Language is important to understand radicalism

CIRRA - Brahim spreekt

Docent en imam in Kortrijk Brahim Bouzarif vindt dat de rol van taal binnen het radicaliseringsproces onderbelicht blijft: ‘Jongeren hebben weinig affiniteit met taal, zeker met religieuze taal, de taal van de Koran.’

CIRRA - Brahim spreekt

‘The same community of suffering brings hearts closer together, melts hatred away, creates sympathy between indifferent people and even opponents. Those who deny that do not understand the human psyche. The French and Germans looked at each other and saw that they were all like-minded men. They smiled at each other, exchanged words, hands were stretched out and cuddled, tobacco was shared, a quarter of juice or pinard. Ah, if only we had spoken the same language. ”

Language is important to understand radicalism.

The above is a quote from the French soldier Louis Barthas and dates from 1915. We can read from it a deep longing for peace. The First World War had already been going on for a year and ‘the language of peace and humanity’ was lost. It was the language of (over) rule and of hard science that prevailed, which led to the soldiers essentially no longer speaking the same language at that time. My question is: To what extent do ‘we’ today speak the same language as the soldiers a century ago?



Years of experience with Muslim radicalization files have led my colleagues Khalid Benhaddou, Saïd Aberkan and myself to find that the language issue may not be the only but an important reason for explaining the phenomenon of radicalism. Young people have little affinity with language, especially with religious language, the language of the Koran. The question is not whether the Quran carries germs of violence, but rather how such a discourse should be understood. This puts us in the domain of hermeneutics. Without exception, every file we guide with the Platform of Flemish Imams and Muslim experts does not include any person who has an affinity with the language – in the broad sense of the word – of the Koran, since it can be a key to rational Islam what we have been advocating for years as a platform.

Both religion and philosophy have given enormous attention to language throughout history. The importance of language was already underlined in early antiquity. Also in the Quran the importance of language comes to the fore in a story where God speaks about Adam: “And He (God) taught Adam the name of all things.”

To humans, language is the instrument par excellence for expressing feelings or ideas. Nevertheless, language as a medium sometimes fails to express feelings or ideas in their totality. In a sense, language does justice to the reality that it wants to explain, since that reality is multidimensional. It includes the human being with his feelings and ideas, but also his culture, civilization and philosophy. That is why it is an immense challenge for people to put all those present dimensions into words through language. In short, language deals with that multidimensional reality in a reductionist way.

The ancient Arabic linguists had discovered this complexity of reality early and therefore used two different terms in their literature, namely; “al-lisaan” (speech) and “al-lugha” (language).

The first term refers to reality in all its dimensions, while the second refers to language as a means of communication. The ancient Arabic language scholars got their inspiration for this distinction from the Koran. Nowhere in the Quran does the term allugha (language as a means of communication) appear. The Quran, however, uses the term al-lisane (speech), because al-lisane is comprehensive and refers to a deeper meaning. It refers to a truth that is of a different order than the order that can be explained through al-lugha. It is no coincidence that the Arabic lexicographer Ibn Man? Ur called his dictionary Lisanu al-‘Arab and not Lughatu al-‘Arab. As-shafi’i also does not use the term al-lugha in his book al-rissalah, but al-bayan, which can be considered more or less synonymous with al-lisan.

But when the reader of the Quran increasingly alienated from the Arabic language and a form of language emancipation took place, he no longer made a distinction between those two “forms” of language. He tried to understand and express reality through the communicative language. This causes not only confusion, but also a certain aversion to the religious, whereby the essence and beauty of the faith is largely lost. The reader uses the empirical or descriptive language, where he could or should use a holistic and revealing language. A language that makes the reader think in a certain direction, a ‘religious’ language as the British philosopher and Anglican bishop Ian Thomas Ramsey nicely describes in his disclosure theory.

When the reader of the Koran became more and more alienated from the Arabic language and a form of language emancipation took place, he no longer made a distinction between those two “forms” of language.

When man uses those two forms of language interchangeably, and thereby assigns what belongs to God to Caesar, then God descends and confuses the language of man so that none of them will understand each other’s language, as stated in Genesis 11. This is what the seventh-century Muslim mystic and theologian Hassan Al-Basri has beautifully summed up with the sentence: ‘Man owes his downfall to language alienation. (Innama ahlakati annasa a’juma) ‘It is no coincidence that the first Muslims who resorted to violence in Islamic history were not Arabs. Azraqism, for example, is a movement within Islam that seeks violence to apply Sharia. According to certain sources, the founder Nafi Ibn Azraq is a son of mawalie (a term used for a freed slave of foreign origin).

Wittgenstein, in turn, speaks of ‘sweaty’. In other words, people try to put things into words that are in fact unverifiable. ‘Was sich nicht sagen lässt, lässt sich nicht sagen. (What cannot be said cannot be said) “Or yet; in his seventh maxim he says: “What one cannot speak about, one must remain silent about that.” But the ‘sweaty’ is useful if you can express it through the language of literature, poetry or religion. Or as an access to the mystical to express it in his ‘Wittgensteins’. So religious statements or al-lisaan should not be confused with factual statements or al-lugha.

Unfortunately, the religious language, al-lisaan or poetry is no longer popular, so that young people in particular have little affinity with literature that uses such a language. Young Muslims, for example, have little sympathy with the language (al-lisan) of the Quran, often with sad consequences. The Arabic of the Koran is full of imagery and is actually rather poetic in nature. Just that, that soul, that ruh is omitted and a chill of discourse with little depth is left.

This is one of the reasons why someone who is not familiar with language does not understand such a discourse. Such a person even regards the content and language as outdated. But essentially we speak the same language. The ‘authentic’ Arabic (al-lisaan) is not understood and is translated into ‘described’ (Dutch) language. One speaks of a ‘translation’ but it is by definition only a ‘representation, because traduire, c’est trahir. It is a phenomenon that unfortunately also many other important works of (world) literature can be dealt with, regardless of the language in which those works are written. Today, the rational language of the sciences dominates, neglecting the language of poetry.

It is no coincidence that the first Muslims who resorted to violence in Islamic history were not Arabs.
It may sound paradoxical, but radicalism can diminish if we invest more in the language of the Koran and in the language of poetry and literature in general.

The problem of radicalism can decrease drastically and the significance of the Quran can become clearer when the religious person uses al-lisan or religious language in both Arabic and Dutch. On that day, all Flemish people (regardless of their ideology) will look at each other and see that they are all like-minded Flemish people. They will smile at each other, exchange words, hands will be stretched out, they will hug each other, hand out tobacco and eat rice pudding with a golden spoon. And they will say to each other: “Ah, if only we had spoken the same language.”