Friday, November 18, 2016

Collateral Damage?

I don't think I can be accused of being anti-Moslem. Oh, I'm clearly anti-Islamist, anti-jihadi, and anti-terrorism, but I've always distinguished between Moslems and jihadis. Does my use of the term "Moslem" rather than "Muslim" insult those in the Islamic faith? Is it a "dog whistle" signal of hostility to Moslems/Muslims? Let me explore.

I ask because a friend from college who peruses my blog on occasion wrote to express his concern that not using "Muslim" insults those in the Islamic faith and makes it seem like my posts are bigoted. I have no doubt his concern is sincere. And I credit him for reading my blog given that we have little in common politically. (And yes, I regret not making annual college get togethers for football games the last several years--parental duties call and take priority!)

But should I use the term "Muslim?" 

Let me start with the basics, I do not consider Moslems to be enemies. Here's a post from this year that even quotes an article I wrote within a few days of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, but failed to get published. I felt at war then. I still do, if not with the intensity of that moment in time. Yet I did not rage at all Moslems for the acts of the al Qaeda terrorists, even at that stressful time. Tell me if I'm a raging Islamophobe--or whatever the current term of art is--after reading those items.

I believe I have been clear that our enemies are jihadis, and that the majority of Moslems who don't go along with that view of Islam are the main victims of the jihad. I want us to help Moslems win their civil war that is raging over who gets to define what "real" Islam is.

But again, is my use of the word "Moslem" an insult to our allies within the Islamic world in this war?

I am a history and political science major. Throughout my education, the use of either term was really a matter of transliteration--of writing a language that does not use our alphabet. The terms were considered interchangeable. I settled on "Moslem" early in this blog, I guess. It was a background thing made with no political angle. For all I know, in my pre-blog days I may have used "Moslem" or "Muslim" interchangeably depending on the sources I used. I really don't recall. Why would I? It was a matter of different spelling for the same word.

Behold the historical record of hatred at the New York Times, for example. Forgive me, I was in college then, where I could be exposed to hateful material like the Times as I did research.

Yet at some point (after 9/11?), it seems, the use of the term "Muslim" became required in certain circles. I've noted over the years that many used "Muslim," but styles change and I honestly didn't pay much attention to it. If I read "Moslem" or "Muslim," I read the same word in my mind.

It strikes me that saying that those who are anti-Islamic settled on "Moslem"--and therefore I am tainted by that word choice--is no more relevant than saying that those who oppose a war against jihadis--either from a genuine fear it will wrongly become a war on Islam or because they are actually convinced we are in the wrong to fight the jihadis (remember the "why do they (jihadis) hate us?" talk that assumed America deserved to be attacked at some level?)--tend to choose "Muslim."

Yet I use the term "African American" even though I think "Black" is fine and respectful. Why hurt feelings needlessly? Nor do I write "White" in protest of having "Black" capitalized. The latter is very mildly annoying as a matter of pure spelling fairness, but not enough for me to adapt that and associate with white supremacists.

Isn't the use of "Muslim" consistent with that thinking? Quite possibly, I suppose. But I don't visit white- or Christian-supremacist web sites. So that is not my motivation. White supremacists drink milk like I do, for all I know. I like milk. That's it.

And the use of the term "African American" and earlier changes are a matter of self-identification and not an issue of how to render a word into the English language's alphabet. "African American" is not a change to the translation of an African word for people originating from that region that is an improvement over the term "Black" for the same word of origin. So the use of that comparison isn't valid as a defense of "Muslim" over "Moslem."

As I said, this was long a transliteration issue. Note the many spellings of "Khadaffi." Which one of those English versions is verboten and which is sensitive enough to use?

So I looked around a bit.


According to the Center for Nonproliferation Studies,"Moslem and Muslim are basically two different spellings for the same word." But the seemingly arbitrary choice of spellings is a sensitive subject for many followers of Islam. Whereas for most English speakers, the two words are synonymous in meaning, the Arabic roots of the two words are very different. A Muslim in Arabic means"one who gives himself to God," and is by definition, someone who adheres to Islam. By contrast, a Moslem in Arabic means"one who is evil and unjust" when the word is pronounced, as it is in English, Mozlem with a z.

For others, this spelling differentiation is merely a linguistic matter, with the two spellings a result of variation in transliteration methods. Both Moslem and Muslim are used as nouns. But some writers use Moslem when the word is employed as an adjective.

Journalists switched to Muslim from Moslem in recent years under pressure from Islamic groups.

