Can summer readings shed light on west-middle-east perceptions? | Stillman Translations
Can summer readings shed light on west-middle-east perceptions?

Spreading a wider reading of Arab fiction could help reduce prejudice in the region. What do you think about this?

Spreading a wider reading of Arab fiction could help reduce prejudice in the region.

How much do you know about the Arab world? Could you outline which countries fall under this scope? Can you think of three? four? five? Maybe Iran, Irak, Arab Emirates and Dubai ring a bell. 

The Arab states consist of 22 Arab countries. The majority of these countries are located in Western Asia, Northern Africa, Western Africa, and Eastern Africa. 

source: Wikipedia 

More than most can remember. That being said, how many books written by Arab authors have you read? Or how many do you know by name?  

Sudanese novelist al-Tayib Salih claims there is very little translated Arabic literature. Most people know the existence of the Quran, some religious scripts, and political news. Other than that, maybe Hollywood movies, where reality isn’t quite loyally portrayed.  

This has reinforced Western prejudices against Arabs. And she’s not the only one: Edward Said made his fair share of points in his bestselling book “Orientalism”. Where he explains that our very dividing of the “Orient” as one big thing is as biased as it can be.  

How can literature better place us in other people’s shoes?   

The role of literature  

Why do we read? Schools use books as a way of teaching vocabulary, literary resources, history, and more. It’s also a great tool for people to find themselves in other worlds. To see themselves reflected in a certain character, scene, or play, much like the movies.  

But also, there is a more complex function to it, maybe the most difficult to teach. It’s the ability to leave one’s point of view to try to understand another way of feeling, thinking, and talking. Literature provokes the reader by displacing them from their everyday pathways. Since it’s in a recreational spirit that books are read, they often find us more open to change. Maybe even have implications for our social behavior. Sometimes for the best, sometimes not.  

Photo by Lyle Hastie on Unsplash

What is mostly perceived  

What have we read at home in the past decade about the Arab world? There was a considerable increase in scientific and journalistic publications about Islam, the Muslim World, and the position of Muslims in Western Europe.  

But these were triggered by developments such as wars, revolutions, spurts of migration into the European Union, and the growing significance of Islam as a political factor.  

These are not the most friendly encounters. What is being highlighted are the points of conflicts between Islam and Western culture, ignoring all existing similarities between the two cultures. And the Arab World on our screen is mostly a minority. Or extreme religious groups which don’t necessarily represent these countries.  

Here we go back to Edward Said, who claimed that there may still be remnants of a colonial past in our discourse. Discourses and studies of the Orient as one simple object, exotic, faraway, paved the way for stereotypes.  

Even more so, more dangerous than stereotypes, a study was done by Ghareeb believes the media is biased in its coverage of the Middle East. His reasons include the Arab-Israeli conflict, general cultural bias, media ignorance about the history and origin of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the impact of the media’s tendency to think alike, amongst others.  

Translation of Arab readings 

So how can translation of softer topics and books contribute to the general good? Al-Tayib Salih says the lack of Arab literature translated over the decades has an impact on our lack of understanding of Muslims and Islam.  

To him, there is plenty to share and tell. From Mauritania to Oman, cultural festivals flourish. “I don’t think there is emptiness or aridity in the field of culture in the Arab world”. 

But it’s not only his point of view. A UN report on Arab human development in 2002 said there was “a severe shortage” of Arab writing. It said a large part of the Arab market was made up of religious and educational books of limited creative content. 

So the translation of Arabic literature could change our mindsets. Or at least, show us a side we don’t know much about and allow us to at least question ourselves and our preconceptions.  

If you are interested in a language professional to get this job done, on any platform, contact us at Stillman.