Teaching Arabic in the US after 9/11

Chris Stone

On 9 May 2013 I was stabbed in front of the US Embassy in Cairo. My attacker was a young college-educated Egyptian man who had come from his village that day to kill an American in “revenge over U.S. policies in the Middle East.” At the time, I was living in Egypt and conducting research as part of my sabbatical from Hunter College of the City University of New York where I teach Arabic. The day I was stabbed, I had come to the Embassy looking to have a translation of my marriage certificate authenticated so that my wife’s Egyptian residency permit might be renewed.

After the attack, a few Egyptian journalist friends wrote about the event, partly to rectify some of the early misreporting in the Egyptian press. The main shared goal of their articles, though, was to declare that my attacker could not have picked a less appropriate target, given my love of Arabic and Arab culture. These overly generous portrayals did not prevent me from asking myself very early on: was I really such an unsuitable target? Not that my attacker knew what I do for a living, but the thought crossed my mind that perhaps, someone out for revenge on US policy in the Arab and Islamic World after 11 September 2001 could do worse than inadvertently target a teacher of Arabic.