Focal Points Blog

Aversion to Arabic a Common Symptom of Islamophobia

A Virginia teacher’s attempt to teach students Arabic calligraphy generated a significant backlash. (Photo: Dr. Case / Flickr Commons)

A Virginia teacher’s attempt to teach students Arabic calligraphy generated a significant backlash. (Photo: Dr. Case / Flickr Commons)

While sane and insane voices exist in every society, it is common knowledge by now that Islamophobia is pretty vocal in the West, especially in USA. The story of Ahmed, the kid who brought a self-made clock to school, is a case in point. Of course, Islamophobia is not the dominant ideology in USA, as can be seen in the efforts of several good-willed Americans who seek nothing but peace. After all, Ahmed did get support and appreciation from all corners, didn’t he?

However, what happens when such Islamophobic paranoia, even though it might be in the minority, spills out and makes itself visible in stuff that is otherwise not a monopoly of Islam? What happens when one’s bigotry makes him/her feel scared of a language?

Apparently, some Islamophobes in USA seem to be scared of the Arabic language.

Islamophobes Dislike Arabic?

Recently, a teacher at a school in Augusta County, Virginia handed out a homework assignment. The homework, part of the geography curriculum, dealt with world religions. Among other exercises, it included a question asking students to copy Arabic calligraphy (in order to help them understand the complexity of calligraphy in the Arabic language).

The result?

It led to an angry backlash by several parents of students, as they felt it was an attempt to convert their kids to Islam. The school received multiple calls from angry parents, and some even demanded the the concerned teacher should be fired from her job (note that the teacher did not frame the questions herself, but took it from a standard workbook on world religions).

Things kept getting ugly, with more hate-filled calls and messages coming in, and more parents reacting to the incident with threats. All the schools in the county had to be shut down, and then reopened amidst high security. Eventually, the question was eliminated from the workbook.

Thankfully, there were voices of sanity too, and some former students created a Facebook group to defend their geography teacher.

This is not the first time that Islamophobic paranoia in USA resulted in bias against the Arabic language. Back in March 2015, a school near New York City had to apologize for including Arabic as one of the languages during its Foreign Languages Week celebration.

Clearly, Islamophobes would hate anything and everything, including the Arabic language. To help them realize just how poor their logic is, I decided to put together just a small fraction of things for which they should thank the Arabic language and its speakers.

Why Should They Not Hate Arabic?

What has the Arabic language or the Arabic script ever done for anyone? Here is small selection:

  • Renowned Christian theologian Thomas Aquinas was influenced by several philosophers — guess which language those philosophers wrote it? Yes, Arabic.
  • While the good and bad qualities of Christopher Columbus are surely debatable, it is established beyond doubt that during his voyage to America, Columbus depended heavily on the calculations of al-Farghani. In fact, al-Farghani was one of the first to prove that the earth was spherical, and he wrote all of that in Arabic.
  • It is argued that zero first originated in India. However, the circular zero that is in use today comes from the works of Arabic scholars. Don’t like the zero? Good luck dividing XLIV by CLXIV.

Need more? Yes, there is a lot more.

Conclusion

If Islamophobes want to turn their children away from the Arabic language because they feel it is related to Muslims, will they be turning their kids away from Trigonometry, Algebra, Chemistry, Pharmacy and Medicine? Because all of these were, in some way or the other, invented and developed by Muslims.

Quite obviously, paranoia and religious bigotry knows no reason, and is purely illogical. Such ignorance needs to be fixed because, as shown in the references above, Arabic as a language has proven nothing but beneficial for human existence as a whole.

How Should We Deal With War Criminals?

George W. Bush was never charged for offenses which we would have labeled war crimes if perpetrated by the enemy. (Photo: YouTube)

George W. Bush was never charged for offenses which we would have labeled war crimes if perpetrated by the enemy. (Photo: YouTube)

A former Nuremberg prosecutor wrote a recent letter to the New York Times saying  “the hopes of the Nuremberg trials 70 years ago are being tarnished by being ignored.” His point was that war crimes trials should be held so that ISIS members could be brought to justice. The trials would most likely be held at the International Criminal Court at the Hague. But that court has only limited jurisdiction, since both the U.S. and Israel have refused to join. Consequently the former Nuremberg prosecutor urges that the U.S. adopt new laws that “hold perpetrators of large-scale atrocities accountable.”

