umm Abdillah, Radio Islam Programming | 2015.08.28 | 12 Dhul Qa’dah 1436
It is Hajj time again. A time of year when we all yearn for a call to make the sacred pilgrimage to Makkah – and become a Hajji. To most of us “Hajji” is an honorific title. But, it’s not the same for everyone. The recent wars waged illegitimately on the Muslim world have called to question the “language of war”. This article presents how war-fighter slang reflects the bitter hell of ‘othering’. Some have denigrated the term and the ethnicities of those on the Hajj journey so extensively that “Hajji” has been determined as an actual weapon of war in Afghanistan and Iraq!
To American military personnel “HAJJI” is used primarily and prolifically as a derogatory term towards Arabs, Afghans, Middle Eastern, South Asian, and the Muslim enemy in general.
“Embrace the suck” - 9.11 to Abu Ghraib
Waging wars, (especially illegitimate ones) are an all-encompassing endeavour - physically, emotionally, psychologically, religiously - and linguistically it would seem too. War reveals humankind at its best and its worst. In Harm’s Way: Language and the Contemporary Arts of War by Mary Louise Pratt, the use of term “Hajji” has specifically been called to question.
The use of the term HAJJI as a weapon of war is comparable to the term "gook," used for a person of East Asian birth or decent, coined by U.S military personnel during the Vietnam War. Like “Gook” Hajji also used to other and dehumanise.
That the incursion into Afghanistan and Eye-Raq after 9/11 was deemed a Crusade, there were natural religious overtones to the war. Compare Ali Baba: (slang for enemy forces) and Johnny Jihad (slang for a Muslim or Muslim combatant) to Christians in Action - a different type of slang for the Central Intelligence Agency.
"Guys in my unit, particularly the younger guys, would drive by in their Humvee and shatter bottles over the heads of Iraqi civilians passing by. They'd keep a bunch of empty Coke bottles in the Humvee to break over people's heads." "I said to them: 'What the hell are you doing? Like, what does this accomplish?' And they responded just completely openly. They said: 'Look, I hate being in Iraq. I hate being stuck here. And I hate being surrounded by hajis."' [Aidan Delgado, former private in the Army Reserve stationed at Abu Ghraib]
Some, namely modern television-show producers, who use the term Hajji with violent depravity argue that Americans who use the term Hajji/Haji are probably not referring to our sacred pilgrimage but to the once popular children’s cartoon Johnny Quest in which the white boy hero’s turban-wearing sidekick was named Haji. They say it is not necessarily a pejorative term and Haji may be used as an adjective to describe anything Middle Eastern, e.g. Iraq’s customary flat bread is referred to as “Haji bread”.
A tool of war
However, some like David Buchanan (a former KC-10 pilot) in his thesis argues that with its origins in Islam and its misappropriation in representations of Operation Iraqi Freedom, hajji operates as a multipurpose sign carrier for the Orient or for the stereotypical jihadist Muslim, the same supposed terror-laden crusader who flew airplanes into buildings in New York and Washington D.C. over ten years ago.
“Hajji” used by the military thus conflates any brown person with all Arabs and all terrorists, leaving no room for individuals, no space for varying religions or ethnic backgrounds or any other human nuance. In novels and movies and television shows that deal directly with combat soldiers, hajji seems to operate—effectively— as a sign between Americans with guns who need to reimage individual Iraqis and Afghanis as faceless bodies in a massive Islamic horde. Essentialism and racism follow quickly behind. The abstractness of the term Hajji promotes the full development of abstract hate, more so in environments dripping with hate. It has thus been appropriated as a tool of war.
Additional Resource: War, Arts and Literature | David Buchanan