Senator Lindsey Graham has gotten himself into trouble with a really dumb wisecrack. At a dinner on Monday, he made a quip that anything beginning with the word “al” in Arabic is bad news. Of course, that spawned some irritationg, because “al” in Arabic is similar to the English word “the,” and often precedes proper nouns. In response to that, Graham’s spokespeople are in overdrive, saying that it’s an old joke that he’s always made.
What’s the specific “joke?” From Vox:
Everything that starts with ‘Al’ in the Middle East is bad news,” said U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina at an AIPAC dinner in Boston on Monday. ‘Al-Qaida, Al-Nusra, Al-Qaida in the Arab Peninsula,’ said the senator, who may be running for president.
He just called pretty much every proper noun in the Arabic language “bad news.” What’s worse is that one of Graham’s spokespeople, Kevin Bishop, told the Washington Post that it’s part of his regular stump speech, and something he’s said for many years. It’s not a serious policy statement, and it’s not a knock on the Arabic language. For someone who claims he’s a foreign policy expert, though, this is absolute nonsense.
Graham is trying to position himself as a more hawkish, and certainly better, alternative to Rand Paul for the 2016 elections. Rand Paul has already tried to position himself as a critic of U.S. domestic spying, and as someone who can engage in nation-building. According to a different story in the Washington Post, this gave Graham the opening he needed to be the anti-Rand Paul.
The problem is, someone who wants to be president can’t go around making statements like saying everything that starts with “al” in the Middle East is bad, and then saying, “Oh, you guys are too sensitive. It was just a joke. Gawd,” because even jokes can be offensive. Saying it was just a joke, as if that excuses it, is much worse owning up to it and apologizing. The “joke” also shows a serious lack of even a basic understanding of Arabic, which, in turn, shows a lack of desire to even learn.
You can’t call yourself a foreign policy expert if you’re unwilling to actually learn things, and would rather make offensive, idiotic “jokes” instead. It’s true that people—and especially conservatives, it seems—hate the idea that you can’t make jokes without offending someone. In this case, though, someone like Graham does have to watch what he says. You can’t go around calling every proper noun in a language bad and then say, “Oh, sorry, it’s just a joke, and I’ve made it for years, so calm down.” He would do well to stop making that “joke.”
Featured image by Glenn Fawcett for the Department of Defense. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons