18 August 2010

The Ground Zero Mezquita

One of the first words I learned using the Rosetta Stone program as I prepared for my summer immersion in El Salvador was the word for "mosque."  I was kind of surprised by this, but the Rosetta Stone has a way of inserting words that you'd never think were important into the Level 1 program--words like corcovear.  I couldn't find it in the dictionary, so I asked a number of my Mexican, Colombian, and Peruvian friends what the word meant.  They had no idea.  What business does this program have teaching me words that Mexicans don't even know? I wondered.  Turns out, it's more of a cowboy word--it means "to leap or gambol like an exuberant calf".  The American who had lived in a little Salvadoran village for three years working for the Peace Corps knew the word, but the chilangos had no idea.  Go figure.

Little did I know, mezquita was far more important than I realized at the time.  Fortunately I picked it up pretty quickly.  For one, it sounded much less intimidating than the English equivalent.  "Mosque" is a heavy word in my own tongue, with that long, sonorous "o" that rises in the throat only to end in a hiss and a "thunk", the "q" driving the word into the roof of your mouth like the blade of a guillotine slamming home.  Anglicized Arabic has all those "qu" formulations that look so odd; apparently the "k" just isn't good enough.  It gives the impression that there's something about the word that just doesn't fit in our language.  (At least it doesn't have the guttural apostrophe in there, like Qur'an.)

"Mezquita," however, has a light and playful sound, mostly nasal and dental sounds.  It also distracts, like a mosquito.  The fragrant BBQ seasoning is also called to mind, evoking memories of pleasant gatherings around the grill, smoke pouring from an outdoor oven plump with roasting meats.  This is why I think our current debate about the proposed Ground Zero Mezquita should be conducted in Spanish.  Everyone would be a lot calmer; it's harder to get in an argument while chewing mouthfuls of pulled pork and brushing away the insects on a hot summer's eve.

This occurred to me as I was brainstorming ideas for a thoughtful and measured post about what I thought was going on under the surface of this debate.  But then I realized I have several evaluations to write before the end of my chaplaincy, and expending energy on this question wouldn't put me in a good spot to finish them on time.  Also, the tone of the debate these days--degenerating into ever more shrill imprecations against the opponent's lack of enlightenment/common sense--doesn't invite measured, thoughtful contribution.  There are plenty of other people making them (such as Douthat's column, "Islam and the Two Americas", or Carson Halloway over at Front Porch Republic pointing out the presumably willful deception on the part of our president); why risk falling short and ending up rolling around in the street with the gang-bangers?

Anyway, if this thing doesn't end up getting built, there should  be plenty of other options for the struggling Manhattan Islamic community-builders (the two mezquitas that already exist on Manhattan island only blocks away from Ground Zero presumably aren't on the market just yet):

How about we just drop the "quita" and leave it at "the Ground Zero Mess"?

1 comment:

Mitch Minarick said...

I like your suggestions. Why don't you come visit, I can provide some freshly smoked pulled pork and plenty of mosquitos to swat?

Also, what is your final analysis of the Rosetta Stone program?