Orthographical dhimmitude?

Robert Spencer says pretty much what I said about the humiliating U.S. apology for the incident in Iraq in which a G.I. put a Koran on a firing range and shot it full of holes. Spencer correctly argues that while U.S. military authorities obviously needed to show official disapproval of what the soldier had done, the apology by Gen. Jeffery Hammond to Muslim leaders—“In the most humble manner I look in your eyes today and I say please forgive me and my soldiers”—and the kissing of the Koran by another U.S. officer were wildly excessive, indicating submission to Islam.

Hammond said the offending soldier would be removed from Iraq. Later, in a phone conversation, President Bush told the Iraqi prime minister that the soldier had been reprimanded and removed from Iraq. The person who ought to be removed from Iraq is Gen. Hammond—which, of course, won’t happen under the “war on terror” dhimmi presidency of G.W. Bush.

But it occurs to me, if Spencer doesn’t want Americans to express an inappropriate attitude of deference—let alone of submission—to Islam, why does he, in all his articles and books, spell Koran as “Qur’an”? Why not use the standard, familiar English spelling, “Koran”? What is gained for English-speaking readers by the use of the Arabic apostrophe or diacritical mark, which cannot be pronounced, and which conveys absolutely no information to readers unfamiliar with Arabic? And what is gained by using the exotic “Q” instead of the “K”?

Spelling Koran as “Qur’an” comes across at best as an affectation, at worst as a gesture of gratuitous deference to the religion that Spencer calls a mortal threat to our civilization.

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[Note (June 13): The reader below is Fjordman. When I posted the exchange I assumed that he did not want to me to identify him by name, and so I just called him a “reader.” However, afterward I thought about it again and asked him if he would prefer that I use his name, and he said yes. I did not get around to changing it, however, and then forgot about it, until an exchange about Fjordman in another thread, which references this thread, reminded me that I had never identified him; hence this explanation.]

A reader writes:

I see you are criticizing Robert Spencer’s orthography today. Linguistic dhimmitude does exist, for instance among non-Muslims who constantly write about the “prophet Muhammad.” Muhammad wasn’t a prophet any more than my neighbor’s cat is. I tend to prefer the spelling “Koran” myself, precisely because it is easier for Westerners to pronounce. But technically speaking, Qur’an is the correct way of transliteration, regardless of your religious views. I see no reason to get worked up about it. What’s your beef with Spencer? Why the disproportionate amount of negative comments directed against him, when Jihad Watch does very important work?

LA replies:

I think it’s the correct way of transliteration if you’re spelling out Arabic words using the Latin alphabet. Other than that, when writing in the English language about Muslims and Arabs, there’s no reason not to use normal and familiar spelling appropriate to the English language. Also, it’s one thing to use Arabic orthography in a short article; imagine reading an entire English-language book about Islam filled with “Qur’an” and other unnecessary exotic spellings, such as “shar’ia.” The whole effect is to create in the reader’s mind the sense that Islam is some strange thing which is beyond his understanding but to which he must defer, since he doesn’t even know what those diacritical marks are for. As I said, the Arabic diacritical marks have meaning to someone who understands Arabic. They are meaningless to an English-speaking reader of English.

Also, perhaps the reader, who is a European, is not aware that multicultural school books in America, with stories about foreign countries or non-Western immigrants in America, throw in lots of foreign, unexplained, unpronouncible words, as Sandra Stotsky has explained. The intent is to make American children develop an attitude of unquestioning deference to the strange and the incomprehensible, turning them into good little multicultural citizens.

Similarly, I believe Spencer’s usage conveys excessive and unnecesary deference toward a people and a religion toward which we should express no deference.

Finally, I’m criticizing Spencer for writing “Qur’an.” I’m not criticizing all his work, as the reader seems to imagine. By the reader’s logic, we could never criticize anyone for anything, because if we criticize someone for one thing, we’re attacking everything about him.

William D. writes:

This is nothing new. H.W. Fowler wrote (in Modern English Usage, 1926):

The worst of letting the learned gentry bully us out of our traditional Mahometan & Mahomet…is this: no sooner have we tried to be good & learnt to say, or at least write, Mohammed than they are fired with zeal to get us a step or two further on the path of the truth, which at present seems likely to end in Muhammad with a dot under the h….The literary, as distinguished from the learned, surely do good service when they side with tradition & the people against science & the dons. Muhammad should be left to the pedants, Mohammad to the historians & the like, while ordinary mortals should go on saying, & writing in newspapers & novels & poems & such general reader’s matter, what their father said before them.

