Sunday, March 27, 2005

Can Iraq export knowledge to the Arab world? 

Subzero Blue, a very interesting Tunisian blogger, considers the absorption of knowledge in the Arab world, at least as represented by the translation and dissemination of books.
- Arab countries' output of books represents just 1.1 percent of the world total, although Arabs constitute 5% of the world's population. This is less than what a country such as Turkey produces, with a population about one-quarter that of the Arab countries.

- The Arab world translates about 330 books annually, one fifth of the number that Greece translates.

- Print runs of Arab books are very low, ranging for the average novel between 1,000 and 3,000 copies only. A book that sells just 5,000 copies is considered a bestseller.

- Arab book publishing has been threatened by three factors: censorship and the practice of banning books among the 22 Arab states; low readership, blamed on economic stagnation and competition from the mass media; and the lack of adequate distribution of books across the Arab world.

Hmmm. The first Arab country to free its press and develop a sufficient number of people who read and speak Western languages to do the work can export translated books and other knowledge to the other 21 Arab countries. The Arab world needs a country to become a factory for knowledge. Will Iraq become that country?


By Anonymous Subzero Blue, at Mon Mar 28, 02:41:00 AM:

Well, I sort of disagree.
The effort should come from within every Arab country, not just one.

As for developing a sufficient number of people who read and speak western languages, that's not the problem as we have a lot of people who are majored in all the languages you could ever imagine. The problem is that these people don't find the encouraging circumstances to translate or write themselves. Plus the way it is now, it's just not financially viable for them.

Anyway, it would be great if what you thought of were to come true and Iraq were to lead the knowledge revival in the Arab world.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Mon Mar 28, 05:51:00 AM:

The effort absolutely should come from every Arab country, but the obstacles in some may be greater than others. If a country is to lead the way, it must have at least the conditions I described, plus it must be relatively large (I should think) with unfettered access to the Internet. Why does the first country need to be one of the larger ones? Because publishing is first a business, so there must be a large enough literate population in that first country.  

By Blogger Fausta, at Mon Mar 28, 09:09:00 AM:

This is an excellent idea.
Just one country would make a difference, as the total number of books published in the Arab countries in the last 1,000 years is less than the total number of books published in Spain in one year.
Additionally, according to The Economist, http://www.economist.com/displaystory.cfm?story_id=449338 Arabic is the world’s fifth most common mother tongue. Yet, aside from religious books and newspapers, it remains one of the least read languages. Poverty, illiteracy and ever-heavier censorship each play their part in the reticence of Arab readers. So too does the multi-layered nature of the language itself. Spoken Arabic differs hugely from country to country. Written Arabic is more uniform, but with its roots in the Koran, it can easily sound too highbrow for the common ear.

A successful publishing venture in Iraq could resonate in the region.  

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