In the comments of Dr. Bertonneau’s most recent portion of his valuable series on TS Eliot, I wondered idly why the Powers decided that we ought to use “Muslim” in place of the traditional “Moslem.” There followed some interesting offline conversations with Ilion and another regular commenter at the Orthosphere, which led to the discovery of some unexpected connections to apparently unrelated issues.
Really, should we ever be surprised at such discoveries? In a coherent world, how could anything fail to be connected to everything else, whether trivially or not? What is thought but an exploration of that network of connections?
This post then is mostly a recapitulation of the exploration I undertook with Ilion and my other correspondent. My thanks to them both.
What did the exploration unfold? “Language is an instrument of power, whether we want to think of it that way or not. E.g., I doubt you would say that the move from AD and BC to CE and BCE was innocent of political implication.” Ergo: Politically correct speech is a type of jizya, the head tax Muslims imposed on infidels under their power: Christians, Jews, &c.
Ilion responded to my inquiry about why we all started using “Muslim” instead of “Moslem:”
It is to “Otherize” our own historical culture and language — it is co-opt *you* into “Otherizing” your own historical culture and language, by making it appear more “educated” to say “moos’-leem” rather than “moz-lem”.
It’s for the same reason that we are now enjoined to say “bay-zhing”, rather than “pee-king” — neither pronunciation of which begins to capture how the Chinese say the name of that city.
It’s for the same reason that we constantly witness talking heads dramatically pronouncing Spanish-derived names with a not-quite-Spanish pronunciation — just so long as they make it emphatically clear that they are not using an American pronunciation.
Ah, I get it. Rather as if we were to call Germany “Deutschland” and Sweden “Sverige.”
When I used to be able to (haltingly) speak German, I always referred to ‘Germany’ as ‘Deutschland’ — when I was speaking German — and ‘Germany’ when I was speaking English. It would have been preposterous of me to say ‘Deutschland’ when speaking English; it would have been a foolish assertion of some sort of superiority over other English speakers.
But, when it comes tto saying/writing ‘Muslim’ and ‘Qur’an’, rather than ‘Moslem’ and ‘Koran’, the issue goes far deeper, and into dhimmitude. It is a serious issue; it’s not simply a stylistic issue.
This struck me rather forcefully. The kowtowing over language is profoundly abject, with foreheads smashed against the floor repeatedly. For, what could be more essential to a people than its language, which by its grammar, terms and usages conveys their whole philosophy and informs their every action? The language of a people expresses its logos. It is just this consideration that has driven the recent attempts to revive Flemish, Gaelic, and Welsh. It drove also the rebirth of Hebrew in Israel. These languages are being rebuilt as acts of political assertion by nations – by peoples with a common patrimony and birthright, and against all other nations. They are linguistic assertions of national existence, will, strength, determination not to be conquered.
Our eagerness to abandon our own traditional way of speaking about other nations and faiths in favor of what we take to be theirs bespeaks precisely the contrary – a will to self abnegation.
My other correspondent suggested independently that Muslims object to our use of “Mohammedanism” because, by way of a parallel with “Christianity,” it indicates that Muslims worship Mohammed, when that of course is anathema to them, and the very opposite of their basic doctrine.
Now this had never occurred to me. If true, it suggests to me that Muslims labor under a misapprehension about English usage. No English speaker would think that Nestorians worship Nestorius, or Arians Arius, or Zoroastrians Zoroaster. Judaism is not the worship of Judah. Christianity is the only sect that worships its eponymous founder.
Once upon a time we referred to the doctrines that originated with Mohammed by calling them Mohammedanism, just as we do with Confucianism and Manicheism. Now we call them Islam, “submission.” It is rather as if Muslims started calling Christianity by the English word “charity.”
If this were not about power, then all we should have to do is explain that we sometimes use the names of founders of sects in the terms thereof, and our interlocutors should then say, “Oh, I see; OK, no problem then.” But if they are not willing to do this, then their insistence that we change our parochial behavior to suit them, despite the fact that their objection to our customary practice makes no sense, is, precisely, an exercise of power. It is the linguistic equivalent of their insistence that we not walk our dogs in parks where they are enjoying themselves, or exercise our right of free speech by evangelizing on the street in the vicinity of their public gatherings, or install footbaths in all public restrooms. If this goes on, then at some point, logically, they will be insisting that our women wear the burka, so as not to offend their sensibilities. I mention this absurd result only to demonstrate the absurdity of the premise from which it sprang.
Try the thought experiment of putting the shoe on the other foot. How would the Muslims feel if we told them that “jihad” sounds to us as though it means only “spiritual work,” and has no connotation of actual warfare against the infidel, and then we insisted that they stop characterizing their martyrdom operations against us as “jihad”? They’d say – quite rightly – “who the Hell are you to tell us what an Arabic word means, or how we ought to use it?”
The question then becomes: ought we to understand our language as the Muslims wrongly understand it, just to coddle their feelings? If we do, we are effectually submitting to them, and the submission is a type of jizya.
The very same thing is proceeding, along a different vector, with the feminization of English. E.g., eliminating “waiter” and “chairman” in favor of “waitperson” and “chair,” bowdlerizing Scripture, rewriting poems and hymns, changing quotations of eminent thinkers, on and on. Why, the other day, listening in an odd moment to the Republican National Convention, I heard a speaker correct Edmund Burke – think of that, a Republican, correcting Burke! – by saying that, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men and women do nothing.”
Likewise, one of the best most beautiful lines in all hymnody, from Wesley’s Hark! the Herald Angels Sing, says of Christ that he was, “born to raise the Sons of Earth, born to give them Second Birth.” In the current Episcopal hymnal, these tremendously evocative, strong and majestic words have been corrected to read, “born to raise us from the Earth, born to give us Second Birth.” But while comfortably PC, the second version is theologically heterodox: Christ was not born to raise us from Earth to some superlunary sphere, but to raise man to a risen Earth. The PC version is gnostic. Hardly surprising, I suppose: PC itself is essentially gnostic.
In singing the PC version of the hymn, Christians betray Christianity. Most are innocent in doing so, and it is after all a small thing. But big things begin small.
If we let the Powers control the very manner of our speech about everyday things – e.g., the lovely habit of calling boats “she” – we give them everything. My example from the Hymnal shows that in surrendering speech, we surrender our patrimonial cult. What else is left to a culture, really, after that capitulation?
Let’s not capitulate. Let’s stick with the King’s English. It’s a tiny act of insurrection against Moloch. It’s so tiny, none of us will get in trouble for it. But it will keep the flame alive. It’s the very least we can do. And big things start small.