Some Americans took the ‘haboob’ advisory to signal a takeover by Arabs


haboob announcementTexan anger at their weather service’s description of the duststorm as “haboob” was a reminder of the profound limitations imposed by ignorance. And of Islamophobia.

To those who know (or have read that wonderful novel ‘The English patient’) a haboob is a very particular kind of dust storm.

It refers to a situation in which a collapsing thunderstorm exhales a burst of wind, which collects dust and can grow into a dark cloud. It’s more localized than a duststorm. That’s a Haboob and it is common in America’s desert Southwest and in the Middle East, where the term originated.

To some Texans, more specifically in Lubbock, it was an insult, a sign of an Arab or Muslim takeover of the skies.

Consider these extraordinarily ignorant remarks on the US National Weather Service Lubbock’s Facebook page:

** Haboob!?! I’m a Texan. Not a foreigner from Iraq or Afghanistan. They might have haboobs but around here in the Panhandle of TEXAS, we have Dust Storms. So would you mind stating it that way. I’ll find another weather service

** In over 50 yrs of my life that had been a sand storm. We live in Texas which is in the US not the middle east

** In Texas, nimrod, this is called a sandstorm. We’ve had them for years! If you would like to move to the Middle East you can call this a haboob. While you reside here, call it a sandstorm. We Texans will appreciate you.

** I lived in Texas for a long time and never seen a haboob or whatever it is.

Those comments were in response to the Weather Service’s 00:59 Facebook post, which read as follows: “A Haboob is rapidly approaching the Lubbock airport and may affect the city as well.”

According to The Washington Post, the same sort of ignorant row erupted in Arizona back in 2011 when some people said they were “insulted that local TV news crews are now calling this kind of storm a haboob, How do they think our soldiers feel coming back to Arizona and hearing some Middle Eastern term?”

Never mind the oversensitivity. It’s right to use the correct name to describe a developing weather condition.

Storms have a certain personality and winds have specificity, which is why they have different names, as Michael Ondaatje’s novel so evocatively described. Full extract from ‘The English Patient’ below this blog. Meanwhile, here are a few of the magical names given to winds that may variously blow dust, poison, heat in various parts of the world:

** Southern Morocco’s whirlwind is the ‘aajej’

** The africo

** The aim, a fall wind out of Yugoslavia

** The hot arifi, also christened are/or rifi

** The bist roz in Afghanistan

** The hot, dry ghibli from Tunis

** The harmattan

** Imbat, a sea breeze in North Africa

** The khamsin, a dust in Egypt from March to May

** The datoo out of Gibraltar

** The nafliat out of Arabia

** The mezzar-ifoullousen, a violent and cold southwesterly the Berbers know well

** The beshabar, a black and dry northeasterly out of the Caucasus

** The Samiel from Turkey

** The simoom, of North Africa

** The Solano.

Quite apart from this, different weather terms entered English from various languages – hurricane, tornado, derecho, El Niño and La Niña are from Spanish – and tsunami is Japanese.

And finally, as an embarrassed Texan wrote in to the anti-Haboobers:

David Czarnecki Here are a few more words from Arabic:
admiral adobe albacore alchemy alcohol alcove alembic alfalfa algebra Algol algorithm alkali Allah almanac amber antimony apricot Arab arsenal artichoke assassin attar ayatollah azimuth azure Betelgeuse bled bora…


Extract from ‘The English Patient’:

There is a whirlwind in southern Morocco, the aajej, against which the fellahin defend themselves with knives. There is the africo, which has at times reached into the city of Rome. The aim, a fall wind out of Yugoslavia. The arifi, also christened are/or rifi, which scorches with numerous tongues. These are permanent winds that live in the present tense.

There are other, less constant winds that change direction, that can knock down horse and rider and realign themselves anticlockwise. The bist roz leaps into Afghanistan for 170 days — burying villages. There is the hot, dry ghibli from Tunis, which rolls and rolls and produces a nervous condition. The haboob—a Sudan dust storm that dresses in bright yellow walls a thousand metres high and is followed by rain. The harmattan, which blows and eventually drowns itself into the Atlantic.

Imbat, a sea breeze in North Africa. Some winds that just sigh towards the sky. Night dust storms that come with the cold. The khamsin, a dust in Egypt from March to May, named after the Arabic word for “fifty,” blooming for fifty days — the ninth plague of Egypt. The datoo out of Gibraltar, which carries fragrance.

There is also the ———, the secret wind of the desert, whose name was erased by a king after his son died within it.

And the nafliat—a blast out of Arabia. The mezzar-ifoullousen —a violent and cold southwesterly known to Berbers as “that which plucks the fowls.” The beshabar, a black and dry northeasterly out of the Caucasus, “black wind.” The Samiel from Turkey, “poison and wind,” used often in battle. As well as the other “poison winds,” the simoom, of North Africa, and the solano, whose dust plucks off rare petals, causing giddiness.

Other, private winds.

Travelling along the ground like a flood. Blasting off paint, throwing down telephone poles, transporting stones and statue heads. The harmattan blows across the Sahara filled with red dust, dust as fire, as flour, entering and coagulating in the locks of rifles. Mariners called this red wind the “sea of darkness.” Red sand fogs out of the Sahara were deposited as far north as Cornwall and Devon, producing showers of mud so great this was also mistaken for blood. “Blood rains were widely reported in Portugal and Spain in 1901.