Language ability is what sets Army SOF apart

This episode is for the SOF nerds who understand the importance of foreign language capability in special operations.

It is also for those who want to know a little more about the language and culture programs that make, train, and sustain Army SOF.

Language, regional expertise, and cross-cultural competency (LREC) don’t get the same attention as sniper teams in ghillie suits or a bunch of operators touching down on the roof of a house off of a little bird.

But have no doubt, as Special Forces officer Tim Ball says in the episode, it is language ability (and the cultural-competency that comes with it) that sets Army special operations forces (ARSOF) apart from its peers in the other services (Navy SEALS, Marine Raiders, etc).

The episode is a deep-dive on ARSOF language training, to include:

  • Language standards have increased over time (From 0+ -to 1+ on the Oral Proficiency Interview as a graduation requirement)
  • The numerous language programs inside of SOF beyond initial acquisition, including advanced unit training, foreign immersion, operational unit exchanges, and on-demand computer-based online training (with live instructors)
  • The use of virtual reality to enhance language ability and cross-cultural competency

I really appreciated some of the comments that Tim made. He highlights the fact that ARSOF traditionally works with a partner force, and that parternship inherently involves lots of face-to-face communication.

The ultimate aim of language training is to prepare the SOF soldier to instruct and communicate in the target language – to stand up in front of a tough, dedicated fighting force, and communicate to them what it is they need to do.

Tim admits this is hard – not everyone achieves that level of language fluency.

But some do. And in just about every SOF unit, there is “that one” who really gets the language and becomes the de facto communicator on the team.

At the very least, the fact that every SF/CA/PO soldier goes through significant language training provides them with the tools they need to exchange basic expressions and pleasantries. Like it or not, there is an “ugly American” stereotype that precedes us everywhere we go. If you can blast through that by demonstrating basic understanding of the language, it goes a long way.

Related, Tim also wrote a great article on War on the Rocks discussing the role of language in special operations – and the fact that we’ve gotten better.

If you’re not already a subscriber of the Indigenous Approach, you should be. It’s a must-listen for me and bumps my queue every single time.

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تجربة صغيرة

هذه تجربة صغيرة. انا دائما استكشف طرق جديدة لبلغ جماهير جديدة. و حتى الان، لم اكتب على هذا ‘بلوغب’ باللغة .العربية. احيانا ارد على تغريدات او تعليق في مواقع تواصل الاجتماعية في عربي، و لكن هذه المرة الاولى على البلوغ

.هناك سببان لهذه تجربة صغيرة

١ – تحسن ممارسة الكتابة في اللغة العربية

٢- بلغ جماهير جديدة

و طبعا، هناك بعض الاخطار في هذه تجربة ايضا. اولا، هذه لغة ليست لغتي الام و بسبب ذلك اتوقع ان اجعل كثير من الاخطاء. وثاني، اي شخص لا يستطيع ان يقراء العربي سيشعر بالاحباط ربما. واخيرا، سافتح نفسي لنقد اي وقت اكتب اي شيء، و الان سيكون الجمهور جديد

لذلك ، إذا انت زيارة هنا للمرة الاولى، يمكني ان اقدم نفسي قليلا. بدئت هذا بلوغ في سنة ٢٠١١ حين كنت طالب مجستير في لندن. كنت ادرس تجربة جنود عراقيين خلال عهد صدام و استعملت هذه بلوغ لاكتب بعض اشياء عنها. و الان، احب البحث و الكتابة عن حرب النفسية، حرب السياسية، و ثقافة العسكرية و غيرها. انا ايصا شخص يحب العاب فيديو و احيانا اكتب عن ذلك. عندي حساب تويتر و انستغرام ايضا. الان، استعمل تويتر لاشياء حدية مثل محادثات مهنية و اكتشاف الاخبار، و استعمل انستغرام لهواياتي. الان، انا العب لعبة “ميتل جير سولد ٣” و اشارك صور من اللعبة في انستغرام

!لا اعرف متى ساكتب في اللغة العربية، ممكن كل شهر، ممكن اقل. سنرى النتيجة

!شكرا جزيلا للقراءة

.تستمتعون هذه مقالات؟ تبعوني على تويتر و تسجلون لجريدتي الاكترونية.

