tuque /tūk/ n Canadian English, var. toque [19th c. Canadian French, from the French toque, from the Basque tauka] 1 A close-fitting knitted cap, often with a long tapering end or tassel or pompom. 2 fig Something quintessentially Canadian.
souq /sūk/ n from the Arabic سوق var. souk 1 An open-air marketplace. 2 fig A central meeting place for the circulation of news and ideas.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Obama's Arabic gaffe: "... a woman's right to wear the hajib"

U.S. President Barack Obama's speech to the Islamic world from Cairo was a resounding success of Platonic love and Sesame-Street diplomacy. Sure, he reduced most differences between Islam and the West to a difference in religious tradition and made several normative conclusions therefrom.

But overall, Obama was respectful. He was knowledgeable. He didn't point his finger too much.

He also threw in a little Arabic: a soft shukran mixed in with English "thank you" when he came out on stage demonstrated that Obama was willing if timid to test-drive his Arabic skills.

He brought a message to the Orientals from American Muslims: assalaam alaykum.

And he name-dropped on the liberty in America protecting Muslims. Quoth Obama (at about the 3-minute mark of the above video):

"... That's why the United States government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hajib."

The right of girls to wear the chamberlain?

Of course Obama meant to say hijab; commonly translated as veil or headscarf.

Though related in their triliteral roots (h-j-b), hajib [pronounced, as Obama said it, hajeeb; Arabic حجيب ] is an archaic word that means, in English approximation, chamberlain, a medieval manservant. Today in some places it may be used colloquially to refer to a doorman outside an apartment building, although the more common term is haajib [Arabic حاجب ].

Wearers of the hijab [pronounced hijaab; Arabic حجاب ] are probably not offended by the gaffe, even if "wearing the chamberlain" could for a juvenile imagination be a silly double-entendre.

Just to be on the safe side, to prove that he's not anti-veil, Obama's handlers should have him wear the hijab on his next visit to the Middle East, perhaps on a photo-op with a local hajib.

After all, following a goof on Canada that irked this blogger, a contrite Obama donned a tuque to win back the hearts of Canadians:

(But he still points his finger too much.)


Anonymous said...

ha! thanks for the chamberlain translation richard.

The Tuque Souq said...

A Tuque Souq friend advised that "hajib" is also a term used for a kind of vizier, or court advisor, in the Umayyad Caliphate of medieval Muslim Spain.

Zainabsr said...

A hajib is also an eyebrow! Didn't go that far I guess!