Calling an Arab an Arab


I recently posted about a Jerusalem Arab that I had met. A close friend commented that he had enjoyed what I had written, but he hadn’t liked the racist part. I was shocked as I’ve never considered myself to be anything of the sort. It transpired that he was referring to my use of the word “Arab”:

“He (Yossi) assured me that we would easily find an excellent Arab who would be more than happy to drop everything and provide a solution to our predicament for a mere pittance…”

I dismissed this criticism as absurd, but a few hours later heard on the news about a car accident. The driver who had committed the crime was described as being of “Arab background (מוצא).” This seemed quite strange as it would be the kind of term that I’d use to describe someone whose ancestors had been Arabs, but he was not. The gentleman in question was clearly an Arab. For the first time I asked myself whether at some point it had become politically incorrect to call an Arab an Arab, and I had never noticed.

Before anybody asks me how I feel to be called a Jew I shall preempt that question and say that nothing pleases me more. I never particularly enjoyed being called a “Jew boy” as a child, or occasionally a “kike”, however, the word Jew never upset me, but made my heart swell with pride. Regarding the term “Yid” it usually depended who was saying it and how it was being said. Coming from an Anti-Semite with a cockney accent and a knuckle-duster I did find it offensive, but when my father and his friend Norman the watchmaker affectionately called each other “Yid”, with an Anglo-Yiddish accent, it sounded fine.

Back to the term Arab, there was an interesting incident in the last US presidential election when one of John McCain’s supporters said to him:

“I can’t trust Obama. I have read about him. He’s an Arab.”

The senator made an enormous blunder by replying:

“No, ma’am. He’s a decent family man [and] citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that’s what this campaign’s all about. He’s not [an Arab].”

Rightly, McCain was criticized for thus, albeit unintentionally, implying that an Arab could not be “a decent family man and citizen”. If I had to explain what the Republican nominee for president meant, he was acknowledging the lady’s bigotry and saying that Obama had none of the negative characteristics that she apparently associates with Arabs. From a Factual point of view, Obama is simply not an Arab and has no Arab roots. He may be of part Moslem origin, but the President was born in Hawaii to a mother of German descent and to a Kenyan-born father.

It would be naïve to deny that Arabs are often stereotyped and I once heard an American Arab complaining that in movies the men are all terrorists and the women are all belly-dancers. However, is the solution to change the term being used?

Even the The ADC (The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee) seem to have fallen into the trap of identifying themselves as “..a civil rights organization committed to defending the rights of people of Arab descent..” Why not just say American Arabs? The ADL proudly say that it is there “to stop the defamation of the Jewish people” not people of Jewish descent.

Were I an Arab, I would say, “Let’s stop being ashamed of what we are. Let’s stop playing with words. Let’s call ourselves Arabs – American Arabs, British Arabs, all kinds of Arabs. Let’s be proud of our nation. And if there’s anything not to be proud of, let’s change it, not the word Arab.”

Charlie Chaplin was once asked whether he was a Jew and he answered:

“No, I am afraid that I am not so lucky that I can call myself a Jew.”

Let being called an Arab be a source of pride too. And next time a (non-Arab) US politician is called an Arab let him proudly say:

“No, I am afraid that I am not so lucky that I can call myself an Arab.”

Judah (the Jew)

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Calling an Arab an Arab

  1. Dawn Bush says:

    What a brilliant piece. I wholeheartedly agree.

    The above is a comment on “Calling an Arab an Arab” originally posted on Facebook.

  2. Jonathan says:

    “It does beg the question of the close friend of what term one is supposed to use instead of Arab. The world has indeed gone mad.”

    The above is a comment on “Calling an Arab an Arab” originally posted on Facebook.

  3. Silke says:

    I had to think about it for a while but now I have a question:

    if I am saying in German “ich gehe zum Chinesen” “ich gehe zum Italiener” “ich gehe zum Türken” usw. usw. usw. do I qualify as racist?

    (ich gehe zum= I go to the – the verb “essen”=eat is rarely if ever included)

  4. Abu Zibby says:

    The only one concerned about PC in the Near East are anglo-saxon Olim. Many Israelis think it is stupid but I think is cute.

  5. zvicka says:

    I say, this issue rather reminds of a conversation I had with a friend of mine who is gay (note your reaction to this phrasing).

    Just the other day I visited this friend at his apartment where he introduced his roommate, who was very polite and friendly. Back outside I asked my friend if his roommate was also an active member of the homosexual community. He sneered back at me and said “yes, he is gay”.

    There I was trying to be politically correct thinking that gay is disrespectful, when in fact that thought itself was offensive to my friend. Now recall how you must have felt when reading the first sentence – I’m sure most of you thought it was a little bit vulgar or offensive.

  6. Natassia says:

    Interesting post.

    Before anybody asks me how I feel to be called a Jew I shall preempt that question and say that nothing pleases me more. I never particularly enjoyed being called a “Jew boy” as a child, or occasionally a “kike”, however, the word Jew never upset me, but made my heart swell with pride. Regarding the term “Yid” it usually depended who was saying it and how it was being said. Coming from an Anti-Semite with a cockney accent and a knuckle-duster I did find it offensive, but when my father and his friend Norman the watchmaker affectionately called each other “Yid”, with an Anglo-Yiddish accent, it sounded fine.

    It’s all about intentions and perceptions.

    Were I an Arab, I would say, “Let’s stop being ashamed of what we are. Let’s stop playing with words. Let’s call ourselves Arabs – American Arabs, British Arabs, all kinds of Arabs. Let’s be proud of our nation. And if there’s anything not to be proud of, let’s change it, not the word Arab.”

    That only serves to create division. I will respond with a quote I think is very pertinent to your post’s assertions:

    There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism. When I refer to hyphenated Americans, I do not refer to naturalized Americans. Some of the very best Americans I have ever known were naturalized Americans, Americans born abroad. But a hyphenated American is not an American at all… The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin, of preventing all possibility of its continuing to be a nation at all, would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities, an intricate knot of German-Americans, Irish-Americans, English-Americans, French-Americans, Scandinavian-Americans or Italian-Americans, each preserving its separate nationality, each at heart feeling more sympathy with Europeans of that nationality, than with the other citizens of the American Republic… There is no such thing as a hyphenated American who is a good American. The only man who is a good American is the man who is an American and nothing else.

    Those words were spoken by Teddy Roosevelt.

  7. Silke says:

    Question:
    by what adjective has the former meaning of gay been replaced in English?

    Somerset Maugham may have called colours gay what would they be called today transferring the same meaning?

    neither bright nor lively seems to give me the same?

  8. aparatchik says:

    Another great post – I shall be bookmarking your blog.

    One inaccuracy though: the claim that Obama’s mother is of German descent is quite misleading as most of her ancestors seem to have been of British/Irish stock. It did lead me on to investigate his family background further, though – what a car crash! Literally! Did you know, for example, that Obama was conceived out of wedlock and that his father already had a wife at the time? His father seems to have been absent from his life, which may have been a blessing, but which of his traits are lurking in the son? He also went on to marry for a third time – with an American Jew!

  9. Judah says:

    Thanks aparatchik! Please keep the comments coming.

    Regarding:

    “One inaccuracy though: the claim that Obama’s mother is of German descent is quite misleading as most of her ancestors seem to have been of British/Irish stock.” –

    I was basing myself on Wikipedia:

    “Obama was born August 4, … His mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, was born in Wichita, Kansas, of mostly English, but also some German, descent.”

    While I’m still not sure about the Irish thing, I do stand corrected.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s