The Habibis Podcast: Games, Media, and Arabic

The best content is the content that intersects your key interests. This one hits two of them right on the head – video games and Arabic.

From their description:

WHAT IS THE HABIBIS?

The Habibis is three game developers drinking some good Arab Tea for what should be about fourty minutes, inshallah, each week, inshallah. Fawzi Mesmar, Osama Dorias, and Rami Ismail discuss games and media and life as Arabs living all around the big world.

Not sure how I discovered this one, but I’m a new subscriber. I listened to the episode below, titled “A Different Language Than We Speak.

The Habibis talk about games, lots of indie games, and how Arabic is a diverse language.

The Habibis | A Different Language Than We Speak

At about the 40:00 mark they dive into a great conversation on the diversity of Arabic dialects.

Everyone’s in a bubble. It’s good to have content that bursts it from time to time.

Also, I’m encouraged to hear that Nier: Replicant is good – it’s next on my queue.

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Alephia 2053: Arabic Dystopian Anime

The storyline, set in 2053 in the fictional Arab state of Alephia, follows a group of undercover agents plotting to take down hereditary ruler Alaa Ibn Ismail and his oppressive regime, described as the most tyrannical in the world.

Alephia 2053: Animated thriller strikes a chord in Arab world | Arab Spring: 10 years on News | Al Jazeera

Very cool. Rare to get something like this in Arabic (for free).

Full film here.

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Arabic literature and beyond: Bulaq | بولاق

I’ve been listening to the Bulaq podcast since episode one. I’m not exactly sure how I found it, although it was probably from the Arabist or Jaddaliya.

Bulaq has become one of my favorite podcasts, despite the fact that I read very little Arabic literature. And most of the Arabic literature I have read came based off of recommendations from the podcast or ArabLit.

While the episodes mostly focus on works of Arabic literature – in Arabic and in translation – I specifically enjoy the commentary and cultural criticism from the episode’s two hosts, Ursula Lindsey and M Lynx Qualey.

In their latest episode (Women in Love and Lust), they discuss the topic of sex in Arabic fiction and poetry over the past 1500 years with editor Selma Dabbagh.

Here, Ursula raises how troublesome it can be just having these converations.

“The topic of Arab women’s sexuality is a kind of cultural minefield in which there is a long history of Western attention to the status of women in the Arab world, and specifically of their sexual freedom which is loaded with all sorts of stereotypes, and really is self-interested and sometimes malicious agendas.”

Women In Love and In Lust | Sowt

Yes. Afghanistan being the most palpable recent example.

The conversation goes on and is related to the topic of imperial feminism. That is, the idea that the defense of women can be (and often is) used as justification for empire or empire-building. It’s an important topic and one that can be shocking if you’ve never heard it before.

We’re all in our own unique information bubbles. It’s good to have things in your information diet that challenges the status quo and might even make you feel a little uncomfortable.

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American Infidel

American Infidel M4

Week ending August 31, 2014

The top search of the week was american infidel. As I’ve written before, most of the traffic that comes to this site comes through my posts about the use of the word ‘infidel.’ A variation of the search term is usually responsible for bringing people here.

This is the first time that american infidel topped out the list. A quick Google search shows that the top hits are a clothing line, a motorcycle club, and a Facebook page for the clothing line (with over 350,000 ‘likes’). You can click through all that if you want. You’ll find exactly what you’d expect, if you’ve been following this trend the way I have.

What’s becoming more interesting about the infidel  phenomena is how it is spreading outside of the military realm. Most of my posts on the subject have been geared towards the military and veteran community. Looking through some of those sites, it’s clear that regular joe-schmo Americans are starting to identify themselves as infidels, which is both absurd and troubling.

On the topic, On Violence had a post last week that gives a nice shout out to Carrying the Gun. It’s worth checking out, as their analysis is always good and usually more biting than mine.

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Return of the Infidel

The other day, a reader who named himself كافر (infidel) left this comment on my post Infidel Redux:

I’m curious to know if you still think that things shouldn’t be looked at in a religious sense, now that ISIS is beheading Christian children. I for one am a proud Christian infidel, and IMHO this battle is religious in nature, whether you want to see it or not.