The problem with prosecuting perpetrators of war crimes is that the individuals found tried and guilty are invariably on the losing side. It’s the victors who determine who the war criminals are. The legal definition of war crimes under the Geneva Conventions includes unprovoked aggression, attacking civilians, and subjecting prisoners to humiliating treatment, unlawful confinement, and torture. But in recent years Americans have too often carried out these acts.

All of them were committed by the United States during its wars in Indochina, Iraq and Afghanistan. The process of “extraordinary rendition” and the torture of terrorism suspects became routine during the administration of George W. Bush, despite the fact that the United States had signed the international agreement outlawing torture. Israel is equally culpable under international law for its continued occupation of the West Bank, its attacks on Gaza and 8-year blockade, and for seizing Palestinian-owned land for settlements in the  occupied territory.

In the real world, however, when it comes to punishing unlawful, or even villainous behavior, it is political expediency that determines what is a war crime and who is guilty of them. The American officials from Vice-President Dick Cheney on down who authorized the systematic use of torture will never be brought to account and neither will the CIA agents and contractors who carried out their orders, because the Obama administration considers it politically unwise to raise the issue. It’s a safe bet that the leaders of U.S. allies such as SaudI Arabia and Israel will not face war crimes trials. It’s not surprising that the first real war crimes trials were held after World War II. The Nazis are among history’s most notorious lawbreakers, not only for invading countries all across Europe but for committing genocide in their systematic attempt to exterminate the Jewish population of Europe along with Gypsies and Slavs. Japanese leaders were tried for a variety of crimes, including the abuse of prisoners and the use of captive for medical experiments. After World War II at least a dozen Nazi officials were tried at Nuremberg and sentenced to death. At least 39 Japanese wartime leaders were tried by the Allies in Tokyo and found guilty. All spent time in prison and seven were found guilty of war crimes and in due course hanged. But what, if not war crimes,would we call the Allied firebombing of Hamburg and Berlin, which literally incinerated thousands of ordinary German civilians, and the levelling of the city of Dresden, a cultural landmark that had no war industries?

A few years ago Robert McNamara, the secretary of defense under President Kennedy, said in a filmed interview that had the United States lost World War II American officials would undoubtedly have been accused of war crimes for having  firebombed into ashes every major Japanese city and killing thousands of Japanese civilians. Many people think Harry Truman could legitimately have been accused of war crimes for dropping atom bombs on two cities that had no strategic importance, and for doing it when Japan was on the verge of surrendering.

Since 1945 war has become even crueller, with the victims predominantly civilians. The International Criminal Court at The Hague held trials of individuals accused of war crimes during the Balkan war in the early 1990s, and several Serbs and Croats served prison terms as a result. Individuals considered responsible for the genocide in Rwanda, and atrocities elsewhere in Africa have also been tried and sentenced to prison.

The U.S. war in Indochina filled every definition of a crime. But since the victor determines who is a war criminal, no one has ever been punished. Our forces invaded Vietnam and Cambodia, neither of which posed a threat to our national security, and killed an estimated 2 million members of a largely peasant population. We poisoned their forests and crops with agent Orange, which resulted in thousands of cases of birth defects, and the cluster bombs used by U.S. forces caused agonizing wounds.

War crimes continue to be committed. In retaliation for Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1991, the U.S. air force under George H.W. Bush  dropped more bomb tonnage on Iraq than was used in the ten years of war in Indochina, according to then-Defense Secretary Cheney. The sanctions imposed on Iraq by the Clinton administration were responsible for the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children, according to the British medical journal, the Lancet. Operation Shock and Awe in 2003 that ousted Saddam Hussein killed untold numbers of Iraqi civilians as well as more than four thousand American soldiers, and left behind a society fractured by sectarian violence. Yet the perpetrators of that war are not likely to be charged with war crimes.

