The ‘Shu’fat Force’

Politicians and media outlets like to toy around with names and labels, making them fashionable at one point or another.
Sunday 02/02/2020
A young Palestinian shepherd leads his flock in front of Israel's controversial separation barrier near Shufat refugee camp and the settlement of Pisgat Zeev (background), in east Jerusalem on January 15, 2016. (AFP)
A young Palestinian shepherd leads his flock in front of Israel's controversial separation barrier near Shufat refugee camp and the settlement of Pisgat Zeev (background), in east Jerusalem on January 15, 2016. (AFP)

The Arabic language is sometimes confusing. The same object can sometimes be referred to by many words. Some language scholars say this is just an impression because there are slight differences described by the different words.

I say this is still not good and that there should be just one word to refer to these slightly differentiated objects. The intended specific reference could be determined through context. Different words should describe different objects.

I guess coined labels do change meanings depending on the literary, social or political moods of the times and lately we have come across some very confusing political and social descriptions.

The Afghanistan war started with the Soviet invasion of that country. So, the brave “mujahideen” assembled there to expel the disbelievers from that land of Islam. It took them a long time, however, to accomplish the task and, in the process, they became “jihadists.”

When they returned to their countries of origin, donning different ideas and different garb, they became known as the “Afghani Arabs.” Next, they tried to apply what they had learnt in the land of jihad; so they were referred to as “extremists.”

When they turned violent, they became “terrorists,” sons of “al-Qaeda.” After that, they were re-exported to Iraq and Syria, where they turned into Islamic State — “ISIS” — warriors.

Now, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has decided to repack them with glossy wrap paper and labelled them “soldiers of the caliphate,” perhaps a slightly more palatable appellation than the “New Janissaries.” When they arrived in Libya, their latest label, but not the last, became “mercenaries.”

It goes without saying that we are talking about the same group of people. Generational gaps may exist between the time of arrival of the first “mujahid” in Afghanistan and of the latest “mercenary” in Libya.

Politicians and media outlets like to toy around with names and labels, making them fashionable at one point or another. However, so that we do not do politicians and the media injustice, the various labels do reflect fluctuations in the popular perception and mood.

Some of these fluctuations become so contradictory that the same person would be describing the same group as “martyrs” when they blow up a vegetable market in Baghdad and as “suicide bombers” when the violence reaches his home.

Thus, Hezbollah would become “Hezbollat” (in reference to the pre-Islamic Arab goddess Al-Lat) when we don’t like it. The special Iranian brigade is called “al-Quds Force” when funding is available and “Shu’fat Force” when it dries up. Wars are waged sometimes against “infidels” and other times against “rogues.”

For those who have missed the latest proposal for a solution to the Palestinian question, “Shu’fat” is a small town in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem that is being proposed as the new capital of the Palestinian state.

It is incredible how people can be “creative” in finding labels to describe the same phenomenon or people, such that one can’t really be indifferent to the power behind it.

But, let’s face it, we’re not fooling anybody by changing the description of the same object for we are also describing what is going on inside of us as well.

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