Understanding Muslim Language
by Svend White
My heart really goes out to journalists charged with the daunting task of getting to the bottom of the neverending mayhem of the Middle East and Muslim world. The region’s confusing and disturbing twists and turns are only made ever more inscrutable by the baffling way Muslims talk. Their inconsistent statements make it even harder for normal people to make sense of the screaming headlines we read every day reporting the latest outbreak of violence, irrationality, or hatred over there. But it needn’t be quite so confusing.
What few outsiders realize, however, is that there are a number of closely guarded secrets among Muslims that once grasped explain all sorts of bizarre political and social phenomena that otherwise appear inexplicable. Once you realize that the rules of common sense don’t apply to Muslims, most of these mysteries are solved. In the hopes of making the jobs of America’s overworked journalists and pundits a bit easier, I’m going to share a few of the most important rules for understanding Muslim language:
Rule 1: Muslims always speak truthfully and literally. Muslims always mean exactly what they say and in as literally a sense as possible.
It’s a commonly known fact that all Muslims are born with (or acquire instantly upon conversion) dazzling, Ciceronian eloquence and supercomputer-like minds that allow them to effortlessly think through the political, social and theological implications of even the most off-the-cuff observation down to the smallest detail. As a result, Muslims never say things they don’t mean in the heat of the moment, use ambiguous language that has to be judged by its context, or generally misspeak in any way. More importantly, outside observers needn’t worry about how to interpret their words, since Muslims are always honest.
And literal. Since the concepts of metaphor, exaggerations, or dramatic license are Western innovations that have yet to reach the lands of Rumi, Al-Ghazzali, and expressions like “The Mother of all Battles”, Muslims always speak literally. Literally.
Ergo, if a Pakistani American Red Sox fan in Boston exclaims, “Damn those Yankees!”, it is possible that he dislikes the New York Yankees, but his unambiguous aim in speaking is to issue a fatwah concerning the ultimate fate in the Hereafter of that baseball team’s members. Similiarly, when a Muslim exclaims to a buddy, “Man, I’m gonna kill you!” he is not expressing anger or resentment but rather informing his associate of the latter’s imminent demise. And when a Muslim states that a movie “bombed”, he has no intention of conveying that the film did poorly at the box office or that it failed to meet his expectations as a moviegoer. He is reporting (probably joyfully—see Rule 4) that the film literally exploded in a fiery cataclysm in the theater, presumably maiming if not killing many innocent bystanders.
Rule 2: Except when they’re lying to trick you.
There is an exception to Rule 1, namely when a Muslim states anything which is modern, enlightened, politically moderate or in any way positive.
Muslims are deceitful by nature and come into the world hardwired with the most abhorrent and alien of values. (Just like those cunning Jews!) Consequently, the most reliable method of determining a Muslim’s beliefs when he inexplicably says something you agree with is to disregard his words and instead consider what views a civilized, modern person would hold on the matter. Then choose the opposite approach, no matter how chilling, seemingly implausible, or strenuously denied the reading is by said Muslim and you have the answer.
Wondering whether Palestinians consider their children disposable cannon fodder for jihad against the Jews? Don’t waste your time analyzing their dire circumstances or the failure of non-violent forms of resistance to attract international attention. Ask youself, do normal people love and protect their children from harm? There you have it. Since the answer is by definition “yes,” it follows inexorably that Palestinians lack love for or concern about the welfare of their children. Move on to the next heartwarming report about a fireman rescuing a cat from a tree.
Also, it goes without saying that there is no such thing as a Muslim apology or change of heart.
Rule 3: Muslim words apply to all times, places
A fact that has long puzzled linguists is how the phenomenon discussed in Rule 1 applies to all circumstances and places. Muslim utterances retain their meaning, intent and political significance in translation—regardless of the translation’s quality and even when a translation of translation is involved—and regardless of the historical and cultural circumstances to which they are transplanted.
Thus, the aforementioned malediction against the New York Yankees can not only be translated word for word into any human language without introducing any misunderstandings, but its theological commentary can be applied not only to fellow believers in an afterlife such as Christians and Jews, but also to atheists in New York, Wiccans in California, Japanese Shintoists in Hokkaido, and Yuruba animists in southwestern Nigeria. Don’t fret about authorial intent or context—he’s a Muslim, so he thought it all through for you before saying a word.
Rule 4: Deep down, Muslims are always thinking about (and yearning for) violence.
Muslims are by nature warlike and inclined to violence, so physically harming other people is never absent from their minds, regardless of the topic under discussion. In cases where they endeavor to conceal this fact, you just need to dig deeper. Strap ‘em down and break out the lie detector.
Thus, if a Muslim American student activist talks about his personal interpretation of jihad (literally, “struggle [in God’s way]”) as striving to integrate Islam’s values of justice and service to ones neighbors into his daily life as a patriotic American, you can be sure that he is in reality trying to slip in a plug for terrorists who behead and kill plane loads of those same neighbors. Similarly, if some graduating students who are Muslim decide to add to their gowns green stoles that read in Arabic Rabbi ziddini ilm (“Oh Lord, grant me knowledge”, a prayer from the Quran) on one side and the Islamic profession of faith or Shahada on the other, these provocateurs are obviously trying to turn the ceremony into a tribute to the Hamas suicide bombers (who are known for wearing black armbands emblazoned with the Shahada). Don’t let the fact that Muslims use those prayers in the most mundane of situations—even before going to bed—throw you off the scent.
Rule 5: It’s always “jihad”
Related to Rule 4 is the fact that any event involving Muslims is always jihad. Not the concept of a peaceful personal struggle to do the right thing that most Muslims, sly foxes that they are, claim to intend when using the word. Nor is it the noble campaigns for good causes that normal, Christian people think of when they talk about “crusades”. Anything a Muslim does is always violent holy war directed against everyone around them.
Whether they’re pinning prayers to their graduation gowns or just standing by the road licking an ice cream cone, it’s jihad and you’re under siege like the Viennese facing the Ottoman hordes in 1529. Don’t let the social economic and political realities of near complete Muslim powerlessness in the modern, Western/Christian-dominated world distract you from the fact that you are an oppressed Dhimmi living under the yoke of Muslim tyranny.
So make sure you pepper your report with the word “jihad” and other buzzwords that remind readers of the mortal peril we all live in thanks to the existence of Islam. Don’t forget to mention medieval Islamic concepts like jizya, slavery, and, everyone’s favorite, houris. The fact that these concepts are about as relevant to most modern political problems as Danegeld is besides the point. And wherever context permits make hysterical allusions to Nazism since that hateful ideology developed in Germany, the heartland of Islamic civilization. (Indeed, the world still shudders at the memory of their chilling symbol, the dreaded Iron Crescent & Star.)
Finally, always err on the side of innuendo, paranoia and stereotype. Remember that if you can’t think of a good reason for inserting prejudicial language now, someone else will eventually dream up a retroactive justification. And then you’ll be a prophet.
Visit Svend White’s site at http://akramsrazor.typepad.com/