It is quite clear that the high level of economic development makes the U.S. the world’s leader in many fields. America’s military superiority is particularly noticeable since U.S. defense budget greatly exceeds military spending of any developed nation. However, the war on terror declared by Washington five years ago is still far from over. An article published by The Washington Post last week may help understand the reasons behind the setbacks in the U.S.-lead war against the international terrorism. The journalists attempted to look into the issue of language training provided for U.S. national security personnel involved in the operations against terrorists.
The definitions of international terrorism may vary yet in terms of daily counterterrorist activities they are most likely to refer to the confrontation between the national security organizations and Islamic fundamentalists. As a rule, the latter use Arabic for the purpose of communication. It would be logical to assume that members of U.S. national security agencies were supposed to know the language used by their enemy.
As far as U.S. national security is concerned, the situation with regard to Arabic has not changed over the last five years. Just like in the past, today’s personnel who stand guard over U.S. national interests fail to understand the language of their enemy. According to latest statistics released by the FBI, only 33 (sic) out of 12,000 FBI agents have some command Arabic.
The number of FBI agents who have a working command of Arabic is even smaller. The list includes the Egyptian-born U.S. citizen Bassem Yussef mentioned in the article published by The Washington Post. The newspaper runs a story of the above agent who sued the FBI for defamation of character. Following the 9/11 attacks on New York and Pentagon, Yussef has been under the impression that he had been consistently elbowed aside from important operative work, especially the one that concerns the Muslim terrorists. Looks like that the agent who had excellent references prior to the 9/11 era just fell out of luck because of his descent and religion.
Critics of the Soviet regime penned volumes on the idiocy of repeated security checks and policy of reinsurance favored by government officials. Most of their criticism was amply justified. The Soviet Union became history at the start of the 1990s yet its former archenemy keeps using similar methods. Experts indicate that security checks applicable to those who seek employment with U.S. security services are so severe that candidates who happen to have friends, not to mention next of kin in the “wrong” countries may considered a security risk and fail to meet the job requirements. Under the circumstances, the FBI agent Yussef should be lucky to keep his job. Theoretically, he could have been sent to Guantanamo detention center…
Sometimes high-tanking officials with the U.S. national security agencies point out that U.S. government and its organizations e.g. FBI employ numerous translators who do all the necessary translating. One can only speculate over the changes affecting the meaning of original data following the translation. There are obvious and natural links between good command of a foreign language and a learner’s active interest in culture and traditions of people who use it.
In today’s America it seems unlikely that any enthusiasts of Arab and Muslim culture will enlist in the FBI, CIA or U.S. Army where Arabs or Muslims are viewed as suspicious persons at the very least. Perhaps the development and implementation of a comprehensive approach to the learning of foreign languages will be a way out of the current situation. Besides, the problem is not limited to Arabic only. The point is that other Americans, not necessarily those who safeguard the national security, have similar troubles with other languages too.
Translated by Guerman Grachev