Woman demeans Christian Assyrian-American as ‘Terrorist’ for Speaking Jesus’ Language

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Aramaic was the language spoken by Jesus. Although the New Testament survives in koine Greek, likely it had an Aramaic substrate. The Gospels make clear that Jesus spoke Aramaic by occasionally quoting his original words in that language. Jesus says to the little girl he heals, “Talitha qumi,” little girl get up (Mk 5:41). On the cross he says, “Eli, Eli lema sabachthani,” my God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matt. 27:46).

Between 600 BC and about 1000 CE [AD], the dominant spoken language in the Levant and the Fertile Crescent was Aramaic. Sometimes it is called Syriac or Chaldean. In some of this 1600-year period (sort of the span of time from the sack of Rome in 410 to our own day) sometimes Greek, and later Arabic, served as administrative and literary languages, but probably most people in what is now Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria-Palestine, even parts of Iran, spoke Aramaic for daily uses.

So after Trump’s electoral victory, an Assyrian Christian woman named Ivet Lolham was riding the BART commuter train in the Bay Area and she called her father and spoke to him in Aramaic, requesting him to pick her up from the station.

She alleges that she started being verbally abused by another passenger, who termed her a terrorist and told her: “I think you are an ugly, mean, evil little pig who might get deported and I pray that you do.”

Lolham recorded the scene on her cell phone and warned the woman it would be put on YouTube. The abusive passenger replied undeterred, “This woman is a stalker from the Middle East. She’s a Middle Eastern terrorist, she’s terrorizing citizens like me and she will probably get deported.”

In northwestern Iran around Lake Urumiya in Azerbaijani province, there are about 55,000 Chaldean and Nestorian Christians who speak Aramaic. Iran also has a small Jewish community, some members of which speak Aramaic.

So this is where Trump’s foreigner-hating America has ended up: speaking the language of Jesus in public is now equated to terrorism.

Trump supporter spews ignorant racist rant at young woman

23 Responses

  1. I can’t stand this kind of thing – it shows such a powerful combination of ignorance and privilege, that you could talk to someone this way. This thinking is pollution in our society’s collective understanding, our shared social space, and we are all lessened by it.

    • Read the Kairos Palestine Document. Only the late Bob Simon of 60 Minutes in the US main media covered what Christians go through in Israel

  2. “So this is where Trump’s foreigner-hating America has ended up: speaking the language of Jesus in public is now equated to terrorism.”

    JC, please spread the blame a little further. Trump has said many offensive things as electioneering politicians are wont to do. However, I think that the military actions of the Bushes, Clinton and Obama in the Middle East, endlessly propagandized by the main stream media, are much more to blame for the anti-Muslim feelings we now see in the US and other countries. Trump has only talked … the others have acted with deadly force. Hundreds of thousands killed, millions displaced and an immensely dangerous flood of refugees unleashed at Europe. I suspect that most people would rather be on the receiving end of a verbal attack than be targeted for a drone strike with a Hellfire missile.

    • Since Trump could never be bothered to run for public office or serve in any position of public service except for the very top, he never really had the power to do any of those things before, did he?

      Now how do you feel about a race war in the streets of your very own country? This woman is willing to fight that war, and Trump has said things that indicated to her he is ready to lead it. It will be waged by the restoration of all the crimes that Whites once committed with impunity – until tempers snap and someone fights back. Now you know the cycle of escalating violence that will occur after that (or maybe you don’t if you believe all civil wars are CIA plots), but you will still absolve Trump of what happens, because to you an isolationist America is worth any price.

  3. Mr. Cole, you jump to conclusions generally. There are many uneducated Americans, really stupid ones. This is not Trumps fault. I wonder how people can call Trump a racists. Don’t they know that his daughter converted to orthodox Judaism?

    • Dennis, racism is about race. Like insisting that the Harlem Five should be put to death even after being exonerated. Or instituting a policy not to rent to black people. Or seeking the limelight with trumped up charges to delegitimize the first black president. Or how about insinuating a sitting judge is out to get him because he is Hispanic? Something even Paul Ryan called textbook racism.

      So yes, Trump by his own words and actions is a racist.

    • Since Trump actually said “I love less-educated Americans,” I fail to see how Trump’s promises to appeal to them are not relevant.

    • The ignorance isn’t Trump’s fault. However, emboldening the ignorance, certainly is.

