This article explores the fit between orthodox ideas about intercultural language education and situations of acute insecurity. It describes the teaching of Turkish to Greek-Cypriots, introduced in 2003 by the Republic of Cyprus as part of a desecuritization policy. Although these classes were optional, many students regarded Turks as enemies, and after documenting hostility itself as one motive for learning Turkish, we describe three teaching strategies used to deal with the powerful emotions that Turkish evoked: (i) focusing on the language as a code, shorn of any cultural association; (ii) treating it as a local language; and (iii) presenting it as a contemporary international language in a cosmopolitan ambience that potentially transcended the island-specific conflict. In this way, the Cypriot case calls mainstream language teaching assumptions into question: exclusively grammar-focused pedagogies display acute cultural sensitivity, and images of language in a globalized world look radical and innovative. For intercultural language education more generally, it is the combination of institutionalised language learning as a distinct cultural activity with the ideological plasticity of language itself that seems especially valuable.