The Arab League: an appropriate symbol of the Arabic language?

When it comes to flags representing languages, the Arab League is a common choice for representing the Arabic language. Arabic is a shared language between all states: a unique scenario in comparison to similar organisations such as the European Union, African Union and Organization of American States, all of whom have many different languages within their member states.

Arab League
Flag of the Arab League: the seal reads “League of Arab States” in Arabic

What exactly is the Arab League? Quoting a BBC News profile:

“The League of Arab States, or Arab League, is a voluntary association of countries whose peoples are mainly Arabic speaking or where Arabic is an official language.”

There’s obviously a strong relationship between the Arabic language and the Arab League. But how appropriate — really — is the flag of the Arab League in representing the Arabic language?

The Arab League is a political entity, and as the civil agitation around the Arab world in 2011 has demonstrated, international politics are not only complicated but often in a state of flux. At the time of writing, Syria is suspended from the Arab League: and there is much speculation that fellow member-state Yemen may follow. Earlier in 2011, Libya was blocked from the Arab League before having its membership restored in August. In the past Egypt has also been suspended — back in 1979 — and current events in Egypt are also highly volatile.

If Syria and Yemen are suspended from the Arab League, are they suspended from the Arabic language? Of course not. It’s a ridiculous suggestion. But it does illustrate that the relationship between the Arabic language and the Arab League is not an absolute one.

While the Arab League is comprised of countries that share Arabic as a common language, it’s not an absolute representation of all countries where Arabic is spoken: it’s also an official language in Chad, Eritrea and even Israel.

Is there a better flag to represent the Arabic language? Probably not. That’s because flags in essence represent nations, countries and in the case of the Arab League, organisations: they do not represent languages.

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