The fact is that we owe no thanks to those who discover, & cannot keep silence on the discovery, that Mahomet is further than Mohammed & Mohammed further than Muhammad, from what his own people called him. The Romans had a hero whom they spoke of as Aeneas; we call him that too, but for the French he has become Enee; are the French any worse off than we on that account? It is a matter of like indifference in itself whether the English for the Prophet’s name is Mahomet or Mohammed; in itself, yes; but whereas the words Aeneas and Enee have the Channel between them to keep the peace, Mahomet & Mohammed are for ever at loggerheads; we want one name for the one man; & the one should have been that around which the ancient associations cling. It is too late to recover unity; the learned, & their too docile disciples, have destroyed that, & given us nothing worth having in exchange.

(The ampersands are in the original, and I should have put an acute accent over the E of Enee.) Further, Fowler laments the disappearance of the traditional English pronunciation of Mahomet, which was MAY-o-met. If Muslims insist on calling Jesus Christ Isa (and increasingly, they seem to be doing just that), oughtn’t we be permitted to revive Mahomet?

LA replies:

I thank William D. for this very helpful quote from Fowler, who shows that he had the same problems with the multiple and constantly changing spellings of Arabic words in 1926 that we have today. This in particular is worth repeating:

Mahomet & Mohammed are for ever at loggerheads; we want one name for the one man; & the one should have been that around which the ancient associations cling. It is too late to recover unity; the learned, & their too docile disciples, have destroyed that, & given us nothing worth having in exchange.

It’s certainly true that there are parties who would keep us dancing forever to their tune, so that we have to keep adjusting to each fashionable and “correct” change that they want to impose on us.

I wrote a few years ago about my indecision over whether to use “Muslim” or “Moslem.” After going back and forth over a period of time, I basically ceded to the contemporary standard usage, “Muslim.” However, I make one exception. When writing about historical events, I tend to revert to “Moslem,” because for all my life that’s the way we thought about the Moslems. To write about Moslems in the 8th century or the 11th century as “Muslims” would feel like an Orwellian re-write of history, imposing a contemporary, P.C. usage on the past; and something in me rebels at it. I realize this is inconsistent, but compared to the staggering inconsistency in the spelling of Arabic words in English nowadays (for example, think about the number of different ways “sharia” is spelled), my little indulgence is small change.

Jacob M. writes:

Another way in which Westerners seem to feel they must genuflect before foreign cultures is, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, pronunciation. There has been a significant increase in recent years of English speakers saying “MOOS-lim” and “iss-LAHM” instead of the more familiar “MUHZ-lim” and “IZ-lahm.” I’ve even heard evangelical Christians doing this, no doubt out of a desire to win the respect of those they wish to evangelize. And it’s being going on for years with regard to Spanish place and people names—remember newscasters’ ridiculously exaggerated pronunciations of Nicaragua in the 80’s? Now, not only have liberals decided that Hispanics must be called Latinos instead, they’ve begun pronouncing the word Latino with a precise Spanish accent in the middle of an otherwise English sentence.

LA replies:

Ahh, memories of the sainted Peter (“Republican voters are children having a temper tantrum”) Jennings. The thing about Jennings’s famous pronunciation of “Nicaragua,” with the rolled Spanish “r,” that indicated what a phony he was, was that he never maintained the Spanish pronunciation if he had to say the word more than once or twice. The first time he would say “Nicaragua” in a story he would fullsomely roll the “r,” and maybe the second time he would roll it, but with less flair. If he had to say “Nicaragua” a third or fourth time the “r” reverted to normal English pronunciation. The point being that even for the ultra P.C. Jennings, it was simply impracticable to keep using foreign pronunciations while speaking English. The spellings and pronunciations used in a language need to fit the character and sound of that language as a whole. That’s why we say “France” the way we say it, not the way the French say it, which wouldn’t fit in English.

