What’s in a name?

Choosing the wrong name for the region perhaps most usually referred to (in the UK) as the West Bank can get you labelled an evil right wing nationalist type – or a potential terrorist.  Young Rami Amjad Yahya, a  15 year old Palestinian exchange student hoping to study in the US, raised eyebrows when he claimed to be based  in ‘the occupied territory of Ramallah’.  Although most members of the Northern York School Board agreed that this wasn’t such a big deal, for some the supposed semantic solecism gave rise to further anxieties.

One resident in attendance took a different stance, though. And he asked the School Board to scrutinize the 15-year-old’s credentials harder, saying Yahya could be a Muslim, and that “the Muslims are becoming radical.”

On Tuesday, Barndt said he worried Yahya could bring “anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiments” to the district, and he wasn’t willing to spend tax dollars to find out.

“We’ve got radical students in Boston that blew up bombs. The Muslims are becoming radical. I’m not saying every one,” Christensen said. “I think you need to consider this when thinking about putting a student who could be radicalized by the Muslims, who could be sent here to do damage.”

Here’s a very sensible corrective from a local news site:

The situation was rich with irony: The hesitant board members seemed suspicious about a student from a cross-cultural program that is specifically designed to promote understanding and allay these kinds of suspicions.

Rami will come here through the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study. Created after the attacks of 9/11, the program brings students from Muslim countries here to learn about America. It is run by the U.S. State Department.

Critics like that one didn’t seem to consider a very different possibility. To some fundamentalist Muslims, Rami may look like a turncoat who is willing to live among the infidels and Zionist sympathizers. In those conditions, the simple act of applying to study in the U.S. seems to display the kind of open-mindedness that this country wants to encourage.

Meanwhile, those who use the terms Judea and Samaria are also liable to face suspicion and hostility, as CifWatch reports. Here’s another article which argues against the contention that these ‘are territorially expansionist terms, resurrected from the time of the Bible by right-wing Jewish settlers and their supporters’.

Although I’m sure others must have made this point, I have not seen it pointed out that there is a potential oddness in seeing the term ‘Samaria’ as unproblematically nationalistic or expansionist, as its etymology is a reminder of the region’s links with the Samaritans, who traditionally had an antagonistic relationship with Jews, as evidenced in the parable of the Good Samaritan.