Here is more:

Technically speaking, "Muslim" is right and "Moslem" is wrong. This is because Arabic contains only the sound "u" and not the softer "o". But basically it shouldn't make that much of a difference. I personally dislike hearing "Moslem" a lot. First because it sounds off, and second because it has been used by some politicians and public figures as a derogatory term. Or at least it felt like it. But: many people take offence at "Moslem"; they think it means something else entirely different in Arabic, like "tyrant", or "unjust person". That's not true at all. The word they are thinking of is "Muthlim" which means "dark". The word for unjust man is "thalim", which is completely different. So "Moslem" doesn't mean anything, or anything offensive, in Arabic.

I can accept that "Muslim" as a pronunciation is more accurate in rendering Arabic. But so what? I say "Paris" and not "Paree." I say "Moscow" and not "Moskva." I say "Rome" and not "Roma." I say "Peking" and not "Beijing." I'm with the general on this issue (funny, my memory was that it was about Nancy)

And let's not get me started on "offence." What's with the "c?"

But let's examine the insult angle. First, saying "Muslim" is proper while "Moslem" is insulting displays an interesting bias. Even if the word "Moslem" is too close to an insulting word in Arabic, Islam is not the same as the Arab world.

Ponder that of nations with the most Moslems, you have to go down to 8th place to get to an actual Arab country! Above Egypt which is in that 8th place in Moslem population are (in ascending order) Turkey, Iran, Nigeria, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Indonesia. Those are not Arab countries.

So even if "Moslem" is insulting to Arab Moslems, Arab Moslems are not the universe of Moslems. Fewer than 15% of Moslems are Arab. And let me tell you, the attitude among Arab Moslems based on the origin of Islam on the Arabian peninsula of being first among equals--at least--grates on non-Arab Moslems. So Western liberals are laying down their marker to defend that bigoted way of thinking? Fascinating.

Let's go a step farther with our friend Mr. Google.

I'd doing this as I write, basically, so let's both see what translating "Moslem" and "Muslim" into various languages on that top 8 list of Moslem-populated countries yields. I once had to start a college paper over well into the paper (in the age of typewriters, no less) when my analysis led me to contradict my thesis. I hated that. But I did it. And got an "A." But we'll see.

Let's start with Egypt where Arabic is the language.

Let's start with the translation of "Muslim" to Arabic. Go listen to it. That sounds an awfully lot like "Moose-lee-mon." Which is too close to the archaic Mussulman to be okey dokey sensitivity-wise.

Now let's try translating "Moslem" in Arabic. Huh. Exactly the same pronunciation. If there is a word similar to "Moslem" that is insulting to Arabic speakers, it sure isn't the exact translation of "Moslem."

And neither translation reflects what I am being told is the culturally appropriate way of saying the word--"Moo-slim."  Why aren't the the people worked up about saying "Moo-slim" instead of "Moslem" (with a hint of z) saying "Moose-lee-mon?"

Let's move up the list to Turkey by translating "Muslim."  Uh oh: Müslüman. And yes, the translation of "Moslem" gets us to the same destination

Let's move on to Iran. Translating "Muslim" to Farsi gets us. Okay, Google calls it "Persian" and there is no transliteration into our alphabet or audio. But both give us a choice of Muslim, Moslem, Saracen, Mohammedan, or Mussulman as definitions. [Oops, I forgot links--sorry. I don't feel like going back. You can find it, I'm sure.]

Now to Nigeria. I suspect this will be tough since tribal divisions will have different languages. But let's stick with Hausa, Fulani, and Kanuri in the north where Islam dominates.

We've got Hausa, so let's start with "Muslim" which gives us "musulmi." "Moslem" gives us "Musulmin." Pretty darned similar, although the latter sounds more like the Turkish word. Perhaps the insult is a fine distinction.

The other two northern languages aren't on the list but let's do Yoruba, from the region where some Moslems are located in significant numbers. "Muslim" gives us "musulumi." For "Moslem" we get "moslem." That's odd. I guess it doesn't translate. Which at least means it is not an insult.

On to Bangladesh, where Bengali translates "Muslim." They give it a "moose" beginning that seems consistent with the English version. Give it a listen. "Moslem" is different, sounding more like "Mussulman."

Urdu for Indian Moslems is different from "Muslim" to "Moslem," by my eye, but they are listed as synonyms of each other. Nothing seems inherently insulting.

In Pakistan, Punjabi is the biggest language group. For "Muslim" we get this. Whoa. No audio and the wrong alphabet. Can I eyeball the translation of "Moslem?" You bet I can. Apparently it does not translate. So no insult in Punjabi.

Pashto is the next biggest, but much smaller, language in Pakistan. Let's do that and stop in Pakistan. "Muslim" gives us this. I'll have to eyeball this compared to "Moslem" which gives a different word. But I can draw no further conclusion.

