Franz Schurmann

A New Kind of English

What will Americans be like linguistically in a century from now? Given that America will still be a world-spanning empire and civilization, we can look for cultural clues in earlier empires and civilizations.

Dialects are variants of established languages. Pidgins are amalgams of two languages. English is a pidgin. In the 14th century English storytellers, notably Chaucer, decided to fuse French, the language of the Norman conquerors of Britain, with the common Anglo-Saxon language (itself a pidgin of two Germanic languages).

But a more dramatic pidginization occurred two centuries later when the Mughal (Mongol) conquerors of India created an empire that lasted three centuries. Now, despite many cultural variants, the current official languages, Hindi for India and Urdu for Pakistan, both have their origins in "Hindustani," the pidgin name used by the Mughals and then by the imperial British.

American troops in Iraq and Iraqi merchants are already creating pidgins of English and the Iraqi dialects of Arabic. That is similar to what Mughal soldiers did when they went into town to haggle. Urdo/Urdu is a Turco-Mongolian word that meant a "military encampment." If American soldiers and merchants should still be stationed in Iraq in 2104 then it's a good chance that a new language will have arisen, e.g. "Amerarab." And then some writers, like Chaucer, will see if they can sell a novel written in Amerarab.

When the Western Roman Empire officially fell in 476, Britain's Latin-speaking population, mostly soldiers, were worried what to do. But contemporary English archeologists found out what Roman soldiers did. The archeologists carried out diggings in all towns that had the suffix "chester," an Anglo-Saxon variant of Latin "castrum," for military encampment. There are dozens of cities and towns in England with the suffix "chester." Since most of the Roman military encampments were built by a single plan, the archeologists could judge what happened before and after 476. The archeologists concluded that most soldiers remained in Britain and became merchants.

In the heartland of the USA a new pidgin is arising called "Spanglish." Harvard Professor Samuel P. Huntington warns Americans that Spanglish already poses a mortal threat to English. But there is a good chance that in 2104 Spanglish storytellers will replicate the historical formation of English. They will create a new pidgin language that has a Spanish syntax, just as English is based on an Anglo-Saxon syntax.

African Americans speak English as do their millions of kinfolk in Africa and the Caribbean. But they also speak dialects of English that other Americans have difficulty understanding. Some linguists classify the Gullah language, spoken in the North Carolina islands, as a pidgin that is based on West African syntax. But others say Gullah is a dialect of English, just as French, Spanish and Romanian began as offshoots of Latin.

I remember an incident when I was in Guyana in South America. Guyana's population is 40 percent black, mainly middle-class, and 5 percent East Indian, mainly rural. Once, when traveling inland, I heard a number of my Guyanan companions speaking a language I had never heard. When I came close to our table where we were eating, they quickly shifted to English. I sat down and waited politely until I could ask them what language they were speaking. When I finally asked them, to a man they said in unison: English. But I persisted and soon enough they gave in and said: Creole. I was still not satisfied. I knew that Creole was a kind of dialect but also an intellectual word I rarely heard from ordinary people. Then one of the men at the table said, "Yes, we call both English, but we have two kinds of English, one for our people and one for outsiders." I then said, "I'm the outsider." And we all laughed.

African Americans, especially from the South, have family get-togethers that can include many hundreds of participants. They, too, according to African-American friends, speak two kinds of English. Yet, the attempt by many African Americans to get Ebonics, a dialect of English, recognized as a valid language failed because Ebonics is a private, not a public, language.

Back in the early 1800s the "Massachusetts Reformers" like Horace Mann had educational visions of what the new America should be. The reformers were deeply affected by ancient Greek civilization, what they overlooked was that the Greeks could not get together to face a mortal danger coming from Macedonia. Not long after they preached their visions of the new America, the Civil War broke out and the North came close to losing at Gettysburg.

The Massachusetts Reformers wanted to create a new nation and nationality. They wanted all people to become part of one national identity. But African Americans in the east and south, Latinos and Asians in the west, and indigenous people everywhere in the USA, have insisted that their identities must also be preserved. From these peoples, who now are a majority in California, the core issue is language, and their efforts to retain their collective identities will lead to the transformation of American English as the language of all.

The Endgame is Near

It's clear that the major issues in the U.S. presidential race are Iraq and the economy. Since the economy seems to be recovering, especially in the jobs field, that leaves Iraq as the main obstacle to President Bush's re-election.

