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The Language of the Middle East

 

August 24, 2011

by Avi Melamed

On the evening hours of Tuesday, August 24th, the sound of machine guns, automatic weapons and anti-tank rockets (rpg’s) echoed all around Beirut, the Capitol of Lebanon.

A bloody fight took place in the western area of the city known as Burj Abi Heidar, between Hezbollah militants (the Iranian proxy in Lebanon) and the militia of an organization named  “Alahbash” (a Syrian affiliated Sunni Muslim organization established in 1983).

Hezbollah and Alahbash are considered to be “politically aligned.”

Militants on both sides were shooting at each other on the streets.  Residential areas in an instant became a war zone. A mosque was burned down to the ground. Some reports indicated that a local supermarket was totally destroyed.

Three people were killed; one of them was a senior Hezbollah military leader in West Beirut. The Hezbollah set an ultimatum: give us those that were responsible or the fight will escalate.

The Lebanese army was rushing in, trying to cool the atmosphere, while political leaders held urgent meetings, trying to prevent further escalation. The Lebanese Defense Minister announced that “from now on no arms are allowed into Lebanon without a permit.”

Lebanese official sources rushed to declare that “the clash was not related to cross-sectarian animosity. Rather, it was only a personal dispute, apparently over a parking place, that sparked the fire, starting as a violent hand fight and escalating into a military clash.”

In my countless briefings to people from the West I say time and again: the people of the Middle East do not speak English. They speak a different language, obviously I’m not referring only to the technical aspect.  I’m referring mostly to the codes and values.

Arabic is an amazing language. It is beautiful, multi-layered, a language that reaches beyond imagination. Muslims believe it is the language that God – Allah – speaks.  As I once said in one of my briefings: “When you’re dealing with a language that produces 6000 terms and expressions for a Camel, you should show some respect.”

The Lebanese have developed Arabic into an ultimate survival tool. They have to do that because of their bloody history and gloomy reality.  Lebanon, which used to be known as the “Switzerland of the Middle East” was torn apart by massive inner turbulences stemming from sectarianism and the country became the stage for brutal violent inner conflicts.  Lebanon is occupied by remote control by the Syrians and the Iranians, via proxy, the Hezbollah.

I call Lebanon”Syran.”

On February 14, 2005, a massive explosion rocked Beirut, killing the Lebanese Prime Minister and dozens of his people.  The Lebanese government requested an investigation into his death, and thus an International Court was established by the UN Security Council to investigate the assassination.  Recent leaked information indicates that the court has firm evidence connecting some of Hezbollah’s senior activists with the murder (as well as to other assassinations of Lebanese political and cultural figures).

Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah’s reply was brutal, in a series of  “Talks to the Nation” Nasrallah promised to “burn Lebanon down to the ground” if the Lebanese government – the same government Hezbollah is a member of – dare disclose the suspects to the International Court.  Trying to soften the tone, Nasrallah pointed to the “real criminal” – Israel.  In a long video conference Nasrallah presented some disjointed, sporadic, and random pieces of information (including satellite picture taken from Google Earth) as “findings that should not be overlooked regarding Israel involvement in the crime.”

The Lebanese are not stupid.  But they also know who the real boss is.  And they are paralyzed by fear.  Thus, as inner violence threatens to erupt again in Lebanon, the Lebanese are desperately holding onto Arabic.  In a desperate, delicate and risky move, the current Lebanese Prime Minister Saed Aldin Al Hariri (the son of the previous Prime Minister) offered Hezbollah a way out, hoping to save his country.  He suggested considering the suspected activists as “defiant elements within Hezbollah.”  He also suggested politely that “the findings regarding Israeli involvement, as presented by Nasrallah, should be very seriously explored.”

The region is watching the events in Lebanon with deep anxiety.  Arab leaders are rushing to Lebanon in a desperate attempt to extinguish the flames.  And the most the Lebanese can do as they are facing the enemy from within is to hold on to Arabic.

I have spent many years of my life speaking mostly Arabic – including with Lebanese.   Yet, I have never ever seen such linguistic maneuvering as I see today.

As inner political, sectarian, religious and ideological animosities are drowning the Arab world in a gloomy reality and a depressing future, Arabic becomes an escape tool with which reality is twisted, challenges are dismissed, accountability is diminished, and responsibility is easily shifted.

The overwhelming majority of people in the West do not speak Arabic.  To a large extent, their knowledge and understanding of the Middle East is shaped by the English speaking media, that also – in most of cases – can’t understand or speak Arabic, and is dependant upon the information they receive from English speaking Arab sources.

These Arab sources are carefully and sophisticatedly presenting only what they want to share, in a language specially designed for the western ear, containing all the right “PC” terms like “freedom,” “occupation,” “injustice,” “Human Rights,” “Humanitarian Aid,” etc.   With these buzz words they capture the minds – and hearts of their audience.  Unfortunately, that picture will not change – Westerns will not be fluent in Arabic and they will continue to gain their knowledge the same way.

Yet, I have one request to make to Westerners – when it comes to the Middle East issues, please remind yourself that Arabic – not English – is the real language to know if you truly want to understand the Middle East.

Please remind yourself of a secret I would like to share with you – Arabic is a language that sincerely deceives and deceives in a most sincere way.

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