Jewish Terrorism, Christian Terrorism, Hindu Terrorism

In the twenty-first century, not only because of the hideous crime of September 11 but also because of several other incidents of especially Arab Muslim violence, terrorism has, in the eyes of many, become a crime associated with Muslims and Arabs. Muslims ostensibly motivated in part by religion were behind the September 11 attacks, the March 11 bombing of trains in Madrid, the 2005 London bombings of buses and trains and the 2002 and 2005 Bali bombs. Terrorism is of course, however, not the sole domain of Muslims–people of all faiths have been guilty of heinous acts against civilians, in order to terrorize, often in the name of religion. In this post, a reminder of (in part) religion-motivated terrorist acts throughout history by non-Muslims.

Jewish Terrorism

It is said by some that the first terrorists in history were a first century Jewish group opposing Roman rule called the Sicarii (“dagger men”), who directed attacks and assassinations of Jews, including priests, who were collaborating with Roman authorities.

Some of the most active and notorious terrorist groups in the 20th century were Jewish Zionist groups in now Israel: Irgun and Lehi.

Irgun was formed in the 1930s by Zionist Jews who believed that Jews had to be more aggressive in their self-defense in order to support the Jewish Zionist enterprise. In the 1930s, most Irgun actions were retaliatory–conducting “eye for an eye” type campaigns in response to Arab violence against Jews–but by the end of World War II Irgun had begun engaging in actions against the British authorities, who they believed were managing Palestine against Zionist interests, including by limiting Jewish immigration. Irgun attacks included bombings of British government buildings, such as the immigration, tax and police offices, the bombing of the British Embassy in Rome and a car bombing of a British officers’ club.

The three most infamous terrorist attacks by Irgun were the 1946 King David Hotel bombing, the 1947 Sergeants affair and the 1948 Deir Yassin massacre. On July 22, 1946, Irgun operatives bombed the King David Hotel, a luxury hotel in Jerusalem used by the British authorities as a headquarters, resulting in 91 deaths. It was one of the deadliest terrorist attacks of the 20th century, allegedly in part because warnings to evacuate the buliding were unheeded. In 1947, in retaliation for recent executions of Irgun operatives by the British administration, Irgun kidnapped and hanged two British sergeants. Their bodies were then booby-trapped with IEDs and hung up in trees, and a third British soldier was injured trying to recover the bodies.

The deadliest of the three, however, was the Deir Yassin massacre, an attack against an Arab Palestinian village. The attack was so heinous that prominent Jews in the west (including Albert Einstein and Hannah Arendt) wrote a letter to the New York Times condeming Irgun as a “terrorist, right-wing, chauvinist organization” and described how “terrorist bands attacked [the] peaceful village, which was not a military objective in the fighting, killed most of its inhabitants – 240 men, women and children – and kept a few of them alive to parade as captives through the streets of Jerusalem.” Orphans were left at Jaffa Gate of Jerusalem’s Old City.

The Deir Yassin massacre was conducted by Irgun in coordination with a second Jewish terrorist group called the Lehi. Lehi’s politics were so confused that it actually proposed joining the Nazi cause in World War II in order to weaken British control of Palestine. A Lehi newsletter defended its acts thus:

Neither Jewish ethics nor Jewish tradition can disqualify terrorism as a means of combat. We are very far from having any moral qualms as far as our national war goes. We have before us the command of the Torah, whose morality surpasses that of any other body of laws in the world: “Ye shall blot them out to the last man.” But first and foremost, terrorism is for us a part of the political battle being conducted under the present circumstances, and it has a great part to play: speaking in a clear voice to the whole world, as well as to our wretched brethren outside this land, it proclaims our war against the occupier. We are particularly far from this sort of hesitation in regard to an enemy whose moral perversion is admitted by all.

Just as some Palestinian organizations have taken an ethno-national cause–the cessation of the occupation of Arab Palestine–and turned it into a religious conflict, with violence activated by faith, Lehi justified violence in the nationalist Zionist agenda with a virulent reading of Jewish religious texts. Lehi was also responsible for the assassination of a British minister in Cairo and a UN mediator in Jerusalem.

