That’s the provocative title of a long and fascinating article by Franck Salameh in the Fall 2011 Middle East Quarterly; it’s too richly detailed, and goes in too many directions, for me to try to summarize it, so I’ll just pull out a couple of quotes and send you to the source for more. Here Salameh quotes cultural anthropologist Selim Abou on Lebanon’s “endogenous and congenital multilingualism”:
From the very early dawn of history up to the conquests of Alexander the Great, and from the times of Alexander until the dawning of the first Arab Empire, and finally, from the coming of the Arabs up until modern times, the territory we now call Lebanon—and this is based on the current state of archaeological and historical discoveries—has always practiced some form of bilingualism and polyglossia; one of the finest incarnations of intercultural dialogue and coexistence.
And here is his final judgment on Sherif Shubashy’s book Down with Sibawayh If Arabic Is to Live on!:
This then, the recognition and normalization of dialects, could have been a fitting conclusion and a worthy solution to the dilemma that Shubashy set out to resolve. Unfortunately, he chose to pledge fealty to MSA and classical Arabic—ultimately calling for their normalization and simplification rather than their outright replacement. [….] This is at best a disappointing and desultory solution, not only due to its chimerical ambitions but also because, rather than simplifying an already cluttered and complicated linguistic situation, it suggested the engineering of an additional language for the “Arab nation” to adopt as a provisional national idiom.
His final paragraph begins “Ultimately, however, it is society and communities of users—not advocacy groups, linguistic guilds, and preservation societies—that decide the fate of languages.” I trust no one will be surprised if I applaud. (Thanks for the link, Paul!)