Our English language is a first-class language, the language of Shakespeare and the King James Bible. It’s wonderfully diverse, produced by a mix of peoples originally speaking Celtic, Germanic, or Romance languages. So it’s richer in synonyms than some other languages. Often, sets of synonyms derive respectively from the Germanic and the French or Latin. Germanic words often seem more concrete, Romance language words more abstract. “Work” has a Germanic feel to it, and sure enough, it is in fact from Old English werc, which also occurs in Old High German. “Labor” on the other hand comes from Latin via Old French.
Now, when you type the word “do”(that most basic of words) into your Microsoft Word Thesaurus, you’ll get nine synonyms. Some (like “perform,” “execute,” “accomplish”), come from French language influences that trickled down from the Norman elite into the British masses from 1066. Others are Germanic. “Get something done” for example etymologically combines Old Norse and Old English.
In this fine synonym-rich English language, which I love, we have developed a convention whereby a writer or speaker strives to avoid repetitious use of a single word in a sentence or paragraph, lest he or she be seen as dull. And since you can often express yourself with more clarity by avoiding verbal repetition, you’re encouraged in school (the better ones, anyway) to use what the language gives you, minimally.
Doing the Middle East
Now in this fine language, this English language, U.S. President George W. Bush, at a Washington Christmas party, spoke to a journalist with the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot as follows.
“Now is the time to do a lot in the Middle East, and I am determined and committed to doing that. You can be sure that I have done a lot until now, but I am going to keep on doing. I am going to continue to be active and committed to my vision.”
I encountered this item on a Yahoo-News hyperlink from antiwar.com. It seemed to come from AFP (Agence France-Presse), so I briefly wondered to myself how that would have been rendered in French. I couldn’t find the French-language AFP original on line easily, and my high school French is pretty rusty, so I used one of those translation programs and got the following: “Est maintenant l’heure de faire beaucoup dans le Moyen-Orient, et je suis déterminé et commis à faire cela. Vous pouvez être sûr que j’ai fait beaucoup jusqu’ici, mais je vais continuer à faire. Je vais continuer à être en activité et commis à ma vision.” This sounds like really bad French, due in part to the overuse of faire. French prose is often cited for its clarity; this statement may strike French people as insultingly vague, coming from an American president in these troubled times.
Then I wondered about how this would run in Japanese, which I speak daily, so it’s always in my head. The Japanese “do” verb most appropriate to use here is suru, and its various forms. Bush would say that in this Chûtô de takusan suru jiki (time to do much in the Middle East), he’s dedicated to sore o suru (doing that). He’d note ima made shita koto (things I’ve done up to now). A Japanese translator would tend to add some elegance to his statement, reducing one of the “do”s by ganbaru (do one’s best) or some such alternative. In Japanese literature generally, the repetition of a word is not a style flaw; the “do” verb could cascade endlessly so long as it helps convey a heartfelt or formally pleasing statement. But the Bush statement would sound childlike if translated literally, and a Japanese translator is typically a kind, deferential person who wants to avoid making a prestigious American sound like a sumo wrestler.
In German, what I get off the net is: “Ist jetzt die Zeit, im Mittler-Osten viel zu tun, und ich werde am Tun das festgestellt und festgelegt. Sie können sicher sein, daß ich viel bis jetzt getan habe, aber ich werde auf dem Tun halten. Ich werde fortfahren, aktiv und festgelegt an meinem Anblick zu sein.” What impresses me here is the strong presence of Tun (Doing) as a capitalized noun. Bush is committed to his Doing.
Anyway, after reading the above-quoted Bush statement, and thinking about the “do” verb in different languages, and the use of the word “do-do” in baby talk, and such, I reread the article in which it occurred. I realized that what Bush probably really meant to say was that there had been charges that his administration was insufficiently active in “the quest for Middle East peace,” but that he was in fact doing a lot. What are these Doings? He has come out in favor of a Palestinian state; the U.S. proposed a U.N. resolution on such a state in March 2002. (Some might say this promotion of Palestinian statehood is an achievement of the second Bush presidency. It seems a necessary move. The bombing of Afghanistan had produced much anger in the Muslim world, from Pakistan to Indonesia. The planned war against Iraq was going to inevitably generate more anger. And in March 2002, 20,000 Israeli troops were dispatched to search villages, refugee camps and cities on the West Bank and Gaza, producing much bloodshed. If there was ever a good time to support Palestinian statehood, it was then.) And of course Bush has proposed a Roadmap to Peace involving exchange of land for peace, or peace for land.
But the U.S. decision to promote a Palestinian state has had little practical significance. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has consistently demanded that Palestinian terror attacks on Israelis stop before Israel withdraws from Palestinian lands and recognizes a Palestinian state. In December 2001 his government declared the Palestinian Authority a “terror-sponsoring” entity and cut off ties with it. (The U.S. has maintained ties through the Palestinian Prime Minister, a figure created at U.S.-Israeli insistence as an alternative to Yasir Arafat.) The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) has so crippled the Palestinian Authority police force that it can’t possibly be expected to prevent all terror attacks; yet when attacks occur (conducted by several uncontrollable groups), Sharon’s government accuses the Authority and Arafat specifically. The Israeli deputy prime minister has publicly opined that it might be good to assassinate Arafat.