Leaders of Irgun and Lehi went on to powerful positions in the State of Israel. Menachem Begin, the sixth Prime Minister of Israel, was head of the Irgun from 1943 to 1948. Seventh Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir was among Lehi’s leaders. Although both Irgun and Lehi have been labeled terrorist organizations by the State of Israel, in 2006, Natanyahu and former Irgun members celebrated the King David Hotel bombing’s 60th anniversary, and Lehi members have been honored by the Israeli government as martyrs of the state.

Christian Terrorism

There have been many Christian terrorists of various stripes, but the two groups that come to mind are anti-abortion terrorists in the United States and Serbian troops and their assistors in Bosnia.

Anti-abortion terrorists in the U.S., angry with the constitutionally protected (though circumscribed) right to abortion, have waged a terrorist campaign for decades against abortion clinics and doctors, justified by their own religious beliefs. Since 1977 in the U.S. and Canada, there have been 8 murders, 17 attempted murders and hundreds of death threats, as well as hundreds of bombings, arsons and bomb threats.

The Bosnian War was to a large extent an ethnic war among the different ethnic groups in the former Yugoslavia, but it took a decidedly religion-based terrorist slant in the massacres of Muslim Bosnians in Srebrenica, where about 8000 defenseless Bosnians were slaughtered by Serbians and other Christian “volunteers” from countries such as Russia and Greece.

Hindu Terrorism

The most widely publicized terrorist attacks in India have been those in Bombay by Muslim groups, but there has also been substantial violence by Hindus against Muslims, as in the 2002 Gujarat riots, in which almost 800 Muslim Indians (and 200 Hindu Indians) were killed, aided by local Hindu authorities and political leaders. (Hindu-on-Muslim violence was memorialized in the movie Slumdog Millionaire.) Some Muslim-targeted bombs have also been attributed by some to Hindu “Saffron terror.”

Although the Tamil Tigers primarily represented an ethnic struggle rather than a religious one–the Tamils were both ethnically and religiously distinctive from the majority Sinhalese–some of the attacks of the Tamil Tigers against Tamil-speaking Muslims could be said to be religious terrorism perpetrated by the Hindu Tamils. As far as I am aware, however, the attacks were not justified on religious grounds.

Reuse of Religious Sites III

This is the third in a series of posts on reuse of existing religious sites by new/different religions. Please read my posts of 2008.11.10 and 2009.02.01 for additional background and examples from Europe and the Middle East.

Religious sites tend to be converted according to whoever is in power, of course, and religious sites in the Middle East often went from pagan to Christian to Muslim, while religious sites in Spain went from Christian to Muslim back to Christian. In India, religious sites generally went from Hindu or Jain to Muslim, and in some cases back to Hindu again after independence. The reuse of religious sites is an extremely controversial topic in India, because it touches on Muslim/Hindu rivalries which are fraught with tremendous historical weight.

The single most controversial (in recent years) temple-to-mosque conversion was the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh. Built by Mughal Emperor Babur in the 16th century, Hindus claimed that it was built on the site of a Hindu temple commemorating Rama’s birthplace (while Jains claimed that it was built on the site of a Jain temple). (Indeed, the destruction/conversion of “heathen” temples has been a favorite activity of Abrahamic faiths–the zeal with which medieval Christians destroyed and converted pagan temples is well-recorded in literature. Similarly, some of the Muslim conquerors from the west arrived in India and felt compelled to wreak havoc to the native polytheistic faith.) Controversy over the site raged through the British Raj. In 1949, a couple of Hindu idols were furtively erected in the mosque, and in the 1980s the mosque, which was previously under lock and key, was opened to Hindu worshippers. Finally, in 1992, a crowd of Hindu extremists known as the Kar Sevaks gathered outside the Babri Mosque and formed a rampaging crowd that completed destroyed it. A Muslim mob retaliated in 2002 by attacking a group of Kar Sevaks heading back from Ayodhya, killing 58 aboard a train, after which horrific mob violence resulted all over Gujarat State, resulting in over a thousand deaths, largely Muslim. The violence was said to be aided by local Hindu nationalist authorities–post to come.

