No wonder Americans are so weak in learning foreign languages.  Take this case.  I had not heard of this academy, but I was not surprised to find that one of its critics was Daniel Pipes, who wrote earlier this year what may be one of the most ignorant things I have seen:

I say this because Arabic-language instruction is inevitably laden with pan-Arabist and Islamist baggage.

This is absurd.  I just went through the equivalent of one year of Arabic language instruction here at Chicago, and if it was laden with “pan-Arabist and Islamist baggage” it would be news to all of us who were in the class.  It would be one thing to argue that, in a specific case, the instruction was loaded with such messages, but to say that learning Arabic inevitably involves “pan-Arabist and Islamist baggage” is to reveal yourself as a fool. 

One of the most common textbooks used for Arabic instruction in this country, Al-Kitaab, the text we used this summer, is essentially free of anything that might be construed as political or controversial.  (The one thing that I noticed that was bluntly political and obnoxious was the depiction of Kosovo as an independent country on one of its maps.)  It is true that studying al-fusha involves not learning specific dialects, but that hardly makes it “pan-Arabist” in any meaningful way.  This would be like saying the study of German is inevitably laden with Pan-German ideology because it privileges Hochdeutsch over Bavarian, Austrian and Swiss dialects. 

Pipes isn’t finished:

Also, learning Arabic in of itself promotes an Islamic outlook, as James Coffman showed in 1995, looking at evidence from Algeria. 

Really?  Does that mean that Pipes’ own study of Arabic made him into an Islamist sympathiser?  This is preposterous.  Arabic predates Islam; there are still many Arab Christians (though fewer of them remain in the Near East thanks to foreign policy moves favoured by geniuses like Pipes), and there are Orthodox and Maronite liturgies in Arabic.  It is doubtful that these Arab Christians are being Islamicised when they learn the language of their parents or when they go to church.  (The phrase in the title of this post is the Arabic for the Orthodox Paschal greeting, “Christ is Risen,” and the response, “truly He is risen.”)  It is likely that Pipes would have no objection to the students learning about the history and culture of the Near East, provided that they were learning the sorts of things with which Pipes would agree.     

Of course, the results of the cited study (which appears in Pipes’ own journal, which has incidentally also played host to articles providing cover to Armenian genocide denial) might have something to do with the students being Algerian Muslims living in an overwhelmingly Muslim country.  These results have literally no bearing on instruction in this country.  It is very likely that there were other factors that determined the results Pipes cites.  For one, students in Algeria who are studying in Arabic rather than in French might already be predisposed to endorse these views.  There seems to be absolutely no control here for their social background, the political affiliations of their parents or the materials presented in the class.  Studying Arabic in and of itself cannot induce an Islamic outlook if there is no attempt to propagandise the students, and in most Arabic instruction in this country it is implausible that such propagandising is taking place.  Learning foreign languages does not compel you to embrace this or that ideological or religious frame of mind.  If Americans become convinced that learning Arabic is somehow buying into Islamic propaganda, they will be that less interested in learning it.  It is fairly despicable that a putative scholar of the region should actively spread such misinformation.  Put it down as one more reason to pay no attention to what Pipes has to say.  

Are we really supposed to believe that Maha and Khalid, two of the characters of Al-Kitaab, are the vehicles of jihadi subversion?  Give me a break.  Perhaps Pipes had this experience in Egypt, but Brooklyn is in a very different mintaqa.  Whatever else might be said about the principal of this academy or the curriculum of the school, it can hardly be a good thing that her ouster is a victory for buffoons of Pipes’ ilk.

Update: Just for your enjoyment, here is the voice of the wonderfully talented Maronite nun, Sister Marie Keyrouz, as she sings Inna Al Masih Qad Qam (approx., Christ Has Risen).  Here are additional liturgical songs courtesy of the same Melkite Catholic church site.