Sometimes you hear an irritating, farcical point of view but you let it go because it is so evidently farcical that you think it cant possibly get much traction. Then you hear it again. And again. By the time you start dealing with it, it has become part of the rhetorical landscape.
The particular point of view I’m referring to here is that people are judged to be good or bad depending on how well they speak English.
Barbara Walters gave one of the most egregious examples in 2008 after she returned from vacationing in Syria. She met Bashar Al-Assad and came back and gave this gushing description of him: “From my experience, he was a very intelligent, a well informed, thoughtful, he spoke perfect English….” (my emphasis). To make the point further, she then described his lovely wife, Asmaa … “She was educated in England, worked in this country, speaks English the way I’m talking to you, lovely, intelligent.”
She speaks English the way I’m talking to you… get it? She’s lovely and intelligent, and he’s charming. Absolutely, just charming. He kills people? Nah… really? On a daily basis? But he speaks perfect English!
Charlie Rose interviewed Rick Stengel and Kurt Andersen December 14, 2011. The topic seemed to be the Arab Spring. They both gave a whirlwind description of what was going on in the Middle East these days. The small part I caught was reasonable and somewhat objective. Referring to one particular blogger, Andersen sums it all up by saying … “he could sit right there with us and chat with you…” (or words to that effect).
Well, that seals it: If he can speak English and be a guest on the Charlie Rose show just like two American commentators, he must be a fine fellow.
Robert MacNamara, defense secretary during the Vietnam war reflected on the lessons learned from Vietnam two decades after the war was concluded. Among many valuable lessons, one was, “We do not have the God-given right to shape every nation in our image or as we choose.”
To distil our judgment of others into the kind of English they speak is not as naïve as it sounds… it reflects an underlying, unstated belief that those who are like us are good, those who are not, well.. are not.
We need to grow up.