Thursday, October 22, 2009

Jihadi Fighters

Johann Hari quotes Osama Bin Laden, coming across a bit like a mischievous Flava Flav:
"All that we have to do is to send two mujahedeen [jihadi fighters] to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written "al-Qa'ida" in order to make generals race there, and we cause America to suffer human, economic and political losses – without their achieving anything of note!"

Now, Johann Hari is doing what he's rather good at, which is making a intelligent point which should really have been blindingly obvious, while making a very common and very, very stupid mistake. 'Jihadi' is, of course, a made-up idiot-word for halfwits and literally means "bloke from Jihadland". Arabs say 'mujahid'/'مجاهد' and, once they've got enough to play piggy-in-the-middle, they stick -een/ين- on the end. English speakers should know the word 'mujahideen'/'مجاهدين' if they know anything about Afghanistan, and this is Indie readers we're talking here.

So why this daft neologism 'jihadi'? I'm guessing it's some kind of unspeaky thing where the 'Jihadis' are our enemies and the 'Mujahideen' our friends, or at the very least we wanted a word for them that wouldn't recall a historic relationship we'd all rather pretend didn't happen. But that's not even what baffles me. What baffles me, baffles the absolute living daylights out of me, is why did he feel it necessary to translate it for us? Something must be seriously flawed with our perception of the Muslim world if we have to explain real Arabic words used by Arabs and Arabic speakers using stupid Arabic words invented by cretinous English speakers.

Edit: put the proper Arabic squiggles in.

1 comment:

  1. Love this blog (which I've just come across!).

    I do think this entry possibly goes a bit far though: in particular it's not the case that "jihadi" means "bloke from Jihadland" in Arabic. While you're right that the nisba ‏"-‍ي"‏ ending certainly is used for that purpose, it is also commonly used for forming agent nouns, for example "إرهابي" [irhabi] for "terrorist", or "صحافي" [sihafi] for "journalist".

    The word "jihadi" certainly does exist in Arabic: ‏‏"جهادي"‏‎, which my dictionary translates it as "fighting, military" - i.e. to do with "جهاد" [jihad] which - just like your "reich" example - has a much wider range of meaning in Arabic than in English, referring to fighting in general (among other things) as well as the narrower sense of specifically religious war. From browsing the Arabic site of Al Jazeera, the word "jihadi" is used in the sense of "related to [religious] jihad", as you might expect, but also in the sense of "person involved in [religious] jihad". Alas I don't know enough to say what the precise distinction might be between the connotations of "مجاهد" and "جهادي"!

    (Interestingly I've just learnt that the verb formed from the root from which "صحافي" (journalist) is derived means "to misspell, misrepresent, distort, or twist", which seems a fair summary of the profession ;-) )