Initially chiding Sharon for the ferocity of the attacks on Palestinian cities and towns, Bush wound up calling him “a man of peace” in April 2002. This surprised some people, if only because an Israeli government commission report blamed him for the massacre of some 1000 Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon, which Israel invaded in 1982. An effort by Palestinians and Lebanon to prosecute Sharon for war crimes through the Belgian judicial system, which allows Belgian courts to try anyone responsible for serious human rights abuses, wherever they might have occurred, was thwarted by a higher court’s judgment that since Sharon isn’t in Belgium he can’t be tried.
In a much-awaited statement in June 2002, Bush declared that the U.S. will “support the creation of a provisional state of Palestine” if Palestinians “embrace democracy, confront corruption and firmly reject terror.” It was basically a call for Palestinians to remove Arafat from power; create an alternative power apparatus that will “confront corruption” well enough to satisfy the (corruption-free) Bush administration; dismantle Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the al-Aqsa Martyr Brigades; and stop using violence against Israelis. Bush was echoing Sharon’s position: give us peace, we’ll give you land. The Palestinians counter: Land for peace.
What would Bush, advertised this Christmas as an action figure, really like to be doing in the Middle East? Well, echoing Sharon, Dubya told the Israeli journalist mentioned above:
“We must get rid of Arafat.”
Let’s repeat that, because it’s very important. It’s actually the point of this column concerning Bushdoings.
“We must get rid of Arafat.”
So here’s the plan. First of all, a big campaign through the most credible media (CNN, Fox, MSNBC) to link Arafat with terrorism. That will be easy to do; Arafat’s been around a long time and all over the Muslim world so if you want links to “terrorism,” you’ll find links. Of course Arafat and the Palestinian Authority had nothing to do with 9-11, and there don’t seem to be major links between al-Qaeda and the Palestinian groups on the Washington “terror” list. But people who can believe that Saddam was involved with 9-11 can certainly be persuaded that Arafat was involved too. Recall the Gaza refugee camp women ululating at the news of the attacks? Imagine how useful that would be in the campaign to get rid of Arafat. (A man who encourages hatred for America! Whose followers celebrated the attacks upon America! A man who encourages terrorism against the state of Israel, and therefore against God’s Plan!)
Those planning to get rid of Arafat will not wish the media to mention Arafat’s involvement in the Oslo Accords and his 1994 Nobel Peace Prize. Or to mention that in January 1996 he was democratically elected as first president of the Palestinian Governing Council. They may wish to deflect attention from his 1988 declaration to the U.N. that Palestinians could accept a sovereign Israeli state. They will try to conflate Arafat with Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein into a trinity of Evil. But that, of course, is preposterous. These men have nothing in common but their Arab-ness.
If the (anti-Palestinian) Stage Three in The Terror War
(which I expect to overlap Stage Four, the Conquest of Syria) leads to the death or humiliation of Arafat, I would think that the whole region might explode. I mean, how much humiliation can the affected cultures sustain? Some of us believe that some people high up in the U.S. government want to take over Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, etc. They’ve explained their reasons in papers that dryly touch on oil and pipelines; water; military bases; evolving U.S. relations with Europe, Russia, China, India and Japan; Israel’s security.
But publicly, as justification for doing so, they just keep repeating: “9-11.” Maybe they really believe that whatever they think are good American values can be implanted in various peoples, from the Khyber Pass to Mesopotamia, under conditions of military occupation, leaving everyone happy and grateful and never ever inclined in future to attack Israel. Maybe they want the Palestinians to be happy and grateful too, when the U.S. arm-twists Israel into allowing them a Bantustan-like state. Or maybe they anticipate that their actions will invite resistance, but are so confident of their ability to meet that resistance, that they will just bludgeon on ahead with the game plan. You’d think that the quagmires in Afghanistan and Iraq would cause them to rethink their programs for regime change in Syria and Iran. But no, they’re trying to strike while the iron’s hot.
So following some preparation of public opinion, they will authorize or at least accept action against Arafat. But why does President Bush (who claims to have fulfilled God’s command to “smite” bin Laden and Saddam), want to get rid of this democratically elected Palestinian president who has met cordially with past U.S. presidents? To keep on doing what he’s committed to doing, of course. Bush is committed to “his vision.” (Recall how the first Bush was chided for not having a vision, and so he had to really work on what he called “the vision thing”?) In Dubya’s vision, Good triumphs over Evil in the Holy Land during his presidency, while he gives the orders from the White House, smirking at his good fortune to be the President and knowing exactly what he’s doing. Among other things, that means doing in Arafat.
GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion. He is the author of Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa, Japan and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org