The word Al-Qaeda evokes fear and terror in the collective psyche and it immediately brings to mind the most wanted and feared terrorist of our age and founder of this infamous terror network, Osama Bin Laden. Such fear is fuelled by a decade's long media onslaught that never stops reminding us of how dangerous this organisation is.

But few people know exactly what the word Al-Qaeda actually means. Some news agencies freely misinterpret the word as meaning "The Base". But actually this is not the full and proper translation of the ominous term. Al-Qaeda is in fact a derivative of the Arabic verb Qa'ada which means "to sit" on a specific type of base, namely the toilet bowl. Indeed in Arabic there are three terms for three different kinds of toilet: Hamam Arabi or Arab toilet, a hole in the ground very common in Arab countries; a potty used for children called Ma Qa'adia or "Little Qaeda", and Hamam Franji more commonly called Al-Qaeda or foreign toilet, which is the familiar toilet with a base prevalent in most western countries. "Ana raicha Al Qaeda" is a colloquial expression for "I'm going to the toilet" so that Al-Qaeda is the noun which literally translates into "The Toilet".

Now why on earth would a terrorist organisation ever call itself "The Toilet"? And why would Osama Bin Laden ever want to be associated with a toilet attendant, with due respect to the people in the profession? And why therefore should the whole world be so scared of Al-Qaeda in the first place? Or is it the case that we are all suffering from a psychopathic condition which we could call "Collective Toilet Phobia Syndrome"?

While I struggle to try and find a plausible reason I start feeling the urgent need to do to Al-Qaeda what I usually do in situations where such riddles start upsetting my bowels. So may I be excused please?!

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