Last Updated: Mon Jul 25, 2011 00:27 am (KSA) 21:27 pm (GMT)

Muna Khan: Haboob? Naboob? Kaboob? YooToob?

A dust storm known as a “habub” rolls into downtown Phoenix on Tuesday night, July 5, 2011, bringing strong winds and low visibility. (AP Photo)
A dust storm known as a “habub” rolls into downtown Phoenix on Tuesday night, July 5, 2011, bringing strong winds and low visibility. (AP Photo)

Earlier this month, the state of Arizona experienced a dust storm which is quite common in the deserts of the Middle East so it only seemed befitting to refer to it by its Arabic term “haboob.”

However, that did not go down so well with many Arizona residents who expressed their disdain for the usage of an Arabic word and then jumped to fears of this somehow being indicative of a Muslim invasion of their society.

A sampling of the letters received at “The Arizona Republic,” and reprinted in “The New York Times” attests to the level of anger resident Don Yonts felt when he wrote: “I am insulted that local TV news crews are now calling this kind of storm a haboob… How do they think our soldiers feel coming back to Arizona and hearing some Middle Eastern term?”

(Personally, I think the poor soldiers will be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and reeling from confusion as to why they were sent to fight a war that wasn’t theirs to fight.)

“Excuse me, Mr. Weatherman!” wrote another resident Diane Robinson. “Who gave you the right to use the word ‘haboob’ in describing our recent dust storm? While you may think there are similarities, don’t forget that in these parts our dust is mixed with the whoop of the Indian’s dance, the progression of the cattle herd and warning of the rattlesnake as it lifts its head to strike.”

That’s not all. According to a story published in Salon on July 22, people also left irate messages on the Facebook page of the Weather Channel. Joshua Westbrook wrote “Haboob? English please... We’re not in India.” Dale Stanton asked “What’s the problem with using American English? It’s a dust storm… This one happened in Arizona, not the Middle East.” Nancy Eddy wondered: “[If] we’re going down the ‘use Arabic words for everything’ to get us used to the future, maybe?”

As amusing a commentary as it is on the ignorance prevalent in (at least) Arizona, we – on this side of the Atlantic – should not laugh too hard as we’ll be just as guilty of perpetuating prejudices and stereotypes.

Several writers like Adam Serwer for the American Prospect used the opportunity to remind readers that Arabic words are part of everyday lexicon like sofa, julep, magazine, admiral and so forth.

Let’s not forget the most obvious – the numbers. Apparently these are representative of long held designs by the Muslims to infiltrate American society. To what end, we don’t know because we’re not going to get very far armed with just “haboob.” Or algebra. (Someone said the word should be removed because it sounded like Al Jazeera — but I suspect it was said more as a jibe and jest.)

On this side of the sea, we have nut jobs who think that the polio vaccination (or any health initiative) is a Western design aimed at curtailing the number of Muslim births.

A cursory glance at some of the comments received on our Website on the Norway attacks shows some – albeit a tiny number so far – of readers who were unwilling to believe that there was no link to Muslim extremist groups. One commentator said it [the person behind the attack] “could still be a martyr for Islam.”

Another wrote: The leftist talking heads will be trumpeting this reverse Muslim atrocity for weeks... I find it just a bit too damned convenient for them. How did they find their fall guy so fast? It makes no sense.”

The world is full of ignoramuses – sorry for stating the obvious – but sometimes it’s good to know we’re essentially all the same, that for every genius amongst us, there’s a right wing fascist nut job too.

(Muna Khan, Senior Correspondent and Columnist at Al Arabiya English, can be reached at: muna.khan@mbc.net)

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