While speaking at American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) New England Leadership Dinner in Boston Tuesday night, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) reportedly remarked that “Al Qaeda, Al Nusra, Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula… Everything that starts with ‘Al’ in the Middle East is bad news,” according to investigative journalist Uri Blau.
[bctt tweet=”Everything that starts with ‘Al’ in the Middle East is bad news @LindseyGrahamSC”]
Graham “should have probably checked the dictionary before making such a comment,” Blau wrote. “According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Al in Arabic is simply meaning ‘the.’ ‘It often prefixes Arabic proper nouns, especially place-names; an example is Al-Jazīrah (Arabic: “The Island”), the name of an interfluvial region in Sudan. The article is often used in lowercase form, hence al-Jazīrah.’, Britannica explains.”
Blau wrote that he had asked Graham’s Washington, D.C. office for comment and had not received a response. However, Kevin Bishop, Graham’s spokesman, offered a comment to the Washington Post. “It’s not a serious policy statement,” Bishop said, claiming that Graham has told this same joke for several years. According to the Post, Bishop said this apparently long-running joke gets Graham a lot of laughs and is a “‘humorous way’ to look at pressing issues.”
In an update on his blog post, Blau wrote that an Israeli student named Nathan Odenheimer, along with a friend, confronted Graham at the AIPAC dinner about his remarks. Blau copied Odenheimer’s Facebook post that described the confrontation with Graham:
“An Israeli friend of mine who proudly carries an Arabic surname with the allegedly shameful prefix walked up to the Senator and tried to politely and respectfully clarify to the Middle-East-illiterate politician the meaning of his poor comment. My friend brought himself as an example: “My own name starts with ‘Al’”. Graham tried to dodge the situation with a joke and replied, “Well, I guess there is one exception then…”
I meant to remain the uninvolved spectator I was all evening, but couldn’t maintain myself facing this utter nonsense and despite of myself interrupted: “No Mr. Senator, it is not about an exception, you made an offensive statement that shows ignorance” and elaborated that, what every person who has the slightest interest in the Middle East knows, that in Arabic ‘Al’ usually means “the”. The Senator did not exactly stand corrected; instead he awkwardly diverged to compare Iran to Nazi Germany and the US deal with Iran to a second Holocaust.
I don’t frequent these sort of events often, but it is still beyond me why AIPAC should invite a speaker who is unapologetically Iislamophob (sic) and racist, especially since so many Israelis come from Arab countries, like my mentioned above friend, carry a surname that is, according to the senator, ‘bad news.’”
Bishop’s dismissal of Graham’s latest “joke”is quite similar to another explanation he made on Graham’s behalf earlier this year. In March, Bishop had to clarify Graham’s misuse of the word “literally” when he vowed to “literally use the military” to compel Congress to restore defense cuts during a speech in New Hampshire. Prior to “literally” joking about holding Congress hostage, he’s also joked about Nancy Pelosi’s physical appearance, the lack of “angry white guys” in the GOP, that “white men who are in private clubs” would particularly enjoy a Graham presidency, and has poked fun at the idea of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) dying during a trip to Syria.
Again, it’s possible that Graham’s latest quip regarding his humorous disdain for all things “al” is indeed another awkward joke. However, according to Blau, it does not appear that it was well-received by all of the AIPAC dinner attendees.