From the Ethics of Nouns and Adjectives to the Ethics of Verbs and Adverbs
I read a very intriguing book recently called The War Against Grammar by David Mulroy. His book argues that we have lost the ability to communicate well because we have lost grammar. The Muslim civilization was a civilization deeply invested in the study of grammar. If you want to define the Islamic civilization with an adjective, you could say it was a grammatical civilization; it was an Ummah Nahwiyya. Naḥu (grammar) was the fundamental science of the Muslims. This is because the first revelation in our tradition was “Read in the Name of your Lord.” You have to know grammar to read properly and without mistakes, and so the Muslims were obsessed with grammar.
Grammar also has Metaphysical Implications
In the 1920s, a lot of Black autoworkers were brought in because the corporations wanted cheap labor. This caused many white autoworkers, whose jobs were taken, to get very upset. In this setting, a Black man named Henry Sweet bought a house in a White neighborhood. One day, an angry White mob gathered outside of his house and were threatening him. The confrontation actually became violent. Henry Sweet had a gun and fired upon one of them, killing him. That dispersed the mob, and the police came. His entire family, all eleven members, were put on trial for murder. Fortunately, they had a defense attorney named Clarence Darrow. Darrow argued that the only reason the Sweets were even in court was because this man and his family were Black. Darrow argued that if this were a White man and a Black mob had done the same to him and his family, we wouldn’t even have an indictment; there would have been no grand jury; they would have seen it as self-defense, case closed.
Darrow asked an all-White jury to look into their hearts and ask themselves if there was anything other then racial prejudice that was motivating them. If that was the case, then they should be true to the law of this country and acquit Henry Sweet.
Darrow gave a brilliant defense, and Sweet was acquitted. That is because he took them from the ethics of nouns and adjectives to the ethics of verbs and adverbs, and this, I would argue, is the single most important thing that we as human beings must do if we are going to survive as a species. That is because when you are in the ethics of adjectives and nouns, this is how it works: in France, two Algerians killed twelve Frenchmen (because those two French men who were of Algerian background are not considered French in the eyes of the white French).
Ahmed Merabet is not considered French because he doesn’t have a name like “Pierre.” You may speak French, but you’re not considered French if you have a name like Syeed al-Jazari. You’re not really French because our morality is one based on nouns and adjectives, and that’s what defines you, not verbs and adverbs. If you say “A killed B,” the operative word there should be “killed”; that should determine how you feel about it. But if you say, “A Palestinian killed a Jew in Israel,” the focus is not on verbs here: the focus is on the nouns and adjectives, and that’s your morality. With this morality, the Palestinian concludes, “Oh, it must have been justified; the Jew must have been the wrong one.” And the Israeli concludes, “The Jew must have been killed unjustifiably because the killer is Palestinian, so of course it couldn’t have been self-defense.” In this line of thinking, whoever killed those Israelis who were part of that racist soccer club — automatically, ipso facto, it has to be, “the Palestinians are wrong because they are Palestinians.” It’s as simple as that.
But when you move into a view of morality based in verbs and adverbs, “killed” is the operative word. That action is what is wrong, not who is doing it; it is what was done that is wrong. The verb may then be qualified by an adverb. Such as: he killed them in self-defense; he killed them justifiably; he killed them unjustly. Those are the things that we need to focus on and not who it was, not who did something to whom.
This isn’t about Muslims and non-Muslims; this is about right and wrong. Right and wrong are not determined by nouns and adjectives. Morality is determined by verbs and adverbs, and this is why we have to learn to communicate better and understand what’s really happening on this planet. Who is really suffering and what actions are the cause of that?