Sharing knowledge

Sharing knowledge
: I happened upon a PBS discussion show called Uncommon Knowledge that’s tackling the issues of the lack of democracy in the Arab world. The host just quoted an amazing stat from the U.N.: “Fewer books have been tranlsated into Arabic in the last 1,000 years than are translated into Spanish in a year.” I wish we were teaching our children Arabic.

: The show and the discussion were great. Unfortunately, I can’t find a transcript or video of the show past the 2003 season. Drat.

: Note again Juan Cole’s very worthy project to translate great works of western democracy into Arabic. Go contribute here.

  • David Smith

    Jeff, This is an amazing statistic. Do you have the html link for this discussion? I searched for ‘Uncommon Knowledge’ and found a PBS station with a transcript entitled ‘Prophets and Losses’, but it can’t be the right discussion. Thanks.

  • That quote orginally comes from a study by a group of Arab intellectuals a couple of years ago, which caused considerable anger in the Arab world itself, not famous for self-criticsm. I believe you can find the study (extremely interesting) on the MEMRI website where I read it. There were other devastating aspects to it. Of course the oppression of women links up directly with this same intellectual under-development which links with outward rage toward the “other” — the developed world. I think, unfortunately, the problem will not be solved by our learning Arabic. The problem will only be solved by a thorough-going reformation of Islam, which may be a long time coming.

  • angell

    I read much the same in a Christian Science monitor thing last month. Kind of interesting that they have already translated Hillary’s autobiography and David Duke. “Until America’s foreign policy changes, many Syrians say, few will be curious about American philosophers.” Now that is a mouthful. Always calling for American policy to change, and not realizing that it is muslim policy that stinks.

  • onecent

    I wish we were teaching our children Arabic.
    Besides the Koran and terrorist intercepts, what body of literature would they read?
    I’m being flippant, I know. I’ve seen that statistic also. It speaks volumes about the decline of Arab culture in the past thousand years. No science, no literature, no social commentary, no satire encouraged or deemed worthy in print. I blame Islam, a fossilized, anti-secular religion.

  • Ebb Tide

    Is “Harry Potter” out in Arabic yet?
    I know the Chinese version just came out (the authorized Chinese version, a rip-off version in Chinese came out awhile back, but it wasn’t a true translation.)

  • angell

    Don’t you know that Harry Potter would be considered islamily incorrect. It would have to be changed. Hogwart’s would be a madrasa and Harry would be a suicider.

  • Jared

    The program is produced by the Hoover Institute and hosted by Peter Robinson, a Hoover Fellow and National Review magazine contributor. The website for the program is
    Complete transcripts for all 824 programs, plus complete streaming video for the last 498 programs, are available.

  • Jared

    Addendum. This page has transcripts, video and, in most cases, mp3s, of all shows in the 2003-2004 season:

  • John Mendenhall

    The statistic is ubiquitous in the literature surrounding the West’s study of Islam. It is almost certainly correct.
    However, it is easy to misunderstand why such insularity is the case. Backwardness or Luddism has nothing to do with it.
    The Prophet dictated in Arabic; it is thus the necessary, perfect, and sufficient tongue. There are no reasons for earlier or later languages. I have seen it argued that the only reason God gave the gift of language was so the Koran could one day be told.
    Pakistani, Malay, Albanian, and American Muslims are required to learn Arabic or risk 1) not experiencing the apparent ecstasy of reading the old perderast’s words exactly as he spoke them, and 2) discrimination, particularly by Sunnis, in matters as important as the Hajj, and others.
    This is also the reason science, literature, pornography, or instruction manuals aren’t translated into Arabic. The necessary, perfect, and sufficient book has already existed for 1400 years. There is no need to read, write, or import others. One can search the internet under subjects related, say, to “islamic banking” and read the d—edest twistings of logic and reality regarding the Prophet’s forbiddence of renting the use of money with interest.
    The notion of the “flowering of Islamic thought and culture” is quite prevalent, but I think, at least as far as I’m able to form an opinion based on my own hobby-type study of the subject, that Islam had nothing to do with that. The centers of learning and discovery were actually imperfectly conquered and incompletely integrated into Dar-al-Islam (one might accurately say that the Islamification of these cities was less than 100%), and when that purification was complete, they were no longer centers of learning and discovery.
    Arabic became the language of law, government, and commerce; no notable progress, in the Western sense, has been made anywhere under that circumstance, ever, ever, ever. Thus, one mission of the Sword of Islam was to do away with that flowering where it found it. And, the mission remains unchanged today.
    It is necessary, my liberal brothers and sisters, to relinquish the cherished delusion that “people everywhere are basically the same.” The smaller the world gets, the more deadly that notion becomes, and especially so for Arabs and Muslims.
    As many of them will die as will be necessary to secure the safety of the West. I shudder to think what the West will find it necessary to do if Islam continues to allow its militant elements to buy, assemble, and deploy nuclear weapons.
    The West, after all, has never been any squeamier about exterminating peoples than anybody else. Unfortunately, though we are definitely the cleverest monkeys in town, we are powerless to prevent a wholesale slaughter of the populations of the Middle East if that is what the Middle East wants.
    Even if we teach our kids to speak Arabic.

  • angell

    Well, I don’t know why I’d want my kids to speak Arabic–unless they worked for the FBI and interrogated terrorists–I imagine a lot of them speak Arabic.
    And there are the writings of Ayatollah Khomeini on teaching of sex–now that is enlightening. I promptly puked and thanked God I was not Arab..

  • kkl

    I understand your point Jeff, but the rest of the world is learning English. My daughter? She’s learning Spanish.
    And to your larger point, why are so few publications being translated into Arabic? You cite a very compelling statistic. I confess to ignorance of the publishing world, but is it because the books wouldn’t be allowed to be sold in Arabic countries, or is it because publishers have decided that they wouldn’t be able to sell them?
    I guess my point is that would a “Publish This in Arabec” movement aimed at publishers do any good?
    All I know I read in blogs.

  • John Mendenhall

    KKL, if you won’t read my post, 2 above yours, I can’t make you. But, I can tell you that the decision about translating into Arabic is not being made by greedy US corporations unwilling to settle for lower margins on Arabic editions of Dr Phil. Arabs don’t want the books. If they did, they’d translate them.

  • onecent

    I guess my point is that would a “Publish This in Arabec” movement aimed at publishers do any good?
    Obviously if the movement was from the Arab public. But, where are they? As John has pointed out above me, the publishers will sell anything that there is a demand for.

  • gail

    Mr. Cole is certainly no dummy, but I think it should be said, for the record, that well over 70% of all translated literature today is from the English into another language.
    Anyone using the fact that the Arabs aren’t reading Twain or Steinbeck or Dave Eggers to further their silly jingoist screed are clearly missing the point entirely. What contemporary foreign works have you read lately?
    It has become a self-fulfilling prophecy in the Anglo publishing industry that there is no demand for translated works, so they publish almost none, and little promote the ones they do publish, which means that very few are read, and they say, ‘See? No-one’s interested.’
    There are two sides to this equation, and until English language publishers are prepared to begin seeking out and publishing translated literature, even if it means losing a buck or two in the process, no real progress will be made.