Especially given the destruction of the Babri Mosque, but even before its destruction, the most famous temple-to-mosque conversion, for tourists, is the Quwwat ul-Islam Mosque next to the Qutb Minar in southern Delhi. The Qutb Minar and Quwwat ul-Islam Mosque were built by India’s first Muslim ruler and the founder of the Delhi Sultanate, Qutb-ud-din Aibak, in the late 12th century. According to an inscription, the mosque was built by parts taken from the destruction of twenty-seven temples, believed to be Jain.

The Qutb Minar, as seen from the columns of the ruined mosque, and a second image of the columns. In the first picture, note that the head of the small figure on the corner has been defaced, a common occurrence given Muslim prohibitions on representations of human forms. The elaborate carvings on the columns are clearly non-Muslim, and are said to be from preceding temples or created by local (non-Muslim) artisans.

Near the lower right corner of this picture, an empty space where there would have been a figure of a Hindu or Jain deity.

One of the most famous objects at the Qutb Complex is the “iron pillar of Delhi,” cast in the 4th century, centuries before the arrival of Aibak. The pillar is celebrated for its astonishing purity of 98% and its resistance to corrosion for all of these centuries.

We were quite struck by the resemblance of some of the ceilings at the Quwwat ul-Islam Mosque to ceilings in the Pamirs and Hunza, as well as Timbuktu.

Ceilings in the Tajikistan Pamirs and Pakistan’s Hunza Valley

Ceiling in Timbuktu. This ceiling was at a market, but I believe references another famous structure in Mali.

Another conversion by Qutb-ud-din Aibak is the Adhai Din ka Jhonpra, or “Two and a Half Day Mosque” of Ajmer, the Muslim city located in otherwise Hindu Rajasthan. The name of the mosque references the supposed (and astonishing) story that it was built in two and a half days–I imagine this can’t be wholly accurate, but certainly time was saved by reusing an existing Jain temple. Again, the columns are a dead giveaway.

I mentioned in my post of 2009.03.13 Deogiri or Daulatabad Fort, a fortress believed to be have been built in the late 12th century that was captured by the Delhi Sultanate about a hundred years later and starting in 1317 briefly was used as its capital by Delhi Sultan Muhammad bin Tughluq, who marched all of the citizens of Delhi to the city hundreds of miles away. The principal mosque of Daulatabad was a conversion from a Jain temple, as is visible not only from its columns, but from blocks of non-Muslim carvings nearby. In the twentieth century, locals placed a Hindu idol inside, effectively converting the mosque ruin into an active Bharat Mata (Mother India) temple.

Mosque overview, with detail showing the multi-armed Hindu idol in the place of the former mihrab

Blocks of stone found at the site, showing Jain and tantric carvings

The 15th century Adina, or Friday, Mosque of Pandua, located some 250 miles north of Calcutta, incorporates parts of a Hindu temple. (See post of 2009.03.13 on Pandua.)

The bases of the columns are lotus-shaped, while the mihrab uses the swastika, both motifs associated with native Indian religions. Note that the pattern near the top of the mihrab is broken, suggesting that the stones were not originally cut for their current placement/arrangement.

Outside, more obvious clues. The entrance contains carvings with clear (but now empty) niches for Hindu deities while the outside wall incorporates decorated blocks from an older structure.

Malik Mughith’s Mosque at the ruins of Mandu in Madhya Pradesh also reveals reuse, in the empty niches of the column bases.

I do not want to defend the Muslim conquerors/rulers of India, who in any event were alive hundreds of years before ideas of historic preservation or cultural sensitivity had fully developed, but I do want to note that, to a medieval monotheistic outsider, especially one from such an austere tradition as Islam, certain Hindu shrines must surely have seemed particularly evil and befitting destruction. Not only were the Muslims establishing their authority, but in an age before pluralism, they thought that they were doing everyone a favor by ridding the world of pagan shrines.

