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December 22, 2007

The Arab World Meets The Western Canon (chad)

If you are like me you believe that one of the most profound shaping influences of current Western Civilization is the Western Canon. Starting with the Epic of Gilgamesh, and encompassing the Bible, Rousseau, Smith, Locke, Mills and so on, these works lead to the development of thought encompassed in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Amazingly many of them have never been translated into Arabic.

The Abu Dhabi Cultural and Heritage Authority is attempting to change that with "Project Kalima" and I just can't believe that is going to make Al Qaeda very happy:


The Abu Dhabi-based project, Kalima ("word" in Arabic), aims to publish 100 books in its first year and 500 titles a year by 2010, it announced yesterday.

The first 100 are from 16 languages, including Greek, Japanese, Swedish, Czech, Russian, Chinese, Yiddish, Italian, Norwegian, Latin and ancient Greek. Half the candidate titles are English.

Four years ago the UN's Arab human development report identified a lack of translated foreign works as an issue restricting Arab intellectual life. The UN report noted that Spain translates in one year the number of books that have been translated into Arabic in the past 1,000 years.

...

"The rest of the world enjoys a wealth of domestic and translated writing, why should the Arab world be any different?" Karim Nagy, Kalima's Egyptian chief executive, said as the first titles were announced. "We can start putting Arabic readers back in touch with great works of world literature and academia, and begin filling the gaps in the Arabic library."

The selection process is designed to strike a balance between different genres, juxtaposing the works of classic authors with contemporary writers. Academic, business and educational material is also being translated.

More from the Independent

"The choices reflect what we consider are the real gaps in the Arab library," said Karim Nagy, the founder and chief executive of the project, which was launched yesterday in Abu Dhabi. "We shy away as far as possible from best-sellers."

The initial list does include Khaled Hosseini's blockbuster about Taliban-era in Afghanistan, The Kite Runner. But far more typical of its scope and focus are canonical classics such as George Eliot's Middlemarch and Baruch Spinoza's Ethics, or influential modern texts like Eric Hobsbawm's The Age Of Extremes and JM Keynes's General Theory Of Employment. There are also scientific masterpieces from the likes of Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr and Richard Feynman. Recent books on the launch list include Lawrence Wright's history of al-Qa'ida and "the road to 9/11", The Looming Tower, and the memoirs of the retired US Federal Reserve chief Alan Greenspan.

...

Kalima is endorsed by the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan, and backed financially by the emirate's authority for culture and heritage. The authority's director-general, Mohammed Khalaf al Mazrouei, said the Crown Prince saw the UN figures and "commissioned us to work to revive translation".

...

However, as Mr Nagy admits, Kalima has deep-rooted obstacles to overcome. During the "golden age" of medieval Islamic civilisation, Moorish cities such as Córdoba and Toledo in Spain hosted an Arabic-based culture of exchange and translation that played a crucial part in preserving the Greek legacy of science and thought for western Europe. Following the Renaissance, which Arabic learning did so much to foment, colonial conflict and a breakdown of relations led to a sense of exclusion and estrangement from the West which fuelled Arab nationalism in the modern era.

With the help of literary figures from Isaac Newton to Albert Camus, Thomas Hobbes to Umberto Eco, Kalima aims to bridge this historical gap. Mr Nagy said he wanted to balance "catching up" with classics as yet unreadable in Arabic and "keeping up" with current trends and movements – 70 per cent of the inaugural list consists of books published since 1945.

If this takes hold it should provide an interesting counterpoint to the Madrasah Islamia education many Muslims receive.

I am not going to attempt to give President Bush any credit for this but it does seem to fit in very nicely with his vision for the future of the middle east.


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posted by xgenghisx at 07:09 PM

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