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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Americans speak Arabic; get over it

In the United States, most schools recite the Pledge of Allegiance daily. But what happens when the pledge is said in a language that, for the past 14 years, has been associated with an enemy?

Those at a school in New York asked themselves a very similar question this month when they said the pledge in Arabic as part of National Foreign Language Week. This recitation resulted in a firestorm, led by the school’s own students and parents, and eventually to a public apology from the school.

Laura Ingraham, a right-wing commentator, compared saying the pledge in Arabic to allowing “skinheads” to say the pledge.

“How about we just celebrate our country?” Ingraham asked. “How about we just celebrate America? Here’s America, here’s our pledge, say it in English.”

But this is America, Ingraham. The school was celebrating our country. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, over 60 million Americans do not speak English at home. Detroit is a hub for native Arabic speakers in the U.S., according to The Atlantic. In fact, Arabic speakers have increased in the U.S. by 21.7 percent since 2013, according to CNS News — probably as a result of refugees and other people fleeing persecution.

The U.S. was where, in 1620, the Puritans landed at Plymouth to escape religious persecution from an English society that thought they were too radical. From 1880-1920, the U.S. became a home to over 20 million immigrants. These people spoke a multitude of languages and introduced various cultures to America. Without these people, New York wouldn’t have Chinatown, Little Italy, or Carnegie, Ben Ash and Katz’s Deli — a culinary tragedy.

At the turn of the 20th century, Irish, Catholic and Jewish people were treated in much the same way as Arabic-speaking people are today.

English is not the official language of the U.S., nor should it be. The U.S. is home to too many different cultures, and wishing for that to be otherwise is, frankly, un-American.

Sure, our majoritarian culture stresses English as a primary language. Students at the UA are required to take English 101 and 102, or 109H. However, English is not the only language worth speaking, and this belief is reflected in the policy requiring most Bachelor of Science students to study a language to the second semester and Bachelor of Arts students to the fourth.

It’s naive to think English is the only language that benefits the U.S.

“The U.S. government has framed [Arabic] as a critical language to its security and has invested significant amounts of resources into Arabic language training programs,” said Tatiana Rabinovich, a UA graduate student and an Arab history instructor.

Knowledge of Arabic benefits the U.S. and should not be looked down upon. However, Rabinovich said she also sees the lack of respect for Middle Eastern languages.

“Unfortunately, many Americans do not know the difference between Arabic, Persian and other Middle Eastern languages,” she said.

9/11 changed the American perspective of the Middle East. The actions of a few led to the discrimination of many.

Not only does Ingraham’s comments highlight the naivete of American citizens, but it goes to show that we are not always the best at bringing cultures together.

About 100 years ago, some of my ancestors would be told to stop speaking Yiddish, German or Russian, but today, Arabs and Latinos are asked to shed their languages and cultures to become more “American.”

Arabic is not an enemy language; many U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states also speak Arabic. Arabic is the language of the Middle East (and the Islamic holy texts), and it belongs to the region and to all Muslims, not to extremism.

If people want to pledge allegiance to the flag in Arabic, let them. If that’s the language that makes sense to them, it’s better than reciting incomprehensible words without passion or meaning.

“One nation, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.”

People should have the liberty and freedom to pledge allegiance in whatever language they choose and whichever language makes the sentiment more genuine.


Maddy Bynes is a junior studying political science and history. Follow her on Twitter.

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