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<i>Yalla</i>, Let's All Speak Arabic on the Plane Today

If somebody is trying to use a marker to marginalize the vulnerable, it is time to undermine the marginalization by appropriating the marker for the multitude. That's why we should all speak a little Arabic on the plane today.
11/25/2015 01:58pm ET | Updated November 25, 2016
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The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is a big travel day at the airports. (Not actually the busiest flying day of the year, though.)

Unfortunately, that means that somewhere in America today, the odds are good that someone is going to be hassled for speaking Arabic on or near a plane. It happened a few days ago to two guys from Philadelphia on a Southwest Airlines flight in Chicago.

Let's say khallas! to this harassment of people for flying-while-speaking-Arabic.

Every schoolgirl knows the story of how during the Nazi period, the King of Denmark protested the Nazi policy of forcing Jews to wear the Star of David by wearing the Star of David himself. Some schoolgirls know that this story isn't strictly true in a Physics 101, pre-postmodern, objective reality sense. But it's sort of Hollywood docudrama true. The historical record suggests that the King discussed the possibility of wearing the Star of David with his advisers if the Nazis imposed this policy on Danish Jews, that he meant the threat seriously and would likely have carried it out; and that the King did other things to protect Danish Jews from the Nazis.

What's more important for us now than the precise truthiness of the story is that everyone gets the idea of the story immediately: if somebody is trying to use a marker to marginalize the vulnerable, undermine the marginalization by appropriating the marker for the multitude.

That's why we should all speak a little Arabic on the plane today.

A potential obstacle: many of us don't know any Arabic at all. This problem I now propose to address: here's five words of Arabic with which you can say a great deal.

1. "Yalla." This piece of Palestinian colloquial Arabic is so handy that even Israeli Jews use it now. It means, "let's go," like "vamos" in Spanish. You're with a group of people who are supposed to leave to go somewhere and everyone's dragging. "Yalla, let's go."

2. "Habibi." Depending on context, this means "darling" or "buddy." You can use it with your romantic partner, but you can also use it with your best friend. (For addressing a woman: "Habibti.") "Yalla, habibi, let's go."

3. "Sahtein." It means, "bon appetit." The h is not silent, which can be a little tricky at first for the non-native speaker. You know the sound you make when you breathe on your glasses before wiping them? It's that sound. This word is particularly useful in the following situation: someone else has food in front of them and you don't want to eat. In this situation, it means: "Go ahead and enjoy your food. Don't let the fact that I'm not eating be an obstacle to your enjoyment."

4. "Inshalla." Literally, "if God wills it," but depending on context, "I hope so too" or "that's what going to happen, barring natural disasters." In the latter case, it's a way of expressing belief that something is going to happen while acknowledging that the future course of events is fundamentally uncertain and ultimately beyond human control. Like, you've made plans to see someone tomorrow, and then as you're parting company, the other person says, "See you tomorrow," so you respond, "Inshalla." Like, 99% I'm going to see you tomorrow. The other 1% is out of my hands.

5. "Khallas!" Enough! Stop! Quit it! Cut it out!

Happy holidays! Kul sene inte salem; may every year find you in peace.