Robert Frost may (or may not) have said, “I am never so serious as when I am joking.” But whoever rightfully deserves credit for the quote knew what he was talking about. People use humor to make points.
Such was the approach of a speaker at the Oct. 7 initial session of “A Common Word Between Us and You: A Global Agenda for Change,” a Christian-Muslim dialogue forum held at Georgetown University. Riz Khan, a program host on Al-Jazeera English, said those not in the know fear any Arabic word preceded by “al” in part because of their familiarity with the terrorist group al-Qaida and Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, who has been charged with war crimes.
Not to worry, Khan said; “al” is merely the Arabic equivalent of “the.” To laughter from the crowd, he noted a couple of significant “al” occurrences in English, “Al Gore and Al Capone.”
He also told the tale of three children at a nursery school who were instructed by the teacher to play in the sandbox. Afterward, the teacher summoned them one by one.
“Michael, did you play in the sandbox?” “Yes, ma’am.” “Good, Michael. If you can spell ‘sand,’ I’ll give you a cookie.” Michael thought. “S-A-N-D, ma’am,” he answered. “Very good, Michael, here’s your cookie.”
Next came little Catherine’s turn. “Catherine, did you play in the sandbox?” “Yes, ma’am.” “Good, Catherine. If you an spell ‘box,’ I’ll give you a cookie. It’s a little tricky, but I think you can do it.” Catherine gave it her best try. “B-O…,” she said, pausing to think of what letter could come next before triumphantly saying, “X, ma’am!” “Very good Catherine. Here’s your cookie.”
Now came young Mohammed’s turn. “Mohammed,” asked the teacher, “Did you play in the sandbox?” “No, ma’am,” he replied. “Michael and Catherine called me names and pushed me away.” “How terrible,” said the teacher. “That sounds like blatant racial discrimination. Now, if you can spell ‘blatant racial discrimination’….”
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