If I say the word “haboob,” are you outraged? Does that word make you want to post angry comments on Facebook? If not, then apparently you aren't from Texas.
The term “Haboob” is the Arabic word for wind—try saying it a few times, it’s fun!—and American meteorologists have been using it since the 1950’s to describe a huge sandstorm. Most recently, however, the word inspired a mini-firestorm.
Shortly after KCBD News Channel 11 in Lubbock, Texas posted a photo on its Facebook page with the caption “Haboob headed toward Lubbock” Texans begun to freak out, taking to Facebook to make it clear they aren’t fond of Arabs or Muslims therefore don’t want to hear no, “meddle [sic] eastern term.”
The hullabaloo over “haboob” ranged from run of the mill xenophobic comments such as, “Its a freakin’ dust storm people!! Its not a Haboob!! This is America....be proud!!!” to the more angry, racist remarks like:
“Since when do we need to apply a Muslim vocabulary to a good ole AMERICAN dirt storm?? ...I take great offense to such terminology! GO BACK TO CALLING THEM DIRT STORMS!!”
“It’s called a dust storm..Texas is not a rag head country.”
“Never had a haboob until we got that Muslim boob for POTUS.”
“John Robinson [the station’s meteorologist] wants to call it a Haboob, let him MOVE to where a SAND STORM is called that!!!!!!!!!!”
These comments weren’t posted anonymously, rather people made them using their actual Facebook accounts. These people truly didn’t care if friends, co-workers, the media, etc., observed their hateful crap. Being Muslim and of Arab heritage, that doesn't surprise me because I’m keenly aware that we are among the last groups that you can openly demonize without fear of repercussions.
But I always try to look at the bright side of every situation. Reading these closed-minded remarks made me glad that the National Weather Service doesn’t give hurricanes Arabic names. I can only imagine the angry comments if these people heard: “Hurricane Mahmoud is coming! Everyone evacuate because Mahmoud is a killer!” (And I think my relatives named Mahmoud are relieved as well!)
If only these people realized how many other Arabic-based words are part of our daily lexicon. Take, for example, the word “alcohol,” which is probably what many of them were consuming before posting on Facebook. There’s also words like algebra, coffee, safari, and almanac, to name just a few.
I wonder if in the same vein of changing “french fries" to “freedom fries,” these Arab haters will now call alcohol, “Texas juice” or rename algebra to, “that thing I failed in school.”
Thankfully, among the bigotry, there was a bright, shining ray of hope in the form of positive comments that far outnumbered the anti-Arab/anti-Muslim ones, such as:
“You realize your racist comments made are going viral and brought down Lubbock as a whole?...You people are really just intolerant and racist”
“People saying, ‘I ain't using that Arab term,’ are probably the same ignorant people who don't believe in moving forward and think our president is the Anti-Christ.”
“All of you losing your minds over this need to go sit in the corner and have a timeout. No more internet for you today.”
“Jeez, people, get it together...that kind of stupidity reflects badly on all of us.”
I highly doubt we would’ve seen that a few years ago—especially on the Facebook page of a Texas TV station. After all, Texas is the place where Republican Representative Louie Gohmert hails from, and he has spewed some of the most vile anti-Muslim comments of any member of Congress.
While reading the hundreds of comments criticizing the bigots posted by people of all different backgrounds, I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy...was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”
This wide cross-section of “good people” who took time out of their day to speak out was truly moving. Hopefully, the actions of people like them will inspire other Americans to also stand up to bigotry regardless of the group it’s directed against, be it Blacks, Latinos, Jews, LGBT, Muslims, Sikhs, etc.
In a country of over 300 million, it’s unlikely we can ever eliminate all racism and prejudice in our great nation. We must, however, remain vigilant in our efforts to marginalize the voices of intolerance. As Dr. King instructively explained: “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.”