Neocons can’t Spell
A reader asked me to comment on the controversy over whether an Iraqi intelligence agent was detailed to al-Qaeda in Kuala Lumpur to be the guy that picked people up at the airport. It was covered by the Washington Post after the allegation was made by 9/11 Commission member John Lehman, former secretary of the Navy.
The al-Qaeda employee in Malaysia is named Ahmad Hikmat Shakir Azzawi.
The Iraqi intelligence agent is named Lt. Col. Hikmat Shakir Ahmad.
Political Scientist Christopher Carney, who was brought in to look at documents by Doug Feith’s Office of Special Plans so as to second-guess trained analysts at the CIA who actually know Arabic, first made the mistake of identifying the two. Carney is an Americanist at Penn State and had no business butting in.
The family name (here, nisba) of the al-Qaeda guy in Malaysia is Azzawi.
The family name of the guy in Iraqi intelligence is Ahmad.
Do you notice how they are not the same?
The personal or first name of the al-Qaeda guy is Ahmad.
The personal or first name of the Iraqi intelligence agent is Hikmat.
Do you notice how it is not the same?
So, Ahmad Azzawi is not Hikmat Ahmad. See how easy that is?
Mr. Ahmad Azzawi has a couple of middle names, to wit, Hikmat Shakir. Having a couple of middle names is common in the Arab world.
Lt. Col. Hikmat Ahmad just has one middle name, Shakir. This is the only place at which there is any overlap between them at all. They share a middle name. And, o.k., one of Azzawi’s middle names is the same as Lt. Col. Ahmad’s first name.
This would be like having someone named Mark Walter Paul Johnson who is a chauffeur for Holiday Inn.
And then you have a CIA agent named Walter Paul Mark.
Obviously, it is the same guy, right? Natch.
Azzawi is a nisbah, a form of last name having to do with a place or occupation or tribe. I’m not sure, but an `azzaw might be someone who specialized in consoling family members over the death of a loved one. It is being used as a family name.
Lt. Col. Ahmad’s last name could also be used as a first name. It may well be his father’s first name. Some Arab families use a system like that in Scandinavia. Thus, the father is Thor Odinsson and the son is Loki Thorsson. There isn’t a stable family name in that case. In the old style, he might be Hikmat ibn Ahmad or the son of Ahmad, but a lot of people drop the ibn nowadays. Most families either have a nisba type family name or they don’t. If a guy’s last name is Azzawi, that would certainly be in the government records. Lt. Col. Ahmad did not have Azzawi as a family name.
The first name or personal name is called “ism”. In this case, the first name of the al-Qaeda guy is Ahmad. This means “the most praised” and is an epithet of the Prophet Muhammad.
The ism or personal name of the intelligence officer is Hikmat. Hikmah in Arabic means “wisdom.” Hikmat with a long ‘t’ at the end shows Ottoman influence, which in turn suggests an upper class Sunni background.
There isn’t actually any similarity at all between the names of chauffeur Mr. Ahmad Azzawi and intelligence official Lt. Col. Hikmat Ahmad, from an Arab point of view. (For a lot of purposes you would drop the middle names).
Mr. Carney, Mr. Lehman, journalist Stephen Hayes, Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, and all the other persons who gave a moment’s thought to the idea that these two are the same person, based on these names, have wasted precious moments of their lives and have helped kill over 800 US servicemen, over an elementary error deriving from complete ignorance of Arabic and Arab culture.
Isn’t it a shame that we have these key people doing important things who are either incompetent ignoramuses or dumb as posts?
Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard was on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show Monday, by the way, peddling his book, which is full of similar nonsense, and at one point Stewart actually told him he thought the book was a load of crap. Stewart’s Daily Show is among the best sources of news analysis on television.