The truth is, the object of a war is to win it, by any means necessary, and those means are almost always ugly. Looting, rape, torture, and the killing of civilians have been integral parts of every war. American forces are now fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Niger, Cameroon, and aiding Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates in the bombing of Yemen. It’s a safe bet bet that in such dangerous territory,war crimes are being committed by both sides. There are no limits on brutality when soldiers are fighting for their lives against an enemy they’ve been trained to regard as less than human.

 

Vladimir Putin: Sweetheart

Authoritarian leaders often meet ignominious ends. (Photo: Jamestown.org)

Authoritarian leaders often meet ignominious ends. (Photo: Jamestown.org)

The London Review of Books has published another piece by Seymour Hersh that is controversial (though not nearly as much so as his Abbottabad article in May). In this one, he maintains that the Pentagon is providing intelligence — via Germany, Israel, and Russia — to the Assad regime in Syria to aid it in fending off the Islamic State. (Though the extent to which Syria is in direct conflict with the Islamic State is debatable.) The Pentagon seems to believe that deposing Assad would result in one U.S.-fueled Middle-East implosion too many, after Iraq and Libya.
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Manganese: Burkina Faso’s New Resource Curse

Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world. Many of its children are forced to work. (Photo: Eric Montford / Flickr Commons)

Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world. Many of its children are forced to work. (Photo: Eric Montford / Flickr Commons)

Cross-posted from View from the Left Bank.

A Nationalist Impulse?

Just a few months after a long-lasting and corrupt government was swept from power, in March of this year (2015), in Burkina Faso, the country’s transitional Minister of Mining and Energy suspended a major mining contract with Pan African Minerals at Tambao, forcing the company to stop operations there. Missing from most press explanations as to why the suspension order was issued was the growing local opposition to Pan African Minerals’ practices. On February 17, 2015, a march in protest was initiated by people in the vicinity of Markoye, the town closest to the mine, seeking Tambao mine operation stoppage until further notice. More than 3,000 local people participated. They opposed the company’s environmental practices (explosions, dust) as well as the fact that the company had reneged on its promise to employ at least fifty locals in the work there and to involve the local community more in the mines’ plans. They demanded that the operations of the mine be completely shut down until these issues were resolved.
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Is Russia Actually Targeting Civilians in Syria?

Civilians killed by Russian airstrikes in Islamic State territory seem less like collateral damage than actual targets. Pictured: a Russian SU-24 bomber. (Photo: Wikipedia). (Photo: Wikipedia)

Civilians killed by Russian airstrikes in Islamic State territory seem less like collateral damage than actual targets. Pictured: a Russian SU-24 bomber. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Airstrikes by Russia on territory occupied by the Islamic State seem to have crossed the line from careless to malicious. The Independent quotes a new report by Amnesty International.

“In some attacks, the Russian armed forces appear to have directly attacked civilians or civilian objects by striking residential areas with no evident military objective and even medical facilities, resulting in deaths and injuries to civilians,” the report said.

“In others, they seem to have attacked military objectives and civilian objects without distinction, or caused disproportionate harm to civilians when striking military targets. Such attacks may constitute war crimes.”

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Islamic State Hides in Plain Sight

 Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi conducts business in the Raqqa city hall. Pictured: government building in Raqqa. (Photo: Beshr / Flickr Commons)


Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi conducts business in the Raqqa city hall. Pictured: government building in Raqqa. (Photo: Beshr / Flickr Commons)

Yesterday I mentioned that, besides fearing entanglement in another ground war, the other reason that the United States is reluctant to mount wholesale attacks against the Islamic State is concern about civilian casualties. Estimates of civilians killed in coalition airstrikes already range from 250 to 500. In the New York Times, Matthew Rosenberg and Eric Schmitt write:

For months, the United States military has known that the Islamic State uses the city hall in Raqqa, Syria, as an administrative center and a dormitory for scores of fighters. Some American officials even believe that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the group’s leader, may have been in the building at times.

