It is quite fascinating to notice, pay real attention to, the meaning, or actual content, of the words and expressions we use every day. I have been fascinated with this issue since the first time I heard my mom telling me that "sechoir" (hair-dryer) is French. Sometimes, you hear words that are made up of two or three other words, and when you stop and think about them, they become truly fascinating. How often do you stop and think about the word airport and notice that it is made up of air and port and realise that there is also a sea-port, and there somewhere should be a land-port as well! You also hear the term "that book is the bible of that field" or "that place is the mecca of ..." and you immediately understand that the book in question is the main source of a particular set of information, or that a certain place is an important center for a particular purpose.
We don't often think of words that we use. We know their meaning, we hear them, we use them, and we communicate through them. We sometimes say things that are "politically incorrect". All of us have to remind ourselves not to use the N word, or if you are a Persian speaker, not to call your Jewish friends with the J word. I always have to stop myself not to call one of my favourite childhood sweets "Negro-kiss" (they are now called shoko-kiss). Occasionally, we also use words that have purposely been put there to convey a certain meaning. The word "swift-boating" was created after the 2004 elections in order to describe a certain method of discrediting one of the candidates of the US Presidential campaign. Often meaning of certain words are changed to reach political, religious, or social goals, like the word liberal (essentially meaning "free-acter") which is now used as a dimunitive in the American politics.
So, all these made me think of a word today, and that is "crusader". A crusader was a western European knight, and sometimes layman, who because of the economic recession in turn of the millenium Europe, undertook a religious-military pilgrimage. The crusaders ultimately wanted to "liberate" the Holy Land (Palestine, Canaan, Israel, the Biblical Lands, etc.) from the Muslims, whom they considered to be infidels. In the process, which was mildly successful, they raped, pillaged, and destroyed many peoples, towns, and buildings. In their fourth effort, the Crusader actually just took over Constantinople, the capital of the very Christian Byzantine Empire, and destroyed many of its historical sites, killed its emperor, and committed atrocities that have to be read to be believed. In short, a crusader was not a very desirable character and he often conjured up pictures of violence, dirtyness, and illiteracy in the minds of mediaeval Europeans, not to mention the Muslims.
However, now the word crusader has been rejuvinated to mean a good thing, an enthusiast, a brave vigilante who takes upon her or himself to correct a wrong, someone who tried to do something right. The Masked Crusader is one of the best examples of it, as Batman is called. Everyday people are called crusaders too, one is the AIDS crusader, another is human rights crusader, and so on and so forth. We hear this, use it, and think nothing of it. It never occures to us to think of a modern day crusader as a dirty, violent, and illiterate person, the way the actual crusaders were. The issue becomes even more interesting when you consider that while the name crusader has a meaning of "a vigilante, the one who tries" in our minds, it actually comes from the word Cross. However, think of the same word in Arabic, "someone who tries"... well, it is Mujahid, right? From the root JHD, which also gives us the dreaded Jihad! Now, how has that been illustrated? People who work in Jahad-e Sazandegi (Jihad for Construction, an Iranian government created organisation) are not "Jihadists". The word Mujahideen (with a particular emphasis on the "ee") is used often in the English speaking media. It makes you think of Al Qaeda. Would you trust if someone is called "The Masked Mujahid" or "AIDS Mujahid"? Compare the visions of the Masked Crusader with a supposed masked mujahid.
Beware the power of words!
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