Isabelle Jung/Sun Graphics Editor

April 29, 2024

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | On Language, Misinformation and Divisiveness

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Re: “Everything That Happened on Day Four of the Encampment” (news, April 29)

As Cornell faculty who regularly work with Arabic sources and who teach about the history and cultures of the modern Middle East, we are very concerned that the University Administration put out a misinformed statement accusing students in the encampment and their faculty supporters of antisemitism based on a failure to understand the literal and historical meaning of an Arabic word, intifada

The word “intifada,” which means “uprising,” comes from the root word “nafd,” which means “to shake off,” and is about resistance to occupation. In other words, intifada means “shaking off” occupation. Thus, when students chant, “Intifada, revolution,” it is a call for revolution and an uprising.

We find that the assumption that an Arabic language word implies violence (without even attempting to learn what it means) is often a racist trope and, in the context of what is taking place on campus, a dangerous one. We urge the provost, the president, the VP of University Relations and, indeed, the entire campus community to reach out to subject matter experts at Near Eastern Studies and other Cornell departments for education on matters related to Arabic, Hebrew, Turkish or Persian language and the history and culture (including conflicts) of the Middle East before making public statements that could cause further division and misunderstanding in an already very tense environment.

For further information on the two intifadas (popular uprisings) in the West Bank, please see below:

Zachary Lockman and Joel Beinin (editors), Intifada: The Palestinian Uprising Against Israeli Occupation (South End Press, 1989)

Joost R. Hiltermann, Behind the Intifada: Labor and Women’s Movements in the Occupied Territories (Princeton University Press, 1993).

Ramzy Baroud, The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle (Pluto Press, 2006).

— Prof. Alexandra Blackman, government

Prof. Ziad Fahmy, Near Eastern Studies

 Paul Kohlbry, postdoctoral associate, anthropology

 Jonathan Lawrence, postdoctoral associate, Near Eastern studies

Prof. Mostafa Minawi, history

Prof. Imane Terhmina, Romance Studies

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