3/16/2005

The Grammatical Meaning of "Intifada"

I learned something very interesting today about the etymology of the Arabic word "intifada." This word is best known in the West as the Palestinian name for the current Arab-Israeli war. The word derives from the root "NaFaDa" (nuun faa daal), and is conjugated in a form that corresponds to the Hebrew hitpa'el, which is reflexive. (Properly, the word is "intifad," with the accusative case ending "-a" added when it is the object of the sentence. But nobody seems to care when they're talking in English.)

Here is an excerpt from an Islam Online article on the grammar of "intifada," which is more than a little disingenuous:
The word intifada (literally “shaking up” in Arabic) suggests an interesting semantic and cultural paradigm in the context of the Arab Islamic world. The root of the word intifada is nafada which means “shook up” or “shook off” (the default in Arabic is the past tense of the verb), e.g. as of clothes to remove dust from them. The actual meaning of the word is “a creative movement that generates something new out of something old.” The implicit meaning is that the thing being shaken off – the Zionist occupation of Palestine – has not grown firm roots.

Another meaning of nafada is “scrutinized,” which is exactly what the young people of the intifada have been doing. Other meanings include “clearing a highway of bandits” and “dispatching a group of reconnoitering scouts.”
One should ask what "clearing a highway of bandits" or "dispatching scouts" has to do with "shaking off." In fact, this definition is a distortion; note that the example given is of shaking dust off of clothing.

Dr. Hayyim Tawil, one of my professors, is a noted scholar of Semetic languages (a particular specialty of his is Akkadian). According to him, the Arabic root "NaFaDa" is the equivalent of the Hebrew root "SaNaN" (samech nun nun), which means "to filter or strain." From this root are derived words dealing with filtration and purification; a derived word "mistanen" means "one who infiltrates" (compare to "reconnoitering scouts" above).

Such a meaning corresponds well with the examples given in the piece above. When you shake off clothing, you do so to remove dust, an impurity; when you scrutinize something, you are looking for impurities. Clearing a road of bandits is also an act of purification.

So, the word "intifada" when properly analyzed means "self-filtration"; or, more freely, "purification."

And that is what this is all about, of course. The intifada is not only about Palestinian sovereignty; if so, why do the Palestinians not allow Jewish settlers to stay where they are, under Palestinian rule? Why is selling land to a Jew a capital crime in the Palestinian areas? Why is any Jew who takes a wrong turn on the highway and ends up in Ramallah, in danger of being lynched?

Because the Palestinians want to purify the land. They want to make it J├╝denrein. That is the goal of the Intifada. And the truth of it is in the very language they use, distortions and propoganda notwithstanding.

Note that although the useful idiots on the Left constantly used "Iraqi Intifada" to describe the insurgency, I have not seen a single Arab source that does so. (Please correct me if I am wrong.) With this new understanding, it is not hard to understand why.

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