Much of the American media paint the President as helplessly caught in the vortex of the Abu Ghraib torture scandal. But the fact is that Bush, by saying only a few words, can easily resolve the Iraq conundrum by announcing that the bulk of American soldiers will be home before June 30 this year.

However, the history of America's wars since February 1945 suggests that, just before ending a war and bringing soldiers home, the then-presidents all felt they had to -- or had to threaten to -- kill large numbers of enemy soldiers and civilians as their exit strategy. For example:

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How Iran Can Help Bush

The sweet taste of victory in Iraq appears to be rapidly vanishing behind looming problems like huge deficits, deflation, enormous military outlays, and then, farther out there, more trouble in Afghanistan and Iraq coupled with terrorist threats.

But there is a thin ray of light. Iran, still labeled an "evil" state, wants to come to terms with America. For all the differences between our Democratic society and their theological one we share a common fear of chaos.

Former Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani, a few weeks ago, made a public announcement in this direction, when he proposed a referendum in Iran on relations with the United States. Bush has been silent on this subject, but tellingly the "evil" state rhetoric has not been heard for a while in the White House.

Lessons from history could help get our leaders moving on the come-to-terms path. On July 15, 1971, President Nixon announced that Henry Kissinger, then director of the National Security Council (NSC), had flown to Beijing and returned with an invitation from Chairman Mao to visit China. That speech marked the beginning of the end of the Vietnam War. Exactly a month later, Nixon made another speech that revived an ailing American economy by cutting the dollar loose from gold. The two speeches turned around the two crises and resulted in a landslide re-election for Nixon.

Almost 32 years later, President Bush faces growing chaos in Iraq and Afghanistan, and terrorist threats in many parts of the world. At the same time, the global economy is not recovering, and the one exception, China, is shattered by the SARS pandemic. Is there a contemporary "China" that can do for the Middle East what China once did for East Asia? A case can be made that such a power is Iran.

Revolutions arise through ideology and organization and the two, taken together, create power. In November 1978, revolutionaries, both Islamists and Marxists, toppled the Shah. Then the two factions turned on each other with the Islamists winning and Iran was proclaimed an Islamic Republic.

Then NSC director Zbigniew Brzezinski called the event a "coup d'etat," resulting in several attempts to overthrow it. But like the Russian and Chinese revolutions, the Iranian one not only lasted, but got stronger. In the middle 1950s, America came to terms with Russia; in the early 1970s it did so with China; and in the mid-'90s it started to do so with Iran. But within a year of coming to power, Bush labeled Iraq, Iran and North Korea an "axis of evil."

Yet despite Pentagon hardliners' call for action against Syria and Iran, Bush, like Nixon before July 15, 1971, knows he faces forces, both external (wars) and internal (recession), that could cost him re-election. He knows that, though America won the Iraq war, it could rapidly lose the post-war. Under the thin layer of the American occupiers looms another revolution.

The authoritative Arabic daily, the Aharq al-Awsat, has been publishing excerpts from notes taken by U.N. weapons inspector Ralf Ekeus in 1995. At that time, two sons-in-law of Saddam Hussein showed up in the Jordanian capital Amman and spent a month spilling the beans about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Then when they returned they were quickly shot. Nobody seemed to know why they came and why they were killed.

But the main informer, Hussein Kamil, made it quite clear what they were afraid of. He said again and again that "religion" was spreading everywhere. Even in the Baath Party he saw members going to do their prayers. He said, "today their despicable chattering dominates Iran, but it won't be long before it dominates Iraq as well."

One possible reason why they were executed by their father-in-law, Saddam, was that they came home empty-handed. Kamil kept on saying how close the Baath felt to the West and how much they despised the Iranian theocrats. But the Clinton administration was in no mood to help, preoccupied as it was with the Oslo Accord.

Now the worst fears of the Baath elite have been fulfilled. The return after decades of exile in Iran of Shi'i Ayatollah Muhammad Baqr al-Hakeem was marked by calls for a Khomeini-type Islamic society. Though Baqr al-Hakeem modified his rhetoric, the mood of the huge crowds evoked November 1978 in Tehran.

But both Iranian president Mohammed Khatami and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei seem to share a more pragmatic view of the world, as does former president Rafsanjani, who still wields a lot of clout. One thing few Iranians want, be they reformers or hardliners, is to be stuck between a revolutionary unstable Iraq and a chaotic Afghanistan.