Shrine to Hindu Deity Chinnamasta in Gour, West Bengal, near the ruins of Pandua

Indian Matrimonial Ads

A female friend of mine in her mid-thirties once told me that she felt that the Western scheme for finding mates had failed her; she thought that she would have much preferred that her parents had arranged a partner for her instead. And, I believe, some statistics have shown that arranged marriages are just as likely to last as “love marriages.” In India, of course, arranged marriages are still extremely common, but, India being a modern country at least in some respects, arranged marriages are not so much about matching up infants among family friends, but about using modern tools, including mass media, to find an ideal spouse.

The Times of India, India’s premier English language daily, regularly runs matrimonial ads. How are they different from, say, personals ads in the United States? First, they are placed from the perspective of the parents rather than the individual, since it is the parents who have the ultimate responsibility for arranging a young person’s marriage. Second, and more importantly, since the ads are focused on finding the right marriage partner, rather than a romantic date, they dwell more on material compatibility than points of physical or emotional love. In fact, one might even say that they are horribly shallow and materialistic–but perhaps those are the kinds of factors that make marriages work (in India and elsewhere).

In this post, some typical and slightly funny (more so to the non-Indian?) matrimonial ads from one edition of the Sunday Times of India.

GIRL v.b’ful smart 28/5’2″ conv MBA CFA wkg MNC Bombay 13 Lack Anum Parents Doctor reputed f’mly. Cont: 09935134932

MNC means multinational corporation, and a Lack (usually spelled lakh) means 100,000 (meaning that the woman makes 1.3 million rupees, or about USD 26,000). I’ve heard that men in the U.S. sometimes include their salaries in online personals profiles, but it’s fairly common for both men and women in India. This may seem rather materialistic, but in a country where class divisions are so great, perhaps a coupling bridging a large income disparity would be unlikely to be successful, in terms of lifestyle compatibility. This ad appeared under “Vaish,” an Indian caste designation. The headings for Indian matrimonial ads are highly specialized, and range from geographic region and caste and religion to some odd categories indeed, such as “Doctors” and “Business.”

Suitable match Punjabi, Hindu or clean shaven Sikh of high status family background, for 1984 born Sikh girl, Class 1 Officer, posted at Mumbai. Father Senior Class 1 officer in Railways. Central Govt./PSU well settled at Mumbai, age 26-29 years will be preferred. Contact:

This ad appeared under “Punjabi,” and indeed the familiy is open to varying religious backgrounds from that region (as long as not a hairy Sikh).

NRI North Indian father is looking for professionally qualified boys settled/willing to settle in USA for fair, beautiful girls. Elder 24, 5’1″ completing post graduation in 2011 in Pharmacy. Younger 22, 5’3″ working in Biotech firm at L.A. Father in India till March 3. Caste no bar. Response invited with Biodata & photo:

This was under the NRI/Green Card category. NRI means “non-resident Indian,” or an overseas Indian. The NRI/Green Card category is used not only to find partners from India for children overseas (i.e., a green card opportunity for the suitor and perhaps a way to get a step up in marriage partner for the advert placer), but also for NRIs to find other NRIs, such that parents will post an ad, in the Times of India, looking for Indian boys living in Michigan for their daughter based in Michigan. Three more things of note in this ad. First, the efficiency in posting an ad for two girls at once. An Indian-American friend we know, who grew up in New York State, traveled to India on a trip that was partially intended for finding a husband for her older sister, when suddenly the tables were turned on her and it was suggested that she too try to find a mate in India (which started with a trip to the fortune teller). The father here is in India on a temporary basis, and wants to kill two birds with one stone. Second, the reference to (“fair”) skin color. Finally, the “caste no bar” line. The Times of India actually provides a 25% discount for “caste/religion no bar” or “no dowry” ads, in the spirit of social progress.

