The beautiful things you find in a dictionary

Most of you know that the name Hadi (هادي), is an Arabic adjective that means the guide, counselor, leader, etc, a name popularized after Nasrallah’s (the SG of Hizbullah) martyred eldest son. But I bet that few of you know (I had no clue personally) that the root verb Hâda (هَادَ) means ‘to become a jew’ to ‘judaize’. Of course this is different from the actual root verb Hadâ (هدى) that actually means ‘to guide’. But “il s’en est fallu de peu” as the French would say…

A linguistic theory (or perspective) to understand "Islamic" movements

Ok friends, here we go. After a couple months of ‘deep’ thinking, I got my own eureka. Here is what I think serves as a binding device for all the arguments I’m going to be making in my work. But I need to have an idea of what you think, if it makes sense, or is my eureka just a figment of my imagination (well it is one) that cannot be shared.

A couple of questions:

Is there something that differentiates Islamic movements from other movements? Is this something has to do with some “Islamic” component? If yes, how to understand this “Islamic” component?

My tentative answers respectively to each questions:

The difference is in the language used as representative of a different ‘form’ of consciousness (culture, etc.) shaped by different institutions and power relations in place. It has to do with something ‘Islamic’ in so far as the discourse and practices used to act are different and claim to borrow ‘legitimacy’ (understood as ‘linguistic coherence’) from a pool of metaphors, symbols, and clusters of meaning (of course constantly changing) derived from the spoken (here Arabic, but other languages too), and the written (Koran, etc.). The Islamic is understood as a powerful pool of meanings anchored (taking authority) from written heritage (Koran, etc.) that provides an all encompassing forms in order to direct changing practices on the social ground. The difference here between the spoken and written is crucial, I will try to explain this in a later post. The borrowing happens in hectic, unpredictable, and even contradictory way sometimes (depending on symbolically powerful actors who are at the forefront of this knowledge creation.

My argument (heavily indebted to ‘critical thought’ in general) then is: Islamic movements are resistance movements to a slowly maturing colonizing process, the one that penetrates and changes the consciousness of subalterns. The fall of the Ottoman Empire, the creation of modern state, and the entry of new forms of economic and social exploitation, all reverberating in the intrusion in the language used (here Arabic that completely changed its modes of work included new formulations, meanings, etc.), all are examples of this colonizing process. The most successful form of resistance is the one that strives to create separate forms of consciousness (different understandings (symbols, meanings, etc.) of social reality. Islamic movements to varying degrees are about that, that is their only a priori similarity, they go back to a specific articulation of the “language”, the one of the Koran for example (Gramsci rightly points out that language is a worldview). Now depending on historical, social, institutional etc. circumstances in their respective geographies, you have completely different experiences that arise. Most importantly, their relation with other forms of consciousness (like the more hegemonic, “western” form) is crucial to understand the evolution of meanings amongst these movements.

I’m not saying that Islamic movements are a ‘renaissance’ of Arabic as a language. First, this does not mean anything, just as much as the ‘Nahda’ of the XIX century was not a ‘renaissance’ of Arabic but more aptly described as a re-appropriation and development of linguistic devices to assert new forms of consciousness representing a specific social class etc. There is no aesthetic judgment in what I am saying, I’m just putting into light certain processes that I think can be derived from the reality we live in. However, I want to say that Islamic movements strive to master a certain use or practice of Arabic, one that sees specific concepts fusing in. It is like a laboratory of already existing clusters of meaning that is constantly re-worked to include the contemporaneous pressing concerns. the important thing is the artifact, the form in place (the language and its potential of asserting independent forms of consciousnesses)

Also more importantly, I’m not saying that Islamic movements are ‘regressive’ or ‘progressive’, leftist or rightists, fascists, etc. because all these are ‘western’ categorizations (meaning institutionally and historically determined in Europe and elsewhere) for political organizations. One can always compare and derive certain similarities and difference, some of them being very interesting, but remember that this categories are political programs in themselves. Fascism exists in Leftist political formations and vice versa. The dichotomy of right and left in Europe and elsewhere serves as a political disciplining device. Anyway that is another subject. And for fear of diverging too much I leave you with that.