And the same may be said about President Bush. The more trouble there is in the two Asian countries, the less votes he gets in November 2004. Reason dictates he can't lose by accepting Rafsanjani's offer, even though it's couched in the shape of a "referendum."

It's not unthinkable it could result in Colin Powell visiting Tehran, the way Kissinger once went to China.

Schurmann is emeritus professor of history and sociology at U.C. Berkeley and author of numerous books.

Joining Forces with Izzat Ibrahim Ad-Duri

Vice President Dick Cheney has called the war "one of the most extraordinary military campaigns ever conducted." President Bush, however, is more cautious. One reason is that Iraq's oil-rich north has not yet been pacified. A second may be the still-potent Iraqi forces who have retreated into those regions, and one man in particular: Izzat Ibrihim Ad-Duri.

Assuming Izzat is alive, there are two reasons he is important. One, he controls the northern oil city of Mosul. And second, Saudi strongman Prince Abdullah chose him as his number one ally in Iraq at a recent Arab conference in Qatar.

Izzat is one of the few old comrades of Saddam who go back to the 1960s, when the Baath Party was illegal. He managed to survive Saddam's many purges. His daughter was married to Saddam's eldest son Udai.

Izzat's reputation is unsavory. Human Rights Watch called on the Qatar government to arrest him for crimes of mass murder and torture.

But now indications are the Americans might be looking to him as an ally. The Arabic-language, London-based Asharq al-Awsat (Mar. 31) published a curious report entitled "Secret military organization reveals the presence of Izzat Ibrahim's office in a Mosul graveyard." The implication was that an office in a graveyard holding the remains of a holy man made it immune from coalition aerial bombardments.

The piece said nothing about Izzat's joining Iraqi forces supporting the American-British coalition. But immediately after mentioning him, it quotes another Iraqi defector general as saying the disputed rocket that killed 60 people in a Baghdad market came from a Russian missile, meaning it came from the Iraqi side. This information, which could only come from the highest levels of the Iraqi regime, hints that Izzat too may have split with Saddam before the "bunker buster" was unleashed on the latter.

The article reads more like a coded message than a journalistic report. Defecting generals arriving in the Kurdish area announced forming a "National Coalition Unity of Iraq" that called on the people not to fight the Americans and British. They also had reason to believe that Izzat Ibrahim, who left Baghdad for Mosul, was ready to join them. Rumors of a deal being struck with high Baath officials to save their lives were rife on all Arab networks. The National Beirut Network television speculated that was the reason American tanks entering Baghdad met with such little resistance. Even the Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammed Al Douri, appeared relaxed and smiling and disavowing ties to Saddam on Al Jazeera, which reported he would remain as the ambassador for the new government.

If over the past week there have been significant defections from the Baath, then it's likely that there won't be a rush by the Americans to take Kirkuk and Mosul. And the Americans are already talking with Izzat or ready to do so.

As world opinion knows, Iran and Turkey have major interests in northern Iraq. But less known is the Saudi interest. Saudi Arabia's Prince Abdullah played the key role in ending Lebanon's civil war that raged from 1975 to 1990. That tour-de-force allowed America to launch the Gulf War that began on Jan. 16, 1991.

Prince Abdullah is determined to do the same now in Iraq. He believes Bush and the Americans knew nothing about Lebanon in 1990-1991 and know nothing about Iraq now. Last March, a major Arab conference was held in Doha, the capital of Qatar that also is the headquarters of the American command in the Gulf and of Al Jazeera TV. Izzat Ibrahim attended as the leading Iraqi delegate and Prince Abdullah embraced and kissed him. The Arab delegates and reporters got the message.

The American and world media are mesmerized about the shock-and-awe audio-visual journalism that fills TV screens and newspapers. But Iran, Turkey, the Saudi Kingdom and many more countries are quite worried about American rashness and brashness. Iran is worried that two of its main neighbors, Afghanistan and Iraq, are now in chaos. Turkey is worried that the lengthy civil war that pitted Turk against Kurd could reoccur. And the Saudis fear that America will create chaos in the Middle East that could easily bring down the Saudi Kingdom.

George W. Bush has a deep admiration for Prince Abdullah, whom he invited to his Crawford ranch. He certainly knows that the prince played a mighty role in guiding his father through the sandstorms of Iraq. Chances are he is now seeking the same.

