May 27, 2005


Young Iraqi Kurds choose English over Arabic (Middle East Times, May 27, 2005)

Most Kurdish students in northern Iraq learn English as a second language these days, alarmingly for a country whose official language remains Arabic and where fear of Kurdish separatism still runs deep.

As Kurdish former rebel leaders test the limits of their hard-won influence in the new Iraq, some say that even traditional Muslim prayers must be said in Kurdish and that speaking Arabic is out-dated and out of touch.

"Certain extremists would like to say prayers in Kurdish," said Salam Khoshnaw, a professor at Salaheddin University who speaks perfect Arabic.

"Others, even more radical, dare to say that Arabs sent their language to us on the humps of camels and we must return it to them in a Mercedes."

It's not necessarily the students' fault that they don't learn Arabic well - following the 1991 Gulf war when Western intervention established a Kurdish safe haven in Iraq's three far-northern provinces, many schools and universities switched their teaching to Kurdish.

Salaheddin University students learn in Kurdish, Arabic or English as do teenagers at Arbil high school.

"Our 1,442 students study in their own language and don't know Arabic these days," said Hany Kader Khoder, 42, the high school director.

No longer bound by the rules of Saddam Hussein's ousted Arab nationalist regime, high school teachers now hold lessons for four or five hours per week in Kurdish and Arabic, one hour less in English, Khoder said.

"Arabic became a third language for us," said the principal. "The pupils prefer English, because, to them, Arabic is the language of oppression and the atrocities of the former regime."

The history of the future won't be written in Arabic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 27, 2005 9:22 PM

"Others, even more radical, dare to say that Arabs sent their language to us on the humps of camels and we must return it to them in a Mercedes."


Posted by: Fred Jacobsen (San Fran) at May 27, 2005 10:55 PM

Is it time to missionize the Kurds?

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at May 28, 2005 11:02 AM

Spengler nailed it a while ago:

We stand at the threshold, ... of a great extinction of cultures, comparable to the Macedonian march through the Eastern empires under Alexander, grinding up the older cultures and leaving Hellenism in its place. This will be repeated in English rather than Greek. No matter that the Americans are reluctant rather than exuberant conquerors. The states of the region will decide whether to embrace the American cause and become satraps in the new empire, or to put up a resistance that will be futile, however fierce it might be.

... Some not inconsiderable number of people will take the opportunity to commit suicide by hurling themselves against Israel, or against weaponry of the American empire, and their world will remain at war until there are not enough volunteers left.

Why go on living, after all? Humans are sentient beings who foresee their own demise. Like individuals, observed the German theologian Franz Rosenzweig, peoples know that they will die out as well. "The love of the peoples for their own ethnicity," he wrote, "is sweet and pregnant with the presentiment of death."

... "Culture is the stuff out of which we weave the illusion of immortality ... Frequently, ethnic groups will die rather than abandon their 'way of life'. Native Americans often chose to fight against European settlers to the point of their own extinction rather than accept assimilation, because assimilation implied abandoning both their past and their future. Historic tragedy occurs on the grand scale when economic or strategic circumstances undercut the material conditions of life of a people, which nonetheless cannot accept assimilation into another culture. That is when entire peoples fight to the death."

The Palestinian Arabs fight to the death while the Guarani of the Amazon politely hang themselves. Europe, whose fertility rate is barely half of replacement, is committing suicide as well - perhaps one should call it suicide by vacation. In 200 years German, French and Italian will be spoken only in hell.

Africans, for that matter, continue to infect each other with HIV. In South Africa, where an estimated 20 percent of the adult population carries the deadly virus, President Thabo Mbeki denounces the viral explanation of AIDS, as well as the drugs designed to suppress the disease, as a Western conspiracy. Call it suicide by sex.

My advice to Western leaders is: live and let die. If people insist on killing themselves, there is little you can do to stop it. "Alles was entsteht," as Mephisto told Faust, "ist wert, dass es zugrunde geht." (Roughly, "All that comes to be shall rightly go to ruin.") The best you can do is to encourage them to eliminate themselves in a somewhat less antisocial fashion.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at May 28, 2005 12:39 PM

"... Guarani of the Amazon politely hang themselves.

Errr, the Guarani are from Paraguay, and were forceably assimilated into Paraguayan society by President-for-Life Lopez in the 1800s, when he required Europeans to marry Guarani. (Paraguay also legalized polygamy for a while after the futile War of the Triple Alliance, when a third of the male population was killed.) In the 60s,when I lived there, Paraguayans were proud of their mixed heritage, and the fact that they were the least racially segregated of any Latin American country. (in contrast to places like Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru.)

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at May 28, 2005 1:09 PM


You almost sounded like Yeats there, for a moment.

All of the Muslim tap-dancing and shrieking about Israel has kept a little secret under wraps - there are more non-Arab Muslims than Arabs. There probably have been since around 1960 (a guess). And the difference is growing. In the near future, Indonesia or Afghanistan or Malaysia will publicly oppose the Arabs on something important. Pakistan already has.

Posted by: jim hamlen at May 28, 2005 11:05 PM