Fatima Bhutto: instant expert (Photo: The Independent)
But, you know, there's a limit to how much ridiculousness I can bear. Especially when that stupidity is lapped up by even more clueless foreigners who present her various twists of facts and reality and her ignorance as some sort of gospel truth to their readers and viewers.
The reason I have been forced to break my self-imposed silence is this latest seemingly innocuous gem of an interview with her about five books she would recommend people to read. I say 'innocuous' because, for once, it doesn't involve her tweaking facts to suit her political agenda but only a bit of unbelievable ignorance. One could argue that I have chosen to focus on a really minor point in a minor interview but, for one, I believe it is emblematic of far greater issue, of people presenting themselves as experts on something they have no idea about. (Maybe that's why the site's tagline is 'Become an instant expert'.) Secondly, this minor bit of ignorance has been blown up as the defining part of the interview by the website in question. And third, I have a natural aversion to English-speaking people bullshitting about non-European languages.
Here is the bit of Ms Bhutto's imparted knowledge (presented in reference to American involvement in Pakistan) that made my head explode:
"In Urdu the word that we have for imperialism I find to be particularly telling. It’s samraj. What you have to realise is that Urdu is not a language where we have words for computer, or wifi or text messaging. It’s not a language that automatically updates itself as others do, like Arabic or French. So samraj is especially important because it literally means the raj of Uncle Sam."
Yes, believe it or not, Ms Bhutto thinks (no doubt with astute research and a wildly associative mind) that 'samraj' refers to Uncle Sam! Tell that to etymologists who trace the word to at least as far back as the ancient Hindu Sanskritic text Rig Veda (dated to between 1700BC-1100BC) when Urdu was nowhere on the horizon and which literally means "emperor." Emperors are imperial, no? (Thus 'imperialism' was easily translated as 'samraji nizam' in Urdu; incidentally 'istemaar' is also often used as a synonym though it technically refers to 'colonialism.')
But Ms Bhutto's faux etymology is not her only bit of ignorance. She decides she must explain why 'samraj' exists as a word in Urdu, mindbogglingly connecting it to the use of English language words in Urdu. First off, her basic understanding of the word's origins is wrong. Then her claims that Urdu has no words for 'computer', 'wifi' or 'text messaging' is inane. Urdu does: they are 'computer', 'wifi' and 'text' or 'sms'. They are as much a part of Urdu as 'telephone' or 'TV' or 'machine'. Incidentally does she know the Arabic word for 'radio'? It's 'radio', but with a soft 'D' since Arabic has no hard 'D'. Does she know the Persian word for 'photocopy' or 'stadium'? They are 'fotocopy' (with a soft 'T' because Persian has no hard 'T') and 'estadyaum'. Even the French purists have a hard time keeping universally used words out of the mouths of their compatriots. Oh, and the word for wi-fi in French? Wi-Fi.
"Not a language that automatically updates itself"??? You would have to be a total ignoramus about the evolution of Urdu as a lingua franca, bringing together words from Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Sanskrit and even English (among other languages) to make such a remarkable claim. If anything, the inclusion of these English language words, among thousands of others, is proof of the language's inherent dynamism and openness. That is how Urdu was essentially formed in the first place. And it is a far more "automatically updating" language than either Arabic or French incidentally.
But on a bigger scale, Ms Bhutto's claims about linguistics fly in the face of how all living languages enrich themselves in general. By her skewed logic, English is a poor language too since most of its words derive from Latin or old French or Gaelic and yes, even Sanskrit and Urdu. Words like 'dacoit', 'doosra', 'balti', 'jungle', 'juggernaut', 'trignometry', 'shampoo', 'bandana', 'sentry', 'pariah', 'khaki', 'bangles', 'cheetah', 'pyjama', 'bazaar', 'cheroot', 'bungalow', 'avatar', 'cummerbund', 'guru', etc. etc. etc. all derive originally from Indian languages but are considered part of proper English.
Oh, and the word 'raj'? Guess where that came from.
Moral of the story: Don't talk about things you know nothing about.
Tailpiece: Incidentally, if you have an interest in the linguistics and evolution of Urdu, you might wish to take a look at this very interesting talk by linguist Dr Tariq Rehman, given at the TEDx Conference that recently took place in Lahore: