Not Saussure

September 16, 2006

Language Problems

Filed under: Australia, civil liberties, Islam, Politics, Russia/USSR, War on Terror — notsaussure @ 3:25 pm

I learn from the Australian blog, Democracy Frontline, that

AUSTRALIA’S Islamic clerics have been told they must draw on the teachings of Islam to condemn terrorism, and preach in English.The federal Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs Andrew Robb today called on more than 100 Australian imams and Muslim leaders attending a government-sponsored conference to denounce extremist misrepresentations of Islam.

Hmm. Does this mean they are only to be prevented from speaking to members of their congregations in the language of their choice while they’re preaching, or is the prohibition to be more wide-ranging?

I foresee problems; one can easily imagine circumstances in which several of the congregation, after the homily, explain to the Imam that they’re dreadfully sorry that their English isn’t better — no criticism of him whatsoever, they’re sure that he speaks perfect English — but, while they could understand he was condemning terrorism, they rather lost the detail of his argument, which they were sure was excellent, so we he mind summarising it in their mutual mother tongue. What’s the poor chap to do? Can he so do after the service in whatever a mosque’s equivalent of a vestry is, or do they have to go over the road to Starbuck’s? Or is he supposed to speak English at all times and in all circumstances?

That might be safest, and something similar’s been done before with some success, albeit temporary; a friend of mine from Barcelona recalls getting into great trouble as a child for speaking Catalan to his parents anywhere outside the house, since General Franco really didn’t like it and it could get his parents into all sorts of trouble if the wrong person heard.

Reminds me, for some reason, of a story I once heard from the landlord of a pub in Clerkenwell (I think it was The Green), the top room of which used to be hired by various shady foreign anarchist characters, including a Mr Trotsky, back in the early 1900s for their meetings and to edit their paper, Iskra. Special Branch got wind of this, particularly since they’d heard that some particularly important big-wig in this subversive movement, one Mr Lenin, was coming over from the Continent to see them. Accordingly, Special Branch arranged with the pub to conceal one of their finest in a cupboard in the room where the meeting was to take place, to take notes.

Unfortunately, they’d neglected to send an officer who understood Russian.


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