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Dot Your Qafs and Cross Your Kafs

Reader comment on item: Arabist Snobs
in response to reader comment: Multilingual does not mean knowledgeable or wise

Submitted by Pied Piper (Saudi Arabia), Nov 27, 2011 at 15:18


I agree that being multilingual does not necessarily denote a higher level of intelligence. It just means that your particular circumstances have been such that you've picked up languages usually out of necessity. Multilingualism is very common in Africa, for example, but that doesn't stop Africa as a whole from being considered a basket-case of political incoherence rife with starvation and disease. Pretty much the same is true in the Indo-Pakistan area......dozens and dozens of languages and look at the results.

Still, if you look at Islam as a culture rather than simply as a "religion", there's no doubt that Arabic is central to its makeup. I really don't think, for example, that one can discuss the Koran except in a very superficial way without an Arabic background, anymore than you can discuss Shakespeare without a pretty good knowledge of English. You can, of course, obtain translations of the Koran and Shakespeare...but can these two monuments of culture really be discussed, say, in Chinese? I don't think so.

That is to say, you can discuss the evil nature of, for example, Al-Qaeda or the treachery of the Muslim Brotherhood as socio/political institutions without any Arabic at all. Or you can comment on the inhumanity of the Chinese communist party with a zero ability in Chinese. Or you can have a worthhile opinion of the Obama administration without knowing American English. That's no problem. But once you get into the "essence" of a culture, especially one such as Islam where language forms an essential and fundamental component of its makeup, a sine qua non, so to speak, then you really should be able to dot your Qafs and cross your Kafs.

Where does all this leave Dr. Antony Sullivan, the purported central figure of this discussion? I leaves him where I left him in my original comment on this essay - He may have a good "command" of Arabic, but in no way can he be considered an "Arabist" in the most widespread and accepted meaning of that term.


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