The same thing happens with the thorny issue of gender and pronouns. Like Jennings with his “Nicaragua,” people will start out a sentence in the politically correct manner, saying “he or “she” to refer to a person who may be male or female, but because it’s impossibly awkward to keep saying “he or she” over and over, they will immediately switch to the plural “they” to refer to the individual, creating grammatical incoherence.

Ultimately, the only thing that works is to use the generic male pronoun consistently. However much people may want to avoid the generic male pronoun, it is built into the structure of our language and there’s no way around it.

Alan Levine writes:

Your comment about Spencer’s use of the fancy spelling “Qu’ran,” or whatever, instead of Koran, was on target. As far as I know, there is no standard system of transliteration from Arabic into English. It is worth noting, however, that the development of more and more awkward looking, if not awkward sounding, systems of transliteration seems to have become common over the last few decades, notably for Chinese and Russian.

In a perhaps related issue, why the obsession with observing any and every change of names made by countries, especially non-Western ones? Some of these changes, notably Sri Lanka for Ceylon or Myanmar for Burman, were made for highly dubious ethnic obsessions. It is worth noting, too, that we do not insist on giving “native” names for Western countries; we say Germany, not Deutschland, Italy, not Italia, Norway, not Norge.

I recall that the Times actually carried this last nonsense to the point that it insisted on using Indonesian names for the Indonesian islands, possibly with the intent, and certainly with the effect, of making things as incomprehensible as possible to the ordinary reader.

How many people know that “Kalimantan” is Borneo?

Ray G. in Dearbornistan writes:

Loved the orthographical dhimmitude entry… so true. “MOOS-lim” and “Iss-LAHM” are heard more and more.

Jeff in England writes:

I think it could be a good strategy to shoot Korans. Maybe then many potential Muslim immigrants would not want to live in our countries.

Muslims hardly are respectful of the Jewish and Christian Bibles in many countries where they have are the majority. In some Muslim countries you can go to gaol (English spelling) just for possessing the Bible. Christians are also being kicked out of various Muslim areas and countries.

Then to top it off, Muslims are also “invading” us (especially in Europe) via immigration in huge numbers, while saying they want to live under Sharia Law and want an Islamic state. Charming. And they often quote the Koran to justify their hostility towards us.

A little less deference to the Koran by non-Muslims might be the solution to the Muslim immigration problem. Muslims would not want to come here if they felt their holy book is disrespected.

Now, I reiterate that there are many good Muslims on a personal level. And there are some good teachings in the Koran. But too many Muslims do not respect the Western society they are living in. Islam at this point in history is the West’s enemy. If we acknowledge that, perhaps we would not freak out about shooting a Koran or two.

Adela G. writes:

Robert Spencer writes:

The possibility that Muslims worldwide might be incited to murderous rage because of an incident like this can never be discounted. Major General Hammond and his staff are trying to head that off. That’s fine, but it also just plays into the mentality that to riot and kill because of something like this is a perfectly natural and rational reaction to it. At a certain point, someone is going to have to have the guts to stand up and say, “Wait a minute. The incident that set you off may indeed have been offensive, but your reaction is insane. If someone insults you, that is no justification to kill him or anyone else, or to destroy anything.”

Spencer understands that what Muslims consider inflammatory might possibly incite them to worldwide murderous rage. Yet he goes on to say that to head off that possibility is to “play into the mentality that to riot and kill because of something like this is a perfectly natural and rational reaction to it.” Where the heck did he get the “rational” bit from? I have never read anywhere that the homicidal acting out of Muslims who feel Islam has been insulted touches at any point on rationality. It is, however, perfectly natural within the context of Islam itself.

And that’s precisely what Mr. Spencer does not seem to comprehend, for he goes on to write:

At a certain point, someone is going to have to have the guts to stand up and say, “Wait a minute. The incident that set you off may indeed have been offensive, but your reaction is insane. If someone insults you, that is no justification to kill him or anyone else, or to destroy anything.”

Such a reaction is insane only to a non-Muslim. To many Muslims, mere insult is indeed justification for killing and destruction. Incredibly, Robert Spencer evidently believes that at some point, the application of reason to a matter of faith will somehow modify or reform the Muslim tendency to respond to insults with violence. Obviously, he expects those members of a non-Western faith and non-Western culture to be receptive to Western notions of civility and reason—why else stand up and proclaim that violence is an “insane” response to insult?