  4. Aramaic sounds like Arabic, in fact Arabic became the default language by virtue of the adoption of its writing system by speakers of related languages. It’s no surprise that the bigoted woman thought she was abusing an Arab. Middle Easterners, South Asians and others related to them are going to get more of this if the Trump regime acts as Trump has said it it will. And in other countries that take some of their socio-political cues from the US there may be some of that too. In Australia my modestly dressed Muslim wife and daughter were criticised loudly on a suburban train by a man who said, “These people come here and try to force OUR people to change the way they dress.” We are Australian and our forebears arrived in the country before the mid 19th century. My daughter confronted him, told him that and demanded to know where he was from. As he sank back into his seat he said sullenly, “England.”

  5. Public shaming is a time tested and excellent way of non-violently teaching folks manners, mores, and the responsibility of learning before we speak. I do not believe in laws for censorship, but public shaming, when done smartly without evil intent, is just and good.

  6. “…..[s]ometimes its called Syriac or Chaldean.”

    “So after Trump’s electoral victory, an Assyrian woman…..”

    Let me point out that Metro Detroit’s Iraqi-American Catholic (Chaldean) community numbers approximately 100,000 and overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump in the last election – they had their own group with a Facebook presence “Chaldeans for Trump”. I know this as I was a GOP precinct delegate last summer and received numerous requests from Chaldean-Americans for Donald Trump lawn signs and bumper stickers for their homes and businesses. I had to contact a Trump regional campaign manager who had to limit distribution of supplies due to the high regional demand for Trump campaign materials.

    The Chaldean-American support for Trump emanates due to the persecution in Iraq against the Christian minority by Muslims – and the hard line Trump is taking against Muslims.

    Donald Trump won the State of Michigan by only 13,000 votes – so it is conceivable that Chaldean-Americans via their votes, campaign donations, and electioneering swung the state to a Trump victory.

  7. I have no doubt that Jesus himself would be labelled a terrorist in America today, regardless of what language he spoke.

  8. It is amazing to see antiwar people make excuses for the rise of a fascist movement in America, on the grounds that anything that is the opposite of liberalism will lead to the destruction of the international order created by Hitler’s defeat and that order is the source of all evil.

  9. Dr. Cole, great observations and points, but rather one-sided for those of us who study these Christian communities of the ME and/or belong to them. My first reaction to your post was “Chaldeans deserve this, for having voted for Trump. Just wait and see how they will pay for their Islamophobia.” I spent the summer pleading with my Chaldean family and friends in Detroit to be aware of the stakes if they voted for Trump. Not much success. No logic could reverse that deeply entrenched Islamophobia. Back when they voted for Bush, they thought that by invading Iraq the U.S. would save their community there. They saw the results with their own eyes. What does it take to teach them a history lessons? A trip to the revived internment camps?

    • This is not going to make you feel any better, but there is an old joke among Poles that will show you it’s not a unique problem.

      A Polish farmer finds an old lamp in his field and conjures a genie from it who grants him three wishes. Each time, he wishes that the Mongols rise up and sack Poland. Each time it happens, and Poland is ever more ruined. After the last time, the genie says, “It is done. But why did you want those awful Mongols to lay waste to your own country three times?”

      The farmer replies, “because in order to get here each time, the Mongols had to go all the way through Russia twice.”

    • True enough, but it doesn’t make this abuse right or fair. The Chaldeans don’t deserve to be the target of racist attacks just because some of them, or most of them, voted for a racist.

      • Roughly 3% of Iraq is Christian – but the religious affiliation Iraqi-Americans in Metro Detroit probably is 90% Christian or greater. The reason many have left Iraq over the previous decades was due to religious persecution – which exists to this day.

        Nevertheless, incidents of violence and discrimination against Iraqi-Americans in Metro Detroit during the Persian Gulf War in 1990-1991 fell heavily on Christian Iraqi-Americans – many of whom had relatives serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.

        • Oh, no. The majority of Iraqi-Americans in southeast Michigan is almost certainly Shiite, who also suffered a lot of persecution.

        • @Juan Cole: There were virtually no Iraqi Shi’ites in Metro Detroit until after the Persian Gulf War. The influx of refugees led to a greater number – many of whom supported the government-in-exile Iraqi National Congress – and were prepared to return to Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

          Iraqi Chaldeans were in Detroit in substantial numbers dating back to the 1930s – opening up grocery stores in increasing numbers and assimilating well into Michigan society as professionals and public office holders and intermarrying with other Catholics. The Iraqi Shia Muslim population in Metro Detroit is largely an insular community that is substantial in Dearborn and to some degree in Hamtramck.

          The vast majority of Iraqi-Americans in Metro Detroit are Christian, however there have clearly been an increasing percentage of Iraqi Shia – many of whom have emigrated from southern Iraq to the U.S. and settling in Michigan since 1990.

Comments are closed.