Decolonizing the Arabophonie

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Egyptian language, culture and heritage were effectively suppressed by Arabian religious imperialism.

Arabism as a neo-imperialist and neo-colonial modern political ideology has since the 2010-2012 social upheaval in many Arabophone countries become increasingly discredited in much of the Arabophonie as being widely exposed as a mere ideological camouflage for kleptocratic dictatorship. Furthermore did Arabism in practice serve to facilitate the rise of the totalitarian political ideology of Islamism through the Arabist-Islamist ideological synthesis outwardly advocated by the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, the world’s largest and therefore most dangerous Islamist movement.

The problem remains however in the Arabophonie as in many other countries around the world that redundant colonial borders continue to define many independent states. Successful introduction of liberal democracy and open society typically requires some kind of social cohesion and such a national discourse of social cohesion precisely needs to be pro-democratic indeed.

What is now the Arabophonie did historically as other parts of “Islamdom” more or less frequently use Arabic, the dead religious language of Islam as a literary language similar to how Latin was long used as a main literary language in Western Europe. Indeed, Arabic although widely used as an acquired second language in education and the media of the Arabophonie has no native speakers whatsoever. Even the Modern Egyptian language (“Coptic”) which has often been described as an ostensbly dead language has thousands of native speakers yet no person is raised as a native speaker of Arabic. There are four natively spoken contemporary North Arabian languages, these are Amiyyah, Dariyyah (usually Latinized as Darija), Maltese and the distinctive living language that is misnomed as “Judeo-Arabic”.

Standardized Amiyyah is widely utilized as an informal literary language in Lebanon on social media in using Latin characters as well as single digits for sounds not represented in the Latin alphabet. Amiyyah is also widely used in popular televised mass culture as well as in pop music in countries where Amiyyah is the predominant spoken language. Amiyyah is spoken in West Asia, Egypt, North Sudan and Chad and is spoken as a second language in Eritrea, Djibouti, Somaliland and Somalia. Dariyyah is spoken throughout the historical Tamazight (“Berber”) region, meaning in North Africa from the Amazigh oasis of Siwa in Egypt to the Atlantic coast and the emergence of Dariyyah was importantly influenced by Tamazight as Dariyyah has a Tamazight linguistic substratum indeed. Dariyyah and Amiyyah are however highly distinctive and completely different languages. Maltese is the language of the Catholic island of Malta and is written with Latin characters. What is known as Judeo-Arabic is written with Hebrew characters and is the most linguistically conservative of the four modern North Arabian languages and therefore the one that is closest to the dead Arabic. Judeo-Arabic is significantly influenced by Judeo-Aramaic and seems to have emerged through relexification, meaning that rabbinically Jewish speakers of Aramaic increasingly exchanged Aramaic words for Arabic ones in medieval times. Judeo-Arabic ought to be renamed as the Judean language considering that it is precisely not an ethnolect of the dead Arabic (c.f. Yiddish which is an ethnolect and literary dialect of German) but rather a fully distinctive modern North Arabian living language in its own right which is now mostly spoken in Israel and France.

Amiyyah represents a continuation of the now dead medieval language of Arabic much like the respective Romance languages represent continuations of Latin while the other modern North Arabian languages emerged through syntheses with yet other languages. Arabic therefore has never been historically widely natively spoken outside of Arabia, e.g. did Amiyyah only become the predominant natively spoken language in Syria and Lebanon in the 16th century in thus supplanting Aramaic. Arabian colonial conquerors were relatively few in numbers and both Arabization and Islamization although usually far from voluntary (indeed spanning from convenient/opportunistic to brutally coercive) were incremental historical processes spanning over many centuries. The social process whereby Dariyyah was increasingly supplanting Tamazight was however never completed as large parts of North Africa remains Tamazight-speaking. Other languages such as Aramaic, Modern Egyptian, South Arabian languages, Kurdish, Zazaki, Nubian languages and the Kurdufan languages were however to varying degrees supplanted by Amiyyah.

The dead language of Arabic was historically used in many parts of Islamdom as a literary language and lingua franca (international contact language) and indeed as not limited to what much later became the Arabophonie. European Christian traders traversing the Mediterranean Sea noted this and came to describe the peoples living on the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea as “Arabs” in precisely not understanding that these peoples spoke the completely distinctive North Arabian languages of Amiyyah and Dariyyah notwithstanding the use by the literate few of literary Arabic other than than for mere memorized prayers. Arabism as a modern nationalist political ideology emerged among ethnically Aramean Christian intellectuals in Lebanon and Syria who sought to create a new societal consensus which unlike Muslim identity would fully include them as ethnic Christians. It is therefore certainly an irony of history that Arabism which was originally intended to be religiously inclusive effectively ended up discredited as a tool of kleptocracy, dictatorship, Islamism and of course hatred against Jews and Christians.

Indeed, the neo-imperialist creation of the Arabophonie and largely so in Africa is similar to the imperialist construction of the French-language Francophonie in Africa, the Portuguese-language Lusophonie in Africa and the English-language Anglophonie in Africa. These four bizarre contemporary social phenomena were importantly all originally inspired by Europeans. It is essential that children are educated in their own languages irrespective of whether they currently speak their own languages or not. Coercive linguistic imposition in depriving children of their own heritage languages is profoundly destructive and educationally extremely unhelpful indeed. Processes of decolonization are unfortunately far from completed in many countries and this continued hegemony of colonial languages over colonized languages unfortunately persists in many jurisdictions.

What is needed therefore is linguistic decolonization whereby colonized languages are universally used in public administration and pre-academic education and if suppressed are comprehensively revived indeed on the model of Hebrew in Israel. Linguistic statehood is particularly helpful in ensuring a relatively smooth transition to open society and liberal democracy and thus giving full official status to heritage languages in creating a sense of social cohesion as precisely essential indeed to the successful introduction of open society and liberal democracy.

The Arabophonie therefore is a colonial construct that is redundant indeed and so needs to be supplanted by democratic borders and new states as based on linguistic statehood of colonized languages. Arabic as the dead liturgic language of Islam is obviously perfectly natural within the Muslim social context of organized religion, yet there is no reason whatsoever why the dead Arabic language with no native speakers should be continued to be used to suppress the colonized heritage languages of peoples historically and in the present victimized by religious imperialism. What is needed therefore is a renaissance for languages suppressed by imperialism within the Arabophonie, Islamdom and indeed the world at large, including importantly languages in Europe that have been suppressed by European nationalism.

Indeed, linguistic decolonization is precisely essential to the MENA region (Middle East & North Africa) considering the continued destructive impact of religious imperialism to the region and the world as today unfortunately largely stemming from Islamdom and in particular from the MENA region. Cultural decolonization in the MENA region is precisely essential to successful introduction of open society and liberal democracy and indeed to social progress generally (e.g. gender equality and LGBTQI emancipation). The region’s leaders need to make the conceptual leap into the future by embracing a new social paradigm that will importantly help facilitate peace, democracy, reconciliation and social progress in leaving behind the tragic past by embracing colonized cultural heritage and energizing and reviving colonized languages throughout the MENA region.