My name is Jihad, too!

[09-04-2010 05:33 PM]

By: Jihad A. Soaileek

This German dentist who, reportedly, refused to treat a Muslim teenage only because his name was Jihad, didn’t probably know she was declaring her ignorance in public. In fact, the way people deal with such ‘culturally’ labeled first names has been one of the funniest parts of the continuous East–West cultural lack of understanding.

Having been called Jihad all my life, I guess I have something to say about this. But firstly, let me tell you something. Unlike what most people think, it wasn’t Muslims who started the use of the word Jihad as a first name. In fact, it was Lebanese Christians and, funny enough, the term was actually used to describe their struggle for justice under the ‘Muslim’ Ottoman empire.

Until now, if you happen to meet somebody named Jihad and aged over 60 in the Levant region, he is most probably Christian. The well known journalist Jihad Al Khazen is Christian. A famous Jordanian football player is Jihad Saliba; whose surname is derived from the Arabic word for Cross; the symbol for Christianity. I wonder if the German dentist cared to check if that kid was even Muslim.

In an ignorant, dishonest world, where people tend to be comfortable with their ‘lazy preconceptions’, it’s been much easier for many to jump to conclusions based only on shallow factors such as first names. Imagine what would happen if this becomes a global trend: All German nationals or descendents named Godfery could be deemed criminal for having the same name as Godfrey of Bouillon; who, upon invading Jerusalem in July 1099, slaughtered 70 thousand civilian Muslims and put on fire until death 3000 civilian Jews. All blue-eyed people named Harry could also be deemed responsible for Harry Truman’s decision to kill half a million Japanese civilians in 1945.

How about such a ‘preconceptionalism’? Shall we bring them all to justice? Oh, I forgot! None of those looks Mid-Eastern or South Asian! They’re innocent!

Preconceptionalism! It’s so shallow that if GW Bush believed in it, he could’ve invaded Antarctica instead of Afghanistan. They both have snow!

Why is this discussion happening in the first place? Because one of the unjustified consequences of the war on a miss-identified terrorism was in fact a widespread paranoia practiced at various levels. It is not only about first names, but it also includes looks, nationalities and even innocent layman expressions! If we apply what the US media accused EgyptAir’s pilot of back in 1999, Egypt’s number one striptease dancer; Fifi Abdu would be the most dangerous terrorist of all times. She prays before dancing! And she dances a lot!

I personally face such a paranoia every time there is an increased tension somewhere on Earth. In 1998, somebody emailed me a death threat in the week after the attacks in Africa… and the only reason was because of my first name! In year 2000, a group of Australian students established an online discussion group to examine how real my name was. Although they saw my name on a technology feature I wrote for an American news site, they hardly believed I wasn’t terrorist and it was just a first name. In 2005, a beautiful girl broke up with me saying she couldn’t tell her family she was dating somebody named ‘Jihad’.

At that time, I started asking myself: ‘Am I that, unintentionally, dangerous?’ then it occurred to me that may be people think that parents in this part of the world consult their newly born kids on what names they like. Well, my dad didn’t consult me but that doesn’t make him a terrorist either. In fact, it was a last minute decision in front of the civil clerk after some family member objected naming me Yousef (Arabic for Joseph)! How much of that last minute decision is enough to judge me or anybody else who has the same name? Most parents choose first names based on how they rhythm not their possible political meanings! Nobody names his kid ‘Jihad’ to become a Jihadist!!

The current lack of understanding was once described by the Agha Khan in a short, yet wise sentence: “What we have today is not a clash of civilizations… but a conflict of ignorance”. What the German dentist did is just another proof. Sometimes, it’s amazing how ignorance can be correlated to both blindness and insensitivity. If she made a minimal effort to learn about other people and their cultures she wouldn’t have made such a mistake. But the question is; do we really make such efforts?

As for me, I think it will be safer to opt for another first name. I found it! The way Federica; an Italian friend, pronounces my name sounds perfect: Jiadde! But, first, let me check if somebody is going to link me to Mussolini! Nowadays, it’s possible!

Jihad A Soaileek is a Dubai based communication strategist and a former journalist.

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