If he cannot see how “insane” it is for him to expect people acting as their faith dictates to cast it aside and replace it with alien notions of civility, then how can he expect Muslims to see how “insane” it is to respond to insults with violence? Presumably, he’s the one with sane notions of reason and rationality on his side. Yet like every other Western liberal, he adheres to liberal tenets that are every bit as faith-based and irrational as Islam itself. Spencer himself shows that modern liberalism and Islam are both irrational ideologies, impervious to reason and resistant to, if not incapable of, change or “reform.”

LA replies:

Fascinating. In effect, Spencer is doing here what he’s always doing when he says, “I’m still waiting for those moderate Muslims to step forward, still waiting … come on guys, I know you’re out there, don’t let me down … still waiting …”

Spencer’s perpetual stance, which he recently denied is his stance, is that Islam can be moderate, or, here, that Muslims can be rational, and we’re waiting, hoping, praying for the day when the Muslims become what, according to OUR lights, they ought to be. His liberal assumptions are so deeply embedded in his thought process he’s not even aware they’re there, so he’s offended when he’s told about his own liberalism.

Hannon writes:

I look forward to reading this whole post, a fascinating if less weighty one. Your take on the spelling of “Koran” is right on. Just wanted to stop and mention what I think is a very apropos comparison: the accent that should be over the “e” in Mexico, technically speaking. Who ever does this in the English language?

LA replies:

Yes, in Spanish, there is an accent over the “e” in Mexico. If we were to adopt the principle of Spencer’s spelling of Arabic words in English, we’d have to spell Mexico with the accent, in addition to making thousands of other changes in the way we spell foreign words in English. Rome should become Roma. Florence should become Firenze. Germany should become Deutschland. The fact is, Florence makes more sense in English than Firenze, even if it’s not the word that Italians use. The same obviously applies to Germany.

This is not to say that no adjustments should be ever made to the spelling and pronunciation of foreign languages. For example, while some people disapproved ot it, I think the adoption of the more phonetic rendering of Chinese names in English about 30 years ago was a big improvement. But there can be no general rule in such matters. It all depends on the particulars of the individual case.

A reader writes:

Voila, perfect proof of the spread of Muslim law to our society. Pres. Bush promises to prosecute the soldier who shot the Koran under the law of sharia, not US law. Shooting a Bible could never be prosecuted in the US but under Muslim law shooting a Koran is a death sentence crime. Instead of punishment, this soldier deserves the Medal of Honor for bravely making a clear statement that may help get us out of Iraq sooner and save thousands of lives.

LA replies:

This story is very bad, but I didn’t see that Busheron is planning to prosecute the soldier—and not under Muslim law. How would that be possible?

The stories I’ve seen, like this one from yahoo.com, say that the Iraq government said that Bush told Maliki that the soldier would be prosecuted. But Bush’s spokeswoman did not confirm that.

But you have to be extra careful when reading news media. Out of laziness, indifference, or desire to deceive, media outlets report false things. For example, see another version of the same wire service article, from amazon, below. I’ve reproduced the entire text. It’s the same text as the yahoo link above except it leaves out the part where Dana Perino, Bush’s spokeswoman, declined to confirm Iraq’s statement that Bush said the soldier would be prosecuted. The average reader looking as this would think it was a fact that the soldier was going to be prosecuted, when all we have to far is Iraq’s statement on that.

BAGHDAD—President Bush has apologized to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and promised prosecution of a U.S. soldier accused of using a copy of the Quran for target practice, Iraq said on Tuesday.

Bush apologized in a telephone call on Monday with al-Maliki, who told him the incident had humiliated and angered Iraq’s largely Muslim population, the cabinet said in a statement.

“The American president apologized on behalf of the United States … promising to present the soldier to the courts,” it said.

A U.S. Embassy spokeswoman said that in the call Bush expressed his deep concern over the “completely unacceptable conduct of an American soldier.”

A U.S. soldier has been disciplined and sent home after a bullet-riddled copy of the Muslim holy book was found at a shooting range near Baghdad on May 11. Tribal leaders also accused the soldier of writing offensive language inside the book.

Now here’s the text that was in the Yahoo version, which was left out of the amazon version:

In Washington, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Bush had raised the issue with Maliki “of one of our soldiers having used a Koran absolutely inappropriately” and expressed concern and regret over the incident.