And for Indonesia, "Muslim" provides no translation. Nor does "Moslem." Although both provide an audio translation as "Muslim." Confused about the largest concentration of Moslems, I found this translation for "Muslim:" orang islam, muslim.So I guess the translation for both is "Muslim."

So there you go from the world of Google. I'm just not seeing the language of hate here.

The claim is that "Moslem" is insulting to Moslems because in Arabic it is close to an insult doesn't seem compelling to me since the actual competing English words seem to translate to the same word in Arabic (with a different pronunciation than the one the pro-"Muslim" group insists on using), supporting a transliteration issue as the basis of this "controversy.".

Some Arabic speakers on that second site I quote seem to think it is a transliteration issue, too; although bad connotations may be present (which would be the fault of those complaining about the word "Moslem" when prior to those complaints it was not a problem, you must admit), while languages for the other 85% of non-Arab Moslems don't seem to provide a basis for saying there is an insult by saying "Moslem."

As I said, I don't believe I am anti-Islamic nor do I think my posts display such bias. It would be odd if my posts did indicate that bias because I don't believe I am hostile to Moslems.

I'm very hostile to jihadis. I've made no secret of my view that the only good jihadi is a dead jihadi (well, that's hyperbole--captured live ones to provide information in order to kill even more jihadis are okay).

I've also made it clear that our war has to be waged carefully, focused on killing the jihadis and not just turning the Islamic world into a free-fire zone that kills non-jihadi Moslems. The vast majority of the Islamic world is our ally, after all, with even more reason than we in the West have to destroy the jihadis and erase their way of thinking.

Yet if some readers suffer brain lock when they come to the word "Moslem" in a post I wrote rather than judge the content of my posts, is that my problem? No thank you. I decline the burden. I do not carry bad baggage or bad intent or bad thoughts when I use the word "Moslem." And if some readers think that your gracious host at The Dignified Rant is reflecting views expressed on white- or Christian-supremacist web sites (or Jewish, Hindu, or Buddhist sites, I suppose), you grossly over-estimate the amount of time I spend on them. Which is zero.

Nor am I on the mailing list for the weekly update on changes in the acceptable and unacceptable word list.

Come on! If there are bigots out there using the word "Moslem," isn't the actual issue that they are bigots and not that they say "Moslem"? I bet they use lots of English words. Would they be any less bigoted if they used "Muslim?"

Heck, I don't judge people as terrorist supporters for using the term "Muslim." I read the word all the time. You will see that word a lot in my blog where I've quoted an article. My brain did not lock up when I read that word.

So must I alter the spellings for the Koran, Mohammed, and whatever else is deemed offensive because there are alternatives using "u" and "q"?

Must I preface the name Mohammed with "the prophet" when he is not my prophet and when I don't insist Moslems (or anyone else) describe Jesus as "lord and savior?" Do I have to add "pbuh" after their prophet's name, as is their practice?

Heck, maybe I just subconsciously like the sound of "O" more than "U."

And although my friend denies this is just PC stuff, isn't this really all just social signaling the way adopting a Spanish accent when saying "Nicaragua" was a symbol of the speaker's support for the communist Sandinistas in the 1980s? (Saturday Night Live had a hilarious skit of reporters ordering Mexican food with that kind of speaking style.)

And recall that in 1990, left-wing opponents of the looming Persian Gulf War criticized Bush 41 for using a different emphasis on Saddam Hussein's first name which made it sound like an insult in Arabic.

Yet the Obama administration uses the word "Daesh" for the Islamic State (ISIL/ISIS), which is explicitly an insulting term in Arabic. But there is a sound of crickets from the left on this pronunciation issue.

Just who has the keys to the Outrage Machine?

If it makes you feel better, some years ago I remember reading some liberal writer saying that conservatives used "Usama bin Laden" while liberals used "Osama bin Laden." I have always used the latter.

Again with my micro-aggression bias against "U."

Seriously, however, for many radical Moslems and those who side with them, just criticizing Islam is considered blasphemy that should be forbidden and punished by the state--even in the free West and even when non-adherents to their faith speak. No other religion gets to argue for that exception to freedom of speech without strong unified resistance.

Given that issue alone, aside from my inquiry into the language, I'm not inclined to making what seems like a harmless change to a new dominant form of spelling just because so many have made that change.

So when jihadis are demonstrating their bloodthirsty nature every damn day, in a gruesome fashion that defies humanity's norms, I'm in no mood to go down that path on this blog. Is anybody still Charlie today?

You have to know that I'm not one to just bend to what "everyone else" is doing. I'd never have made it out of Detroit if that is how I behaved. And as another friend once remarked, living in Ann Arbor all these decades has had amazingly little impact on me!

