Gary Moore: Still Got the Blues
For Valentine's Day


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I love it!

I agree. That video is hilarious. It is delightful that Chesterton, whose political incorrectness was so thorough and multi-faceted, should have been captured on film saying something politically incorrect. But, then, the angels always did smile on him.

It isn't just "political incorrectness"; it is inaccurate and offensive, sort of like calling Catholics "Papists". It is ironic that a man so free from the prejudices of his time would be filmed saying this, but then even the wise are rarely able to transcend every aspect of their culture...

Is that really so? I am asking honestly. I've come across "Mohammedan", and even "Musselman", in older literature, and I don't recall them being used in perjorative or polemical senses.

According to the OED "Mohammedan" has been in use since the middle of the seventeenth century, and the dictionary cites a note (from 1992) that the word is "now" considered offensive. Presumably that "now" implies that it was formerly not so considered. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as "of or relating to Mohammed or Islam", without labelling it offensive.

The Wikipedia page for the word -- and we know how infallible Wikipedia is -- notes that "Mohammedan" was widely used until the 1960s, citing Fowler's A Dictionary of Modern English Usage as an authority.

To a speaker in the 1930s, the word might well -- I don't know -- have meant something like "Papist", a crude word meant to demean. But it seems to me it might have been used more neutrally, as we use "Lutheran" or "Calvinist" -- that is, a Mohammedan need not be thought to worship, but only to follow the special teachings of, Mohammed.

I'm pretty sure it's true that in general the word was not intended to be pejorative at the time. It seems, as you say, to have been pretty much the standard word used until fairly recently. So I don't think GKC's use of it was offensive in the sense that the word "papist" would be in the mouth of, for instance, a hard-line Ulster Protestant. Presumably at some point it was recognized that the term was inaccurate and that Muslims objected to the theological implication of it.

Actually what he seems to be saying here is a bit of self-deprecation: "I'm not a crusader but at least I'm not a Mohammedan" = "I'm not much of a soldier but at least I'm not fighting on the other side."

I think that whatever offensiveness there was in Chesterton's comment resides not so much in his particular choice of words ("Mohammedan" vs. "Muslim"), but in the idea he expressed. Even if he had said, "I am not much of a Crusader, but at least I am not a Muslim", the offensiveness is hardly reduced.

I agree with Mac that he is being self-deprecating, playing on the name of the Holy Cross Crusaders who are honouring him. Still, news coverage of the event, if it had happened today, would ignore all that and probably read, "Chesterton Slams Muslims! -- Says Not One of Them".

What a horrible scenario...pundits babbling about the "gaffe," asking if GKC can recover, perhaps some Muslim riots...

Medieval Christians mistakenly believed that Muslims worshiped Muhammed, the way they (we) worship Christ. The term is at best a misnomer, and is offensive to Muslims, which is reason enough not to use it.
Chesterton, of course, was using the accepted terminology of his times, and at any rate was intending only his usual humor, not a serious commentary on Islam; not that he would necessarily have transcended his times if he had...
No matter, even a good and wise man like GKC is a man of his times, as we are of ours.

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