Name: “Jihad”

jihadIs it a provocation or an incitement to terrorism to name your son “Jihad”?  How about if you send your son, Jihad, to school wearing a t-shirt stating “Je suis une bombe” (I am a bomb)?  This actual case is being tried currently in France, with a judgment expected next month.  The boy in question was born Sept 11, 2009 and was given the name Jihad by his parents.  Last fall his uncle gave him a t-shirt with the bomb quote on the front and on the back, “Jihad, né le 11 septembre” (Jihad, born September 11th), which he wore one day to nursery school. Bouchra Bagour, the mother, was reported to police by the teacher and charged with “glorifying crime”.  She and the uncle now face a maximum sentence of up to five years in prison and a 45,000 Euros fine. They say the shirt was supposed to be a joke and highlight the boy’s birthday.

In fact, the actual meaning of “Je suis une bombe” is something like I’m fantastic (like English ‘da bomb’).  Jihad is a first name that has been used for a long time.  The case has created much discussion in France.  Here’s one comment from a reader forum for the French daily Le Parisien:

“Je m appelle Jihad , j’ai fait des études et je n’ai aucun problème dans ma vie. Jihad n’est pas un prénom né le 11 septembre , vous êtes au courant ? Il est donné depuis des millénaires. Le mot jihad à la base veut dire lutte contre ses péchés.” (My name is Jihad, I’m a university graduate and have never had any problems [with my name].  Jihad is not a name created by September 11th, did you know that?  It’s been used for millennia.  The word jihad means to fight to overcome one’s sins.).

It’s not just in France that the word Jihad arouses controversy. Last fall conservative blogger Pamela Gellar’s American Freedom Defense Initiative ran a series of ads on buses which stated, “”In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man…Support Israel, Defeat Jihad.” In response, the the Council on American-Islamic Relations has begun a campaign to educate Americans both about the traditional meaning of jihad and the real nature of Muslims.  The “My Jihad” campaign is running ads on public buses, featuring Muslim Americans talked about the struggles they have confronted (i.e., their “jihads”).


barbaraStory today on NPR about the song “Gottingen” from French singer Barbara.  A beautiful song, beautifully sung, on an unlikely subject for a popular French song – French-German friendship.  This was even the more the case at the time when the song was written, in 1964, when the memories of WW II were fresh.  More surprising is the fact that the woman who wrote and performed the song, whose real name was Monique Andrée Serf, was a French Jew, who had a traumatic childhood, hiding from the Nazis in occupied France. She had been invited to come to Göttingen, a small university town in central Germany. She categorically declined the offer, but eventually was persuaded to come for just one concert, but then ended up staying for a week, having been overwhelmed by the positive reception and the friendliness of the people.

At the end of the week, she wrote the moving tribute to the city, in which she dares to compare the sleepy German town to Paris.  She celebrates “les enfants blonds de Göttingen” (the blond children), the Grimm fairy tales (Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm were professors there), and the dark soul of the Germans (“Eux, c’est la mélancolie même” – with them it’s melancholy itself).  The images strike us today as stereotypes, but they are positive – not like the negative images prevalent at the time in France. The song had an impact on the relations between the two countries and has been referenced by politicians from both Germany (Gerhard Schröder) and France (François Mitterand).