Asked if it constituted an apology, she said: “I think you could take it that way.”

Bush had noted that the soldier had been reprimanded and removed from Iraq, she said. She did not say whether Bush had promised the soldier would be prosecuted.

Erich writes:

“Spencer correctly argues that while U.S. military authorities obviously needed to show official disapproval of what the soldier had done”

They only needed to do that because dominant and mainstream politically correct multi-culturalism limits our military such that we have to worry tactically about the veiled threat of Muslims running amok and “moderates” suddenly transforming into belligerents. With a more rational military policy, we would see that regularly shooting and otherwise flagrantly disrespecting Islamic culture by our military would have the effect of making them less likely of running amok, rather than more. The Soviet during their decades-long battles against Muslims in the “Stans” (most notably Afghanistan) destroyed over a thousand mosques. What did Muslims do in response then? Nothing cataclysmic happened. Thus, it’s only lamentably and tragi-comically “necessary” for us to show official disapproval.

LA replies:

Erich, like the previous commenter, seems to think that we are in Iraq as a hostile occupier. They seem to miss the point that we are allies of the Iraq government and that our soldiers should not be using the scripture of the Iraqi people as target practice. Erich’s comparison of America’s friendly presence in Iraq to the Soviets’ decade long brutal war against Afghanistan again shows a failure to grasp the basic facts with which we are dealing.

Both the reader and Erich seems to assume that because they (correctly) see Islam as our enemy and believe that we ought to be opposing Islam, therefore America’s friendly presence in Iraq doesn’t exist and can be ignored. But we do have a friendly presence in Iraq and given that actual situation U.S. authorities cannot allow U.S. servicemen to insult the religion of the Iraqi people.

Erich replies:

“Both the reader and Erich seems to assume that because they (correctly) see Islam as our enemy and believe that we ought to be opposing Islam, therefore America’s friendly presence in Iraq doesn’t exist and can be ignored.”

America’s friendly presence in both Iraq and Afghanistan is precisely part of our politically correct multi-culturalist insanity. For one thing, our friendly presence there is continuing to get our men attacked, including non-military personnel; for another thing, our friendly presence there is continuing to foment hatred against us by Muslims around the world; and finally, our friendly presence there has restulted in approximately “democratic” enshrinement of sharia law in both places.

We should not be there in a friendly way, but in a hostile way, since Muslims, and Islamic polities, are not worth our friendship in any way, shape or form. The sooner we learn this and behave accordingly, the better, less messy, and less bloody will be our overall self-defense. If we cannot be there in a rationally politically INcorrect way (i.e., ruthlessly), then we should not be there at all.

LA replies:

Of course we don’t belong in Iraq. But I’m not arguing the Iraq policy here. I’m simply saying that given the reality that we are in Iraq in a supportive alliance and close relationship with its government, we cannot allow our soldiers to be shooting the Koran. It’s an escapist indulgence to pretend otherwise.

Erich writes (May 22):

I agreed with all your points about “orthographical dhimmitude.” It was something I had noticed about Spencer as well, and I’m glad someone took the time to articulate it with clarity. The dimension of that usage you pointed out whereby a deference to the Exotic and the Orient is almost subliminally inculcated and/or reinforced is interesting. (I think Spencer’s concern to present himself as “scholarly” probably accounts for much of his orthography—but as you say, it has consequences.)

Erich writes (June 13):

Fjordman claims that “Qur’an” is a more technically correct transliteration, but he doesn’t back that up. I don’t know where the hard “Q” sans its necessary “U” came from, but that by itself is untenable as a transliteration into English, since a hard “Q” does not exist in English. Right there, we are being asked to incorporate into English a foreign entity preposterously signified by a symbol that is neither Arabic nor English!

Also the “Qur’an” transliteration tries to mimic Arabic pronunciation, where Arabic speakers have a kind of breath stop between the “r” and the “a”. Then there are transliterations that get worse, adding the double a, such as “Shari’aa”.

All this nonsense is adequately dismissed by your comment to Fjordman: “such usages convey excessive and unnecesary deference toward a people and a religion toward whom we should express no deference.”

Posted by Lawrence Auster at May 20, 2008 02:25 PM | Send

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