Schurmann ( is emeritus professor of history and sociology at U.C. Berkeley and author of numerous books. Ghazi ( monitors and translates Arab media for New California Media and WorldLink TV.

The Search for the Perfect Missile Defense Continues

Defense Secretary William Cohen says the recent failed anti-missile missile test over the Pacific was not a failure, only a "glitch." The Pentagon is preparing for an even more critical test of the National Missile Defense (NMD), and its counterpart the Theater Missile Defense (TMD), as early as October.

The U.S. intelligence community estimates that only Russia and China pose a long-range nuclear missile threat to North America over the next 10 to 15 years. Yet they don't expect either of them to launch an attack.

So why is America developing a weapons technology widely condemned by American allies and rivals as well as a loud chorus of American defense experts?

The "foolproof NMD" the Pentagon is working on is a defensive system that can destroy every nuclear missile fired against the USA -- no matter how many are launched simultaneously. A foolproof TMD will have the same capability. The difference between the two is that the NMD will be installed on American territory and the TMD on the territory of an American ally -- "theater" here is shorthand for an area of military operations.

One answer to the "why" question is that the NMD is a cover for the TMD -- an interpretation bolstered by Cohen's pledge to install the first NMD on Shemya island in the western Aleutian islands. While close to mostly barren Russian territory, such a site would be only a few thousand miles from China's vital centers.

The Pentagon is a long distance away from announcing a perfect missile defense that can thwart a Russian first strike against North America. On the other hand, the Pentagon believes NMD technology, despite test failures, is close to a capability to explode a small number of missiles well before they reach North America. That is why the proposed NDM is always called "limited."

The Russians have thousands of intercontinental missiles but the Chinese have only a few. A "go" decision for NMD would in effect be aimed at China. But what most concerns the Chinese is that a go decision for NMD implies a go for TMD. Significantly, at the strategic talks recently restarted in Beijing by top American and Chinese leaders, TMD is the most prominent subject.

It's no secret that many, if not most, Taiwanese want to be protected against Chinese attack by an American security umbrella. Recently Taiwan media showed a Republic of China (ROC) Phantom airplane launching a Mica anti-missile missile -- both American-made -- and destroying an incoming missile in a simulated attack.

It now seems that U.S. troops will remain in South Korea even if North and South should achieve reunification. While there are no American forces in Taiwan, one condition Washington could impose to persuade Taiwan to accept reunification on Beijing's terms is setting up a TMD on Taiwan.

If all three players agreed on such a scenario it could greatly further the new Pax Americana. Beijing will essentially achieve reunification on its terms, namely "one China" and only one China. Taiwanese will feel relieved because the American security umbrella still protects them. And America will have drawn China into the Pax Americana the way Russia would be if it agreed to join NATO.

This scenario suggests NMD is a cover for TMD. But another answer to the question suggests the opposite -- that TMD is a stepping stone to NMD. In September 1967, Defense Secretary McNamara proposed a "limited anti-ballistics missile (ABM)" project aimed at China. However shortly after his inauguration President Nixon shifted the project to a full-scale ABM aimed at the Soviet Union. Could we now be witnessing a continuation of the long effort to once again make the USA invulnerable to inter-continental attack?

In the 19th century America was isolated from the rest of the world through two huge oceans. Starting in September-October 1949 American leaders began to worry that isolation was breaking down. First came the Soviet Union's successful detonation of an atomic device. A few weeks later the triumphant Chinese Communists inaugurated the new People's Republic of China.

A frenzy of worry exploded in America. The potential combination of Russian nuclear missiles and unlimited Chinese manpower made many Americans feel they could face annihilation by a strange new force, Communism. Yet Americans retained their sense of having a historic destiny beyond U.S. borders -- an idea that had received a big boost by overwhelming victory in WW II. And they had deep faith that technology was the core of that destiny.

In May 1972 President Nixon decided to end the ABM. Instead he launched an arms control project with the Communist Russians and invited the Communist Chinese to join the world community. Nevertheless work on missile defense kept on going.

As electronic guidance systems became more and more sophisticated hope again has arisen that, after all, a perfect missile defense can eventually be achieved. That would make America invulnerable to any nuclear attack. Is this now America's new Holy Grail?

Franz Schurmann, professor emeritus of history and sociology at UC-Berkeley, is a Pacific News Service commentator who writes widely on foreign affairs.

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