South Delhi based Very Affluent Socially Very Well Connected and Sophisticated Punjabi Family of High Repute involved into Exports Business Seeks Suitable Alliance for their Very Handsome Dynamic and Sober Son 33/5’10″/Schooling from MODERN/Done B.E. from U.S./Engaged into the Flourishing Family Business. We are Looking for a Smart, Tall, Convent Educated Extremely Beautiful Family Oriented Girl hailing from a Cultured Respectable Broadminded Similar Status Family. Caste no bar. Respond with Bio-Data and Recent Photogaphs at

This was under “Business,” which I assume to mean that the marriage is intended as much as a family business alliance as a domestic partnership. The level of socioeconomic puffery in this ad is fairly astonishing, and would certainly be a huge turn-off or no-no in most other countries. It kind of makes you wonder why they need to place a newspaper ad, if they are so very well connected. None of the ads that I selected listed a street address, but we have also been told that people seeking marriage partners will sometimes stay at and use the home of a relative or friend instead of their own in order to have a more prestigious address for the search.

In reading the matrimonial ads, we were puzzled by the relatively frequent appearance of the word “manglik.” Ads would say that a girl or boy was “manglik” or “slightly manglik,” as if it were some sort of disclaimer, while some ads would seek out “manglik” spouses. Before doing a bit of research we thought that it might refer to being overweight or dark-skinned (often an undesired trait), but learned that it was actually an astrological condition related to a person’s birth. People born manglik, it is said, are likely to have disastrous (perhaps even fatal) marriages, unless there are certain mitigating factors or they marry another manglik person. Manglik-ness is a big enough factor for some that “manglik” even has its own category heading.

Pre-Mughal Muslim India

As I have mentioned in previous posts (see posts of 2008.03.28 and 2009.03.06), Islam in India is not at all synonymous with the Mughals, who were really the last in a series of Muslim powers to arise in India. In this post, I wanted to go over some of many Muslim rulers of India that existed prior to the Mughal rulers, and to show some of their grand architectural remains.

The story of Muslim rulers in India starts with Mohammad Ghori, who invaded from now Afghanistan into now India and Pakistan in the 12th century. Muhammad’s general, Qutb-ud-din Aybak, established the Delhi Sultanate, which through various dynasties lasted until the arrival of the Mughals in the 16th century. The most notable of the Delhi Sultans included Shams ud din Iltutmish (1210-1235) and Muhammad bin Tughluq (1325-1351). It is during the rule of Sultan Mohammad bin Tughluq that Ibn Battuta landed in India, acting as a waqif, or judge (see post of 2009.01.23).

Qutb-ud-din Aybak ordered the construction of the Qutb Minar (in now southern Delhi) as a symbol of his establishment of Muslim rule in North India. One of the most spectacular architectural ruins anywhere, and said to resemble precedents in Afghanistan, it is perhaps the greatest symbol of the Delhi Sultanate. The Quwwat ul-Islam Mosque in the Qutb complex is said to be a conversion from Hindu or Jain temples–post to come.

The Qutb Minar

The Quwwat ul-Islam Mosque, with the Minar in the background

Tomb of Iltutmish, in the Qutb complex

Ruins of Tughluqabad, located to the south of New Delhi

Daulatabad, or Deogiri Fort. In 1327, Tughluq forced the entire population of Delhi to move to Daulatabad, thousand of miles away in the Deccan, a horrible and failed experiment.

Some of the tombs of the Lodi and Sayyid dynasties of the Delhi Sultanate are in an undervisited Delhi park known as the Lodi Gardens.

The Delhi Sultanate held on to power in the core northern areas around Delhi for most of its duration, but conquests outside of Delhi often split off into other sultanates and kingdoms, resulting in a great number of other Muslim rulers in the Subcontinent.

The Bahmani Sultanate, founded by a governor of Tughluq, ruled over much of the Deccan from 1347 to 1527, but then splintered into various smaller kingdoms, the most important of which was Golconda/Hyderabad. The Qutb Shahi dynasty of Golconda was originally founded by a minister for the Bahmani Sultanate, and at its height built the new city of Hyderabad nearby. Hyderabad was eventually conquered by Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, but then restored to independent rule under the Nizams, when Mughal control grew weak. For more information on the history of Hyderabad, see my post of 2008.03.28.

