Thursday, July 13, 2006

Reflections on (lack of) terminology

Why isn't this entry in the language section? Because it is going to make a few people unhappy, and unhappiness is politically almost always incorrect in our "fair-for-all and devil take the hindmost" Australia.

It has been quiet on the work front and I have about a week before madness strikes again. In the midst of converting my ailing LP records into CDs prior to donating them to LifeLine for their next Bookfest, I decided to go back to doing something more intellectually challenging than staring at my recorder's dials. From my shelves groaning with good materials I chose a book on inter-faith marriages in Australia, written by a local academic of Palestinian background and endorsed by our own Lord Vampire, Hon. Buttock.

The book is excellent, short, well written, dense with data and with sound conclusions (as sound as you are allowed to have while retaining your teaching post, that is). Translating the first chapter into English promised to be as great a task as sociolinguistic exercises go, and I didn't have to wait long before I hit the first snag.

"Inter-faith marriages", "inter-marriages" and "conversion" (from one religion to any other) were an interesting bid. After fiddling with the first two terms for 5 hours, I asked other, native Arabic language speakers for their opinion. 48 hours have passed since and although a few made attempts at solving the linguistic problem, they were all as clumsy as mine. The question that jumps to mind: is the term lacking in Arabic BECAUSE there is no such concept, or am I just unlucky in finding a really good linguist. I would go for the first, knowing that the persons who tried to assist me were all professionals with years of translating experience.

When I got to "conversion", I didn't have to go beyond my dictionary to start feeling unhappy. The word exists in Arabic, and is called "HIDAYA". Its root is the same as that of the word "yahtadi" meaning "find the right way". Am I to assume that any sane Middle Eastern Muslim would accept that a coreligionist of his, converting to say Buddhism, has finally hit the nail on the head and found the right way??? Or will a Copt in Upper Egypt accept that a brother of his converting to Islam is on the right path? Even saying something like this could cause you severe discomfort (being killed, bashed, abused - your choice) and would not do any of your "inter-faith" friendships that you may have any good. It just doesn't sound right in Arabic, with its need to be on some RIGHT path or other (can there be an "other"??) in a society where the shape of the path is more important than its content.

But things got even better: I was looking for "inter-faith dialogue" an equivalent of which in Arabic is "a dialogue between religions". Not much headache there if it wasn't for this interesting bit of information gleaned from a website called Islam Online, under their Daawa (proselytizing) section. A certain Dr. Kamal Al Masri, who has a BLLP from the University of Kuwait, and a PhD from London in Human Rights and Islamic Law, advises a young man on "addiction" and its effects on "normalization of relationship with the Jewish State" by telling him that Israelis (praised be Allah that he differentiates between those and the Jews) infiltrate Yahoo chatrooms under the guise of "Interfaith Dialogue" a term which in reality "means an attempt by Israel to be accepted in the Arab and Muslim world". WOW! I didn't know they were this crazy, those Kibbutzniks.I should really do a bit more research on what else "interfaith dialogue" means - fish n' fries? \

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