Pearls of Wisdom brought to you by Charles Corm

I found this book at a friend’s house (can’t name him, too ashamed of having this book at his place without knowing about it), a book by Charles Corm, someone the editor of the book labels as: “Un grand libanais”. Of course “libanais” here refers to a bunch of people who survived 6000 years of persecution, seriously, this is written in the preface. This gem is dated from 1934. Check this out friends, oh, and it is written on the page before the start of the poem “translated from Lebanese”:

Langue des phéniciens, ma langue libanaise,
Dont la lettre est sans voix sous les caveaux plombés,
Langue de l’âge d’or, toi qui fus la genèse
De tous les alphabets;

ok… moving on:

Lorsque les Libanais, seuls après les Croisades,
Devant un adversaire encor plus acharné,
En ont dans leurs rochers rompu les barricades
Et l’assaut forcené

… i’m sure you guessed who’s the “adversaire encor plus acharné”… Because here is the best part:

Mon frère musulman, comprenez ma franchise:
Je suis le vrai Liban, sincère et pratiquant;
D’autant plus libanais que ma Foi symbolise
Le coeur du pélican

Si ma ferveur s’attache au dogme de l’Eglise,
C’est qu’Elle est à mes yeux l’universalité;
Car je ne peux croire en un dieu qui divise
L’immense humanité

This guy is really a trip. I decided to quote a little verse of his book “La montagne inspirée”, everytime I feel I am losing the grasp of reality.

About language and an anecdote

Moussa has just asked me a weird question. And I really did not know how to answer. Do you guys happen to know what a “Makari” – مكاري – is in Arabic? It happens to signify the guy who rents donkeys.


Yes.. not the guy who rides, or owns, or sells, or even buys, but the guy who ‘rents’ donkeys!

Can you get me a more specialized language than that? There is not a doubt that Arabic is a very precise language. I’ll give you an example, how can you translate “passion” in Arabic? I have a passion for something. You basically can’t… That’s too much of a general statement, and Arabic likes people who are precise. A passion for what? Is it a hobby? then it’s hiwaya. Is it love for the opposite sex? than it is 3oshq. etc. Let’s give an economic example. What does “interest” mean in Arabic? Again at least 5 different words either having to do with work, hobby, etc.

Another point I’d like to make. A signifier in a language are (and change in function of) the historically determined construction of a society, its economic modes of production, its political and social institutions etc. So I ask myself where does this precision come from? Messick argues that the various texts and traditions making up the Shari’a have the most sophisticated theory of contract without any explicit mention of a precise wording for private property. Another thing Messick says is that round narrowed and homogeneous legal concepts like “human rights” “citizenship” “private property” are a peculiarity of European recent institutional discursive development. The Shari’a in its loose and fluid nature manage to elaborate much more sophisticated concepts because they are never named by one single self-contained word-signifier. But in the age of the nation-state, the systematic accumulation of capital, and techno-scientific development, the more artistic and virtuoso type of legal framework and describer of reality tend to have a hard time adjusting.

Probably one of the reasons why Arabic societies were so porous and vulnerable to colonialist penetration and probably why effective resistance is the one that clinched on the paradigmatic text (as Messick would call the Koran), and other entrenched signifiers. Those commonly called “the Islamists”.

Update1: Moussa just explained to me where did he come up with the word Makari. If any of you watched the imperturbable Berri yesterday with this scumbag Marcel Ghanem he would have heard him answering to the accusations of severely disturbed Walid Jumblatt that “wealthy Shi’as” are buying up land in the south. When Ghanem said that it is Farid Makari (vice president of parliament) who makes these accusations, Berri quite enigmatically answered: “yeah, he would know, he’s the Makari!”
So Moussa rushed to the dictionary to see what it could possibly mean and this is what he could find…

Update2: After listening the third time to the interview, this morning on the radio (yes Moussa is a dilettante home squatter having nothing to do else than listening to the pearls of wisdom of Lebanese politicians), and after exchanging ten emails on the subject, we ended up concluding that this was not what exactly happen yesterday on Kalam el Naas. Actually Makari was referring to Berri’s initiative. Berri launches every once and a while an initiative that calls for compromise, positioning himself as the eternal moderator. Seriously, I remember at least three initiatives of the same kind in the past two years only. Well, one thing is sure the rest of the Lebanese are barking so loud behind their respective fences that one could understand the humanistic drives of Berri. But anyway, that is not the point. Makari qualified Berri’s initiative as a “Bay3et Massa”.
Now here is another linguistic curiosity. This time an expression emanating from the spoken. “Bay3et massa” refers to the vegetables you sell at night, when they are already a bit damaged by the day. It is an expression that means that what one presents as a good is already kind of rotten. To which Berri answered famously: “Sure he knows this stuff, he’s the Makari!”
Do you get it?