Golconda Fort. One of Golconda’s great claims to fame is as the origin of most of the world’s most famous diamonds, including the Koh-i-Noor, now part of the British crown jewels, the Darya-ye Noor, part of the Iranian crown jewels and the Hope diamond, now part of the U.S. Smithsonian collection.

Qutb Shahi Tombs details. Note the Iranian influence of the glazed tiles in the second picture below.

Hyderabad’s famous Char Minar, built in 1591

Jaunpur, located near Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, became an independent state controlled by the Sharqi dynasty after the 1398 sacking of Delhi by Tamerlane substantially weakened the Delhi Sultanate. Mughal Emperor Akbar incorporated Jaunpur into the Mughal Empire in 1559.

Atala Mosque, Jaunpur, built in 1423

Friday Mosque, Jaunpur, built in 1470. The Sharqi dynasty developed its own particular architectural styles, as seen in the Atala and Friday Mosques.

Medresa student, Friday Mosque, Jaunpur

The Ilyas Shah dynasty was created in Bengal in 1338, during another period of Delhi Sultanate weakness, and had its capitals at the cities of Gour and Pandua, located in West Bengal some 250 miles to the north of now Calcutta. Mughal Emperor Akbar incorporated the region into the Mughal Empire in 1576.

Adina, or Friday, Mosque, Pandua, which was built around 1430 and is said to incorporate parts of a Hindu temple (post to come). It was at one time the largest mosque in what is now India.

Bara Sona, or Big Golden, Mosque, Gour, built in 1526 by Sultan Nusrat Shah

Qadam Rasul Mosque, Gour, built in 1513 by Sultan Nusrat Shah and said to house a footprint of Mohammed

A contemporary of the early Mughals, Sher Shah Suri was a Muslim ruler who founded the Sur dynasty in 1540, based out of Sasaram in now Bihar. Sher Shah Suri was able to defeat Humayun, leaving him to retreat and seek assistance from Safavid Iran (see post of 2009.02.16), but was killed in battle after a reign of only five years.

Tomb of Isa Khan Niazi, an Afghan noble in the court of Sher Shah Suri, located near Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi

The Ghuri Kingdom, or Malwa Sultanate, of Mandu (now Madhya Pradesh) was established by Dilawar Khan, then governor of Malwa, when Delhi was sacked by Tamerlane. First Humayun, and later Akbar, added it to the Mughal Empire.

Mandu’s Jahaz Mahal, or Palace of the Winds

Malwa Sultan Hoshang Shah’s Tomb at Mandu is said to be a precursor to the Taj Mahal

Nonverbal Communication

I have previously said on the blog that you can get by nearly anywhere in the world using just English, but of course that’s not wholly accurate–yes, you can get by, but you’ll still find yourself in situations where you or a local will want to say something that the other will not be able to understand. Fortunately, for those instances, there are unlimited possibilities in circumlocution and pantomime, in order to communicate. I thought that it might be fun to note some of the more amusing examples of nonverbal communication that we have encountered on our travels–if you have any you’ve enjoyed, be sure to add them as comments.

The Moose Call. Traveling in Muslim countries, one often (but perhaps not as often as one might think) runs into people’s prayer schedules. Our passenger train, in Iran, stopped for the evening prayer so that people could alight, properly orient themselves, and pray. We have had buses and share taxis do the same, although not as often as we might have thought. Or, a shop may be unattended for a few minutes, while the proprietor or employee is praying. In order to convey to us, the foreign infidels, what exactly is going on–why the bus is stopping or why the counter is empty–locals will raise two hands, palms open, to the sides of their heads, sometimes with their thumbs in or very near their ears, and make a small bowing gesture. Of course, this is intended to mimic the act of bowing for prayer, but to us it looks like a moose imitation, which is why we call it the moose call. It can also be used to find a nearby mosque.

