from any religion (including Islam) to any other religion as many times as they wished, which many Indonesians do, often to marry someone of the religion being switched to. To have admitted that would have caused enormous problems with the view of Islam as a demonic cult that the corporations favored, and destroyed, for example, the Christopher Hitchens assertion that no Moslem could ever escape from the iron bonds of Islam under pain of death. (“We can’t have our experts demolished like that! Call him a half blind Moslem cleric.”)

An inexperienced observer transported to an Arab country would find it impossible to tell Arab Christians from Arab Moslems – same appearance, same lifestyle, same attitudes, same food, same clothing, same everything. Mr. Eric Prince, the private owner of Blackwater, has an army, navy, and air force larger than those of most countries in the world, and is an open proponent of slaughtering the world’s Moslems as fast and efficiently as possible. Blackwater is the mercenary organization backed by the full force of the US government, which continues to give it favored treatment, many non-compete contracts, partnership with CIA “black” operations, and direct influence with their leading generals in Afghanistan and Iraq. Blackwater has more troops than the uniformed US military in countries occupied by the US.

This dovetails neatly with the subtext visible in all western “thinkers,” that overpopulation is the world’s main problem and that therefore all reductions in it are to be welcomed, (ignoring, for example, the vast unpopulated stretches of Russia, covering much of Europe and Asia) and does not stand in the way of the declared policy of having resources situated in thinly populated areas, making them easier targets for military takeover.

The objections of other countries to having their populations, Moslem and Christian alike, Buddhist, Confucian, Hindu, and Zoroastrian, slaughtered in pursuit of these objectives are regarded as unsporting, and are universally ignored.

It explains, however, why Osama bin Laden was awarded the title Saif’ullah (the sword of God) by the Pakistani Ulema Council, the top organization of Moslem scholars. Illogical, unreasonable, and unsporting it may be, but the objection to being slaughtered is paramount.

No comments: