Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The lingua franca of jihad

A group of seven French nationals was recently kidnapped in Cameroun by Boko Haram, which has just released an interesting video of the hostages:

The hostages are all French, and Cameroun is officially francophone; and the local language is Hausa, with English as an official language.   Nevertheless, the captor’s speech is read in correct, classical, native-accented Arabic.  The rhetoric is stately, the syntax complex -- much like the addresses Usama Bin Laden used to give.  Moreover, the speaker refers to his group as the  Jamâ`atu ahli l-sunnati li-da`wati wa-l-jihad,  “which they nickname ‘Boko Haram’”.  There is indeed quite a contrast in feeling-tone between that mouth-filling Arabic phrase, with its careful and accurate morphological vowelings (and which means:  “Group of the Sunni people, for preaching and combat”),  and the local-language Boko Haram (basically, “bookums nogood” [*]), which by comparison sounds like pidgin.  In keeping with this, the speaker wastes no time at all denouncing the depravities of Western culture, but adorns his discourse with much stately religious phraseology.
Here classical Arabic is being used as an international koiné or lingua franca, much as French was the language of international culture diplomacy in the eighteenth century, spoken as far east as the courts of Russia.   As such it is a step towards the kind of thinking that would be required for the re-establishment of the Caliphate, of over a thousand years ago, and which once stretched from southern Spain (al-Andalus) to the dimly-remembered lands  beyond the far rivers of the east.

[*]  It turns out that the conventional etymology of Hausa boko from English book  might be mistaken:

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