In an opinion piece entitled "Arabic School Critics Are the True Zealots," Jonathan Zimmerman defends the Brooklyn Arabic school against its detractors who say that it will turn students into Al Qa'eda supporters. The argument Zimmerman makes in support of teaching Arabic is this:
"to win the war on terrorism, we're going to need many more people who know Arabic, get the difference between Sunnis and Shiites and understand the complex culture of the Middle East."
He doesn't give any other reasons for learning Arabic. So what we have here are two arguments: we should not teach Arabic because it's the language of the enemy, and we should teach Arabic because it's the language of the enemy. Both arguments are against Arabic.
Not only do both arguments credit Bin Laden and Al Qa'eda with inventing the Arabic language, not only do they ignore the zillion of other reasons that people have to learn this language, they also make me my son's enemy.
Ironically, I read Zimmerman's words , and I'm writing this post, while sitting in a cafe waiting for my son to finish his weekly Arabic lesson, taught to him in a "school" that exists, precariously, through the efforts of five wonderful women who happened to love kids and Arabic.
I want my son to learn Arabic because it's his mother's tongue, not his enemy's language. I want him to learn Arabic from someone else because for the first few years of his life he thought it was a private language that mom invented to talk to him in code. I want him to learn Arabic so he knows that his middle name isn't really "habibi"* as he once told his kindergarten teacher. I will not correct him. This is something he has to figure out on his own-- by learning Arabic.
This is all I have to say in defense of Arabic language teaching. For today.
* to know what "habibi" means either fall in love with an Arab or learn Arabic. Or both.