Activists are craftily playing on fears of the Arabic language to draw attention to terrorism hysteria

Arabic script strikes fear in the heart of some.
Arabic script strikes fear in the heart of some.
Image: Andrew Moore via Flickr/CC-BY-2.0
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Fear of Islam and Muslims in the western world is running so high, use of the Arabic language alone has been enough to provoke irrational terror fears. There have been several reports, for example, of passengers allegedly being removed from flights simply for uttering common Arabic phrases like “inshallah,” which means God willing.

Now, some activists and designers are using that fear to poke fun at Islamophobia and the prevailing political climate.

Over the weekend, a black billboard appeared alongside the highway heading into Dearborn, Michigan, the city that boasts the largest Arab population in the United States. The name “Donald Trump” is written in English, followed by Arabic script (which reads from right to left) that translates to “He can’t read this, but he is afraid of it.”

The billboard is sponsored by a super PAC called Nuisance Committee, which was started by Max Tempkin, one of the creators of the racy Cards Against Humanity card game. The intent of the billboard is to spark conversation among non-Arabic speakers, encouraging them to ask their Arabic-speaking neighbors what the billboard means.

“We came up with it because we believe that Donald Trump’s hateful rhetoric is not based on reality. It’s based in fear,” Nuisance Committee spokeswoman Melissa Harris told the Detroit Free Press. “And we think that irrational fear is what’s driving his anti-immigrant message.”

Civil rights activists says that the Republican nominee’s calls for banning all Muslims from entering the US and later his proposal for “extreme vetting” of immigrants feeds into anti-Muslim hysteria and Islamophobia and encourages hate crimes against Muslims.

The Dearborn billboard isn’t the first to employ humor with the Arabic language in order to make a bigger point. Over the summer, two Palestinian designers created a tote bag that went viral after a journalist snapped a photo of someone carrying it in Berlin. The text in Arabic script cheekily reads, “This text has no meaning except to scare people who don’t understand it.”

“It came from our reality because we are Arabs—Palestinians living in Israel. There’s sort of a common fear or misunderstanding of the Arabic language here,” Haitham Haddad, one of the designers of the bag, told Al Jazeera in August. “So it was an in-your-face message to make fun of people who are scared of the Arabic language … and are afraid of it. Because people who don’t think much connect it directly to you-know-what [terrorism].”