Yet, despite the American air campaign against the Islamic State, the white, three-story building remains standing because it also houses a jail.

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Spain Says “No” to Austerity

Spain’s left-wing Podemos party made impressive gains in the Spanish election. (Photo: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr Commons)

Spain’s left-wing Podemos party made impressive gains in the Spanish election. (Photo: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr Commons)

For the third time in a year, the tight-fisted, austerity policies of the European Union (EU) took a beating, as Spanish voters crushed their right-wing government and overturned four decades of two-party reign. Following in the footsteps of Greek and Portuguese voters earlier this year, Spaniards soundly rejected the economic formula of the Troika—the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund—that has impoverished millions of people and driven the jobless rate to almost a quarter of the country.

Greece’s leftist prime minister, Alex Tsipras, said “Austerity has been politically defeated in Spain,” and that the election was a sign “that Europe was changing.” Italy’s prime minister, Matteo Renzi said, “As already happened in Greece and Portugal, governments which apply rigid austerity measures…are destined to lose their majorities.”
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The Ghost of the Islamic State Future

Islamic State fighters recruited from points distant from Syria and Iraq might return to their countries of origin with murderous intent. Pictured: Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. (Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr Commons)

Lately we’re being warned that a future source of Islamic State attacks will be its foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq, who will return to their countries of origin and wreak havoc. In a cleverly titled National Interest article, ISIS Is Here: Return of the Jihadi, Bruce Hoffman writes:

The vast pool of recruits drawn to Syria affords ISIS and any of the other militant Islamist groups active there a surfeit of potential terrorists from which to cherry-pick and potentially dispatch back home to carry out terrorist attacks.

… One does not have to speculate terribly much to see the potential threat from ISIS to the West given its vast cadre of foreign fighters native to, or previously resident in, those countries. This unprecedented pool of foreign recruits suggests that ISIS would certainly have the capability to undertake more attacks modeled on the simultaneous assaults and running gun battles that occurred in Mumbai in November 2008 and Paris almost exactly seven years later.

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How the Islamic State Is Like a Multinational Corporation

The Islamic State is aligning itself with affiliates in Asia and Africa. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The Islamic State is aligning itself with affiliates in Asia and Africa. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Many in the United States have failed to see the urgency of the Islamic State because it seemed focused on the Middle East and thus a good candidate — whether you’re coming from the left or libertarian right — for non-intervention. But the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino have disabused us of the notion that the Islamic State isn’t afraid to punch above its weight and take on Europe and the United States. At Politico Magazine, Harleen Gambhir writes:

ISIL’s global strategy should come as no surprise. In fact, ISIL has pursued an international expansion campaign from the moment it declared its “caliphate” in June 2014. While the group solidifies its proto-state in parts of Iraq and Syria, it also is expanding its would-be caliphate regionally — and preparing for the apocalyptic war it desires with the West.

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Ashton Carter’s Plan to Expand U.S. Military Presence Across the Globe Even Further

Also stationed on these bases are Special Operations forces that carry out hit-and-run raids and assassinations. (Photo: Master Sgt. Donald Sparks / U.S. Army / Flickr Commons)

Also stationed on these bases are Special Operations forces that carry out hit-and-run raids and assassinations. (Photo: Master Sgt. Donald Sparks / U.S. Army / Flickr Commons)

How many Americans are aware that the U.S. is currently engaged in five wars — in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen, and that our forces are involved in lesser conflicts in Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia? The answer is, probably very few. These wars are largely out of the news, and since there are seldom any American casualties, they are virtually invisible.

Combat operations primarily involve drones operated from thousands of miles away, and bombs dropped from thousands of feet in the air. According to the Pentagon, there are currently 662 U.S.military bases around the world from which air strikes can be launched using a variety of aircraft. Also stationed on these bases are Special Operations forces that carry out hit-and-run raids and  sinations in various parts of the world.
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