Anticlerical Gestures of Iran. Discontent with Iran’s government, or more generally Iran’s system of government, is rife in Iran, and we encountered several different gestures used to mock or criticize the religious hierarchy used by Iranians eager to communicate their grievances to us. The most common was a hand tracing an imaginary turban on one’s head, a symbol for the theocratic elite of the country. Repeatedly, people would make the gesture, sometimes accompanied by the other hand stroking an imaginary beard, when trying to signify that it is the mullahs who have control and are mismanaging the country and restricting freedoms. The second was the throat-cutting gesture, hand across the neck, which was used surprisingly often not only to describe what would happen to you if you tried to exercise a freedom that was not provided under local law, but also as a general symbol for the government–nowhere else have we seen people associate their government so closely and so repeatedly with execution/murder. One person told us that the only thing stopping the Islamic government from restoring stoning as a form of punishment is international pressure. (We were also once given the throat-cutting gesture as a sort of threat in Nizwa, Oman–surprising given the highly respectful and hospitable treatment we otherwise got from the Omanis.)

Cluck of Approval. We first noticed this from our hoteliers in Bukhara, Uzbekistan, who would click their tongue against the roof of their mouth to signify approval, in our case appreciation of our photographs. Once we noticed it there, we heard it over and over again, particularly in Turkic regions from Turkey to Xinjiang, China.

Picture Please. People around the world vary an incredible amount from wanting their pictures taken to not wanting their pictures taken. In parts of West and North Africa, people can act like you’re trying to steal their soul; in Turkic countries and India, people will chase you for a photo. Especially in the Subcontinent, but elsewhere too, we frequently saw an odd gesture for “Take a picture of me, please”–something like a person looking through an imaginary pair of binoculars formed by their thumbs and pointer fingers.

Mixing Tea. Mauritania and Morocco (and the Tuareg parts of Mali) have a tea tradition that is somewhat peculiar, especially in the way that it is prepared. The tea leaves are boiled on a fire for a very long time, and then sugar is mixed in by pouring the tea back and forth from the pot to a glass, until long after the tea is blended, frothy and ready to drink. In those countries, this mixing gesture–that of pouring a liquid between two vessels repeatedly–was used to indicate tea (whether we would like to drink tea, that someone is about to make tea, etc.).

Sex. There is of course no shortage of hand and other gestures that one can use to mean having sex, but we find that the most common one–used all around the world from an Uzbek explaining Ramadan’s many restrictions to a Moroccan boy apparently selling sex services (!)–is a closed fist pounding the air, with the thumb toward the body (so that it’s somewhat different from the usual masturbation gesture).

Diving Gestures. We learned to dive a couple of years ago before a trip to the island republic of Palau, and now occasionally use diving gestures–a standardized system of underwater and surface communication for when words are not an option–to communicate with each other nonverbally. We find the “surface” versions of the “ok” and “not ok” gestures (arms forming a large circle or a large “X,” respectively, above the head) quite handy when we are distant from each other, because they are highly visible from far away. Diving gestures also constitute a nonverbal language that people around us are not likely to understand.

Wind-Induced Headache. This is a rather odd one that we encountered in Ethiopia. Although it can get quite warm in parts of Ethiopia, locals do not like to open windows on buses because they seem to believe that the wind pressure on their ears causes some sort of pain or headache. If you try to open a window, they will ask you to close it by placing the palms of their hands a couple of inches from each ear and shaking them a bit.

Hunger. Now, you’d think that putting your hands on your stomach or putting imaginary food into your mouth would be a pretty simple and effective way to demonstrate hunger, right? It’s certainly worked for us in the past, but when we were in Khiva, Uzbekistan in 2008, a cab driver took us not to a restaurant but to a clinic, thinking that we had gotten some sort of food poisoning! Imagine our confusion and then amuseument when we pulled up to an unmarked building we thought would be a restaurant and all of the servers were wearing white hopsital coats.