Language Wars

By: Osama Raslan, Ph.D., legal linguist, head, AOCE English Unit

  • | Wednesday, 22 November, 2023
Language Wars

     This article addresses, though partially, an aspect of the ongoing conflict between Israel and Arabs; particularly the Palestinians. It is an aspect rarely theorized and regulated in the form of a deliberate effort despite the fact that it is the most outreaching compared to all other aspects. After all, news and media contents of various forms do transcend borders, broadcast areas, and warring parties. The linguistic aspect of the conflict is the one to which attention is called here. 
Language wars appeared in our part of the world long time ago. A manifestation of these was the war of the languages (or Milhemet HaSafot, in Hebrew) in 1913, marking a heated debate in Ottoman Palestine over the language of instruction in the country’s new Jewish schools, and a major event in the revival of the Hebrew language. In 1913, the then German Jewish aid agency Hilfsverein der deutschen Juden, used to maintain schools for Jewish immigrants in Palestine since 1905. The agency sought to establish German as the language of instruction and education at the first agency-sponsored Haifa-based technical high school, the Technikum. A public controversy ensued between supporters of using German and dreamers of Hebrew as the language that should be spoken by the Jewish people in their ‘homeland’. 
Language is no less criminally exploitable than any other medium. This propelled one of the world’s most renowned legal linguists, Peter Tiersma, to deliver a wonderful academic piece, Language Crimes, as early as 1993. The book handled (mis)using legal speech acts in terms of solicitation, conspiracy, perjury, threatening, bribery, etc. A further development of this model is needed to suit the purposes of analyzing and taking to the next level the aspect of linguistic confrontation between Israel and Arabs or, better put, the willingly devoted Arabs and free, conscientious persons worldwide. 
An unmistakable dichotomy of language use has been, and still is, arising between the two conflicting sides. No more than a list is needed to prove the unbridgeable linguistic choice barrier between them across all conflict-fueling doctrines; be they religious, political, ideological, historical; or a combination of ‘all of the above’. The reader may well invoke whatever grounds for interpreting the following examples for that dichotomy. This article is by no means intended to determine or judge any such choices. However, an approach to how to develop that already established line of linguistic conflict is to be suggested below. 
For example, since the Zionist occupation of Jerusalem in 1967, the Western Wall was captured only to be termed as such or, with a more religious tinge, the Wailing Wall. It is a portion of the ancient limestone wall in the Old City of Jerusalem forming part of the larger wall structure around the hill known to Jews as the Temple Mount. For Arabs and Muslims, it is the Buraq Wall. The Buraq (Arabic: الْبُرَاق /alboraq/) is a creature in Islamic tradition that Prophet Muhammad rode for his Isra and Mi’raj journey from Mecca to Jerusalem and up through the heavens and back by night. To Muslims, in the Jerusalem stopover of the journey, the Buraq was tied to that wall pending the finalization of the Mohamed-led all-prophet prayer, hence the nomenclature. 
Another example is from the Israeli incessant plans for building settlements in the West Bank (and formerly in Gaza up to 2005), biting off Palestinian territories and withering away the endeavors for a viable Palestinian state. Several Arabic translations have been suggested. Mostly, the Arabic word مستوطنات /mostawtanat/ is used. Critics argue that the Arabic root of this translation can be traced to the word وطن, or homeland, much to the suggestion that the Israeli occupation is constructing ‘homeland’ territories. Another suggestion has been مستعمرات /mosta’amarat/. Critics, once again, argued that the traceable linguistic root here is عَمَّر, to positively construct, which is a divine teaching for Muslims to adopt in the first place. Those settlements cannot be depicted as homelands or points of positive constructions. Another suggestion was needed. It has appeared as مُغتصَبات /moghtasaba/, or usurped territories. This suggestion is narrowly adopted, though. 
The list goes on almost limitlessly, especially as many occupied territories within historic Palestine have had their native inhabitants supplanted, their history wiped out, and names rechristened after Zio-Jewish symbols. These measures and counter measures reflect a mindset of cultural vigilantism under which subtle points and considerations can, and in fact; are, battlegrounds. As each party seeks an overwhelming linguistic narrative, the victorious party would be the one achieving linguistic consensus, outreach, and narrative. If achieved, linguistic consensus becomes unstoppable. It is a two-party multi-level process of linguistic bugbearing and counter bugbearing, so to speak. 
