Teaching the Language of the Conqueror


new handheld electronic device known as a Phrasealator, first tried
by U.S. troops in Afghanistan, is a graphic emblem of the practical
difficulties of diffusing American hegemonic power across the globe.
The 1,000 phrases on the Phrasealator menu— such as “come
out with your hands up”—are translated instantaneously
by this magic box into a spoken message, screeched out in Pashtu,
Dari, Urdu, or, in this case, Iraqi Arabic. Its limited repertoire
is designed for “crowd control, law and order and emergencies.”
But of course there is no way the American “liberators”
can understand what the “natives” say in reply: “The
marines have brought the whole encyclopedia of military technology
with them to Iraq.… The equipment necessary to talk to Iraqis,
understand their problems and respond to their needs, however, seems
to have been left on the quayside in California.”  Indeed,
the Phrasealator offers a kind of metaphor for Western one-way communication
with Arab and West Asian societies and, more broadly, for Eurocentric
social science and its Western-generated theories of democracy,
economics, and 100 other domains.

Influx of Expertise 


Pentagon will need either entire battalions of interpreters or brigades
of imported teachers of English as a foreign language (EFL) to administer
the “reconstructed” Iraq now on the drawing boards. Most
likely the second option will be promoted: the lucrative market
for EFL being opened up by our generals will be a windfall for teachers
from Sydney to Seattle. Experts from numerous other fields will
also be recruited to reshape Iraqi education from kindergarten to
university. Platoons of Western researchers, including graduate
students, will likely descend on Iraq as transnational foundations
seek to fund new projects. American universities will attempt to
set agendas for collaboration and research in Iraqi academe. 

Marine with his or her one-way Phrasealator points up the extent
to which American hegemony must rely on the learning of its language
in order to maintain and cement its control. While EFL suffuses
at a dizzying pace along the Gulf, generating a veritable boom in
lucrative positions for EFL teachers and applied linguists (witness
the meteoric growth of TESOL Arabia www.tesolarabia. org), Iraq
has for two decades remained an impenetrable fortress. Now those
walls are being breached, quite literally, and the scramble for
jobs to teach EFL and other academic specialties in Iraq is in the
offing. As a posting on an online job discussion board in January
2003 predicted: “The future of big bucks in EFL is in Iraq.
The U.S. will set up a UN-approved puppet government and oil will
flow again. Multinational corporations will move in with the blessings
of the UN. Then you’ll see a need for English teachers the
likes of which no one has ever seen.” 

of Complicity 


inside the British Council and elsewhere about the role of English
language teaching in the reconstruction of Iraq raises a central
question about the politics of EFL in a conquered land, indeed the
ethics of any kind of involvement as an academic or researcher from
abroad in the architecture of occupation and development. It’s
a casebook illustration of the “complexity of complicity.” 

to this war, and the ideology of the New World Order of unilateral
U.S. military supremacy behind it, entails opposition to all postwar
arrangements under the gun: “because the war itself is illegal,
any post-war U.S. occupation will be illegal too. That means the
United States should not be allowed to claim any power to rule or
determine economic, political or social arrangements in post-war
Iraq.”  A colleague’s recent response underscores
the quandary professionals face: “As language teachers we see
ourselves as playing a key role in development in all its senses.
That is where our skills are and therefore where we feel we can
genuinely do something constructive. If you take that away from
us, what is the best way forward to act positively for those negatively
affected by the war?” 

Ways Forward? 


administrators and teacher trainers in the British Council and United
States Information Agency are likely poised to hitch a ride into
Basra and Baghdad on the back of the tanks, laying the groundwork
for the Operation Iraqi English Literacy to follow. The English
Language Fellow Program funded by the Department of State will probably
soon announce openings in Iraqi academe. The commercial EFL industry
is now gearing to set up a whole chain of private schools and language
centers in the ruins to aid the Anglo-American construction firms
already charting their bonanza. Peace Corps planners are doubtless
hoping to finally realize an old dream: to penetrate the high schools
and villages in a major country in the Arab East, gaining a foothold
in a region where the Corps is still largely unrepresented. American
universities will also be reconnoitering the Iraqi terrain for appropriate
sites to set up branch campuses to promote democracy, teach business
management, and of course EFL, molding the new pro-American Iraqi



North American educators and researchers who are outraged by this
war and the values it represents will have to think hard about how
they, their professional organizations and universities, should
cooperate in the “transfer” of knowledge and skills under
the coming occupation. As our “gunfighter nation” regenerates
itself through unilateral conquest and overkill, the EFL profession
in particular needs to (re)interrogate its vested interest and central
role in the maintenance and reproduction of the language of empire
and its Pax Americana. 

any new beginning in education, the bottom line should be self-reliance
and sustainability: Iraqi educators will have to lead the way, with
their priorities, at their pace, wary of imposed imports and research
projects from the Anglo-American west, the dangers of “educational
imperialism.” In this process, Iraqi language educators will
need time to come to critical grips with the downside, indeed quandary,
of the cultural politics of English as an international language:
the problematic linkages between the diffusion of English and social
inequality, English as a gatekeeper to privilege and power, and
the certain future gap between the “globally educated”
and the masses in their own society, set to be widened and deepened
by expanding the teaching. 

will take time for wounds and memory to heal. But conquered Iraq
will be a protectorate for the foreseeable future—initially,
from what the Pentagon intimates, along the lines of Japan 1945.
Under conditions of neocolonial reconstruction and semi-military
administration, the first imperative is an academic boycott or moratorium
on expatriate teacher recruitment across the disciplines and on
participation in externally generated and uninvited “research.”
Inside the anti-(post)war movement, we need to raise and elaborate
that call. 


Templar is at the Lao-American College, Vientiane/Lao PDR  and
Dubnow Institute for Jewish History, University of Leipzig.