Honestly, I think I can guarantee that if people who are genuinely hostile to Moslems started using "Muslim," a new term of generally approved usage would arise from the left. Perhaps we'd be taught new-found respect for the historical origins of the term "Mussulman" from the glorious caliphate of the Ottoman Empire (hey, another "O" word!).

Indeed, this exercise has led me to ask why "Mussulman" is widely considered verboten. I certainly never used it, thinking it archaic and possibly insulting. But that's an Arab-centric reason, isn't it? Why isn't the Turkish word considered okay? Isn't it insulting to Turks to deny the validity of their usage? Are they Islamophobic?

Heck, recall that the Arabic audio translation sounds darned similar to the Turkish spelling that in English we rule out as insensitive. Doesn't this evidence actually suggest that "Muslim" is just as bad if people really just want a better transliteration and pronunciation?

My spelling choice is trivial. And it will continue to be trivial while we are at war with murderous thugs and when the parallel war of words seems like just a minor front trying to undermine victory--victory for the West which is collateral damage in this fight and for the Islamic world that is fighting a civil war over how to define Islam itself rather than how to transliterate the Arabic word for their religion's people.

And given that this is really a transliteration issue and possibly a pronunciation issue, as far as I'm concerned, when someone reads "Moslem" here (which is included in just 6.1% of my 17,000+ posts on Blogger; compare that to 12.1% with the word "Russia" for example) they are free to pronounce it "Moose-lim," Moose-lee-mon," or even "Debbie" in their minds for all I care if it makes them feel better. I don't write "Moslem" with a sneer and a wish for their deaths.

If someone chooses to read it that way after they've read all this, that's their problem. I do not use the word "Moslem" for reasons that some of ill intent have chosen, and those people would not find this blog a friendly site for their views. I reject any connection to them and do not consent to have my motives tied to their motives.

While this may surprise you, I've never gotten an email from a white supremacist congratulating me on my efforts for the race and notifying me I've been nominated for an Iron Cross.

I have no doubt that my friend is sincere in his desire to avoid giving offense to Moslems. Indeed, if it was on an interpersonal level and a Moslem (or Muslim) friend or colleague was genuinely offended, I'd make an effort to conform to their sensitivities when one-on-one. Sometimes it is just a matter of politeness. But again, how far am I expected to go in altering my words? Or thoughts? Would that person be expected to conform their words to my beliefs, too?

Yet I will ponder this issue going forward. I might even change my terminology as a result, one day. As I said, I'm not trying to offend. It was always a transliteration issue. I just never gave a damn if I did offend the Easily Offended. And I'm just not convinced that what I use is offensive based on evidence. The non-issue seems to be a convenient PC way of beating down different thinking on issues.

Also, keep in mind that I never got worked up about Bush 43's "war on terror" terminology in the face of critics on the right who objected that terror is a tactic and not an enemy. President Bush waged war on Islamist terrorists. No doubt. So his terminology was just part of keeping the war as one between America and our allies--including Moslem allies--against jihadis who want to define Islam in their image.

So if I think making that change to "Muslim" contributes to victory, I am willing. We shall see.

For now, however, "Moslem" stays. Judge my writing on what I write, is all I've ever asked.

After another email exchange (on personal stuff) with my friend after I wrote this post (but prior to publication), I suspect my friend will no longer read my blog much because I did not agree to make the change.

That's a pity. He's a good guy. I didn't hold his liberalism against him! And I won't hold his decision against him. Politics oozes into too much these days and wrecks them, sadly enough. I miss the days when music choice was more important in judging peers. But that's his choice and is not my problem.

I still hope to catch up with him on those college reunions one of these days. And even discuss the issues we disagree on over a beer or two.

Sorry I went on so long. In a Twitter world this is War and Peace. But I thought my friend deserved a serious response. And I thought it would be of interest in the wider world.

UPDATE: Somewhat related from the New York Times:

Iraqis have endured years of Islam being used to justify mass killing, and some see Mr. Trump as a truth-teller in calling out Islam — or a certain brand of it — as the problem. ...

“We have no concerns about the policy of Trump because he is against extremism,” said Saad al-Hadithi, the spokesman for Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. “We think we are facing one enemy, and that is fighting ISIS. Therefore, I do not think there are fears or concerns about a new American policy.”

Well, that had to come as a surprise to the Times reporters and editors.

I'm guessing the Iraqis also don't care how I spell "Moslem." They might value far more my longstanding support for their liberation from Saddam's tyranny.

UPDATE: A very late update with an older clip when I belatedly noticed in 2018 that Trump uses the pronunciation "Muslim." Please update your language of hate dictionary. Grant me that this is funny.