In a world of linguistic globalism entailing cultural extensions, such a cultural vigilantism remains inevitable. Otherwise, a state of lingua-cultural insecurities would be equally unescapable. From a wider perspective, our Arab-Islamic culture has been, and still is being, demonized and dismissed as a raging ocean of mangling Islamic terrorism, jihadism, Sunni terrorism, Islamist-provoked destruction, and many other similar linguistic irritants. To the contrary, the other party to the conflict, Zionist Israel, is being provided with all forms of military, political, economic, financial, media, and legal support. Legalizing antisemitic charges is just one form of such all-out support. As a result, ready-made, anachronistic, and illogical accusations and serious indicting are on the rise and frothing at supportive mouths. 
Consequently, it is necessary and beneficial sometimes to widen the battlefield into new arenas. One way forward is to refer to and use linguistic sciences to come up with new coined words to push back the wave highlighted above and ‘return the favor’. Storms of criticism, condemnation, and engulfment by atrocities stifle sensible consideration and, more importantly, response. Sufficing ourselves with throwing jeremiads against ‘the enemy’ is not adequate nor helpful. Therefore, the following are examples of what can be made to develop a counter linguistic narrative and establish a new way of linguistic response. 
Genocide (the deliberate killing of a large number of people from a particular nation or ethnic group with the aim of destroying that nation or group) is an accusation already used by and against many parties over decades, but seldom results in due legal process. Linguistically, the word came into existing by coining – a linguistic process that means to invent a new word or expression, or to use one in a novel particular way. Genocide was first coined by the Polish lawyer Raphäel Lemkin in 1944 in his book Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. Marking the crime of all crimes under international law, genocide consists of the Greek prefix genos, meaning race or tribe, and the Latin suffix cide, meaning killing. The hard time we are going through requires a similar coining with a different component and for a different purpose. My suggestion is Ziocide; a genocide committed by Zionists. Zio comes from Zionism, and cide is now known already. It can be used as a noun (n.) or as a verb (v.), e.g., The Ziocide (n.) in Gaza claimed 9,000 lives so far; and Thousands have been ziocided (v.) in Gaza. 
Another linguistic response to current events in Gaza can be the coining of Ziobellum (n.); a belligerent, violent stance adopted by Zionists against others - a noun specifically referring to the Zionist belligerent style of enmity with all its unprecedentedly malicious and poisonous characteristics. Bellum, or Polemos, is a demon of war from the Greco-Roman mythology. Needless to say, the Greco-Roman culture is the cultural basis of which the Zionism-sponsoring West proudly claims to be the descendent. One more suggestion is Zioheid, namely, Zionist apartheid; a noun owing its coining to the prefix Zio and the suffix heid. It is coined after apartheid, a word dating back to the 1940s (from Afrikaans, literally ‘separateness’, from Dutch apart ‘separate’ + suffix heid (equivalent of -hood)). Zioheid is unequivocally being practiced against the Palestinians. 
A further suggestion is Zio-information (n.); that is, Zionist disinformation. Media lies chewed by Zionists and supportive world leaders and media outlets have been absolutely striking throughout this unfolding aggression on Gaza. They do deserve such a coining, in return. One more suggestion is HoloGaza (n.), along the lines of Holocaust (from Greek holos (burnt) kaustos (sacrificial offering)). Whatever atrocities were committed during the Holocaust, commensurate ones have been, and still are being, perpetrated by Zionists long before 1948. By extension, Holo-Levant and Holo-Palestine can be coined. The current aggression on Gaza is still unfolding. However, from day one Israel has rushed for its Western lifelines for military, financial, and political help. This is an act of Zio-parasitism. Israel is now proven so ill-founded that it is far from being capable of self-defense or self-sustenance. 
Further suggestions are ready and devisable. Counter linguistic yet fact-based stigmatization is a response that is best served scientific and persistent. Expectedly, my MS Office Word is red-underlining my suggestions as cases of solecisms or malapropisms. At a time when all lines are crossed in real-blood red, these suggestions come as mere appurtenances of Arabs’ inalienable rights. Every Arab and free, righteous person in this world has a role to play, not least in relation to language use. Where an enemy goes for stigmatization, a duly and commensurately counteroffensive falls due. The only difference is that ours does not involve any form of disinformation, unlike their Zio-information… ours is self-sustained, but theirs marks a full-scale case of Zio-parasitism…ours underlies a legal outcry for self-determination, but theirs underlies Zioheid. It is high time to have these suggestions, and the like, streamlined as part of our sustained and consistent media discourse. 

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