The perils of saying "Allahu Akbar" in public

From state policy to newsprint, television and film, the Arabic language has been inextricably tied to terrorism. Routine phrases such as “Inshallah” (God willing) and greetings such as “Al-Salaamu Alaikum” cause anxiety. Muslims have been ejected from airplanes, targeted by bigots and hate-mongers, and racially profiled at airports and beyond for saying these phrases, which are branded as threatening and cast with guilt. None more than “Allahu Akbar,” which became a fixture in conservative media coverage of the Middle East and domestic national security witch hunts, and just as prominently, Hollywood films. These recurring and overpowering misrepresentations stripped the phrase from its religious and routine meanings, and supplanted it with a popular understanding that “Allahu Akbar” foreshadowed a bomb, an attack or homegrown radicalization.

Eric Nagourney wrote in the New York Times in November that “Allahu Akbar” has “been seized by jihadists who claim that Islam justifies their attacks on innocent civilians in the name of God.” The phrase, Nagourney wrote, is “tarnished by attacks” committed by Muslim terrorists. This may be true in part, but assigning exclusive culpability with Muslim terrorists — real or imagined — without shifting any blame to reactionary policy, mass media and Islamophobia ignores much of the problem. ‘Allahu Akbar’ has been monopolized by the likes of televisions pundits such as Bill O’Reilly and Bill Maher as a symbol of oncoming horror, and featured as a trite yet staple cinematic trope announcing a hijacking or a suicide bomb in films such as “Executive Decision” and “American Sniper,” and a long string of box office hits old and new.