A war of words: Language and Conflict in the Middle East

This book is perhaps the most interesting book I have ever read for it introduced unconventional aspects of conflict that I did not know about. This book written by Yasir Suleiman explores Middle Eastern conflicts through the aspect of language, explaining how the use of certain words/expressions combined with their cultural symbolism fueled the intensity and the scale of conflicts. I found it very interesting that for once, the widely spread political and historical explanations were temporarily put aside to investigate less known, unconventional but nonetheless extremely important causes for conflicts in specific contexts such as the Israeli-Palestinian one. One part that particularly struck my attention was the author’s narration of his own experiences traveling between Israel and Palestine and unconsciously changing the language he used when talking to the police patrols : to Suleiman, speaking Arabic was a clear assertion of his identity while using English was regarded as an instrument of situation management. Within this specific vision of the conflict, the author also talked about how the use of Hebrew or Arabic was a way of pointing to the “language of the enemy”.

Another very interesting observation was the growing use of “code-switching” which he believes is a sign of cultural subordination. For example, mixing French/Arabic and even English in a single sentence in Morocco.

Suleiman deals with the connection of language with national identity as well as inter- and intra-state conflict throughout 3 different perspectives that reflect the structure of the book:

  1. Language, power and conflict in the Middle East: a general introduction to the connections between language, power and identity
  2. When languages and dialects collide: Standard Arabic and its opponents: a descriptive summary and analysis of the effects of sub-languages (dialects) in unifying or separating social communities.
  3. When languages collide in Jordan: a specific case-study of the different uses of the letter “qaf” and what it implies in terms of reflecting social divisions.

I remember being asked by a friend who saw I was reading this book whether it could be seen as more of an academic study given the structure of the book and the topic in general. I think that while it may give this impression, the language used by the author along his ability to explain his arguments in a simple, straightforward way make Suleiman’s work an easily readable piece simply categorized in non-fiction rather than confined to the often strict boundaries of academic works.

I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in learning about new interesting perspectives on the connection between language and conflict!

One thought on “A war of words: Language and Conflict in the Middle East

  1. Pingback: Book reviews according to language – Aïcha's bookshelf

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