Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Que Sera, Sera

Here is a reminder that sometimes out of the worst of situations good can come.

Que serĂ¡, serĂ¡
Language lesson for today: “Cullen Murphy, author of the book Are We Rome? The Fall of an Empire and the Fate of America (Mariner), muses about how the war in Iraq might leave us a new word to match a new sense of our own limitations:
“Not long ago, in a Q&A on the website of the New York Times, an Iraqi trans¬lator was asked to explain the points of difference he saw between his own people and the Americans he encountered in Iraq. He brought up the Arabic phrase inshal¬lah. The Americans, he said, ‘have respect for time’; Iraqis, in contrast, ‘use the word inshallah, which means “if God wishes,” to postpone things.’ ”
“It may be that this point of difference won’t be a distinction much longer. An American colonel in Iraq, writing to the Washington Post’s Thomas E. Ricks, recently observed: ‘The phrase inshallah, or “God willing,” has perme¬ated all ranks of the Army. When you talk to U.S. soldiers about the possible success of “the surge,” you’d be surprised how many responded with “inshallah.” ’ The phrase seems to have permeated all ranks of the diplomatic corps, too: Zalmay Khalilzad, when he was the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, once stated at a press conference, ‘Inshallah, Iraq will succeed.’
“For better or worse, philosophical acceptance has rarely been America’s default frame of mind. As the Historical Anal¬ogy Police might hasten to note, here’s one place where analo¬gies with a previous superpower, imperial Rome, break down badly. The Roman elites were a supremely self-satisfied lot whose motto might well have been the old advertising slogan ‘It doesn’t get any better than this.’ With a faith that’s sometimes messianic, sometimes endearing, and often very destructive, Ameri¬cans believe they can always make it better than this. From diets to diplomacy, we’re suckers for regime change. Is it possible that a little less faith in our convictions, and a little more skepticism toward our capacities, would itself be a form of self-improve¬ment? It may yet be a while before Waking the Tiger and Getting to Yes are knocked off the shelves by If It Happens, It Happens and The Seven Habits of Humbly Accepting People. What we can say for sure is that many hundreds of thousands of Americans have endured tours of duty in Iraq. They are writing blogs and e-mails with a new word at their fingertips. They are returning home with a new word on their lips. It
will have an impact on the American Experiment, inshallah.” Now it’s available for use in villages and hamlets everywhere, places which have never been host to
a Muslim.
—The American Scholar (
au07/inshallah-murphy.html), Autumn 2007