There’s been a lot of traffic to my infidel posts over the past few weeks, no doubt spurred by interest based on the lightning advance of ISIS in Syria and Iraq (see here for a good documentary on the group from Vice News). To answer the question the reader raised – has my position changed now that ISIS is beheading Christian children (an un-verified accusation, by the way), my answer is “no.”

The tragic news of James Foley’s gruesome murder also does not change my position. To summarize, I am of the belief that proudly wearing, displaying, or seeing oneself as an “infidel” is unprofessional in a modern military force (and potentially punishable under UCMJ), colors the conflict in religious hokum that doesn’t have a place in our war rhetoric, and plays directly into the enemy’s plan.

One of the smoldering remnants of the Global War on Terrorism is the way troops have embraced the term “infidel” as a kind of scarlet letter. Tattoos, t-shirts, bumper stickers, custom patches, knives forged in pigs blood – a whole industry has cropped up around the term. Dehumanization in war is normal – it happens in every war. That, however, is not an excuse for it.

From Foreign Affairs (ISIS’ Gruesome Gamble):

If the United States decided to step in on behalf of its allies — as it did — then ISIS must have believed that it would be able to strengthen its position within the jihadi camp. ISIS could use the bombings as evidence that the United States is waging a war on Islam, and to portray itself as the defender of Muslims from “Crusader” aggression. In other words, ISIS would steal a page right out of al Qaeda’s playbook.

I'll see your jihad

The advance of ISIS, their brutal behavior, and the language they use themselves (constantly referring to others as infidels) has revalidated those who have embraced the infidel term. It’s an affirmation of their beliefs and it’s convenient to cast a conflict in religious terms – a cosmic struggle where both sides have the backing of God. On social media and on the web, outrage is spilling out – rightfully so – over the behavior of ISIS. But among military folk, that response is often being colored through “proud infidel” language. “I’ll see your Jihad and raise you a Crusade” is a popular phrase, often coupled with an image of a fantasy medieval knight.

It’s unlikely that the infidel trend will dissipate any time soon. Troops are still rotating in and out of war zones in the Middle East and there is an aggressive market ready to cash in on t-shirts and patches. No matter how nasty things get, and no matter how much “they” call us infidels, wrapping ourselves in their terminology plays into their own twisted fantasy while putting ourselves at risk of further dehumanization.

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What does داعش mean?

After watching a few videos about the ongoing violence in Iraq, I noticed that ISIS is referred to as da’aesh (داعش). Just like ISIS is an acronym, so is da’aesh. It stands for al-dawla al-islameeya fii al-‘araq wa al-sham (الدولة الإسلامية في العراق والشام), which means “the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.”

Pretty simple, but a Google search didn’t instantly turn up the answer I was looking for, so I figured I’d spell it out here for amateur Arabists that might be a little out of practice.

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Babies, guns, and infidels

Over on ‘hawgblawg‘ Ted Swedenburg posted the below picture that was sent to him by a friend:

huh

Ted is an anthropologist and author of the book “Memories of Revolt: The 1936-39 Rebellion and the Palestinian National Past.” One of the themes of his blog is to point out places where the kufiya – the scarf synonymous with Palestinian resistance – is being used for some other purpose, usually fashion.

On this particular picture, Ted writes:

The baseball cap says ‘kafir’ in Arabic, which is correctly translated as infidel. A synonym is unbeliever. I believe that Islamist insurgents in Iraq fighting against the US occupation would have used this term fairly routinely to describe the US military forces. I did not know that (some) US troops had embraced the term.

Readers of this blog know all too well how the term infidel gets slung around in military circles. It’s interesting to see an anthropology professor who focuses on the Middle East catch wind of it in this way, years after it became “a thing.”

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CENTCOM’s Facebook Page – in Arabic

القيادة المركزية الامريكية

I’m way fascinated by CENTCOM’s Facebook (Arabic) page. As far as I can tell, they mostly just post interesting pictures of military stuff to engage with a mostly Arabic speaking audience. For Arabic students, it’s great, easy practice.

What a strange job to have though, huh? Manager of CENTCOM’s Facebook page in Arabic.

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