Americana in Arabic: Translation Project
I was talking yesterday about the tragedy that American culture is so little known (except through bad television shows) in the Arab world. One of the problems is that so few books of American thought, literature and history have been translated into Arabic and published accessibly, and kept accessible through attention to distribution. There are some simple reasons for this sad state of affairs. Probably the most important set of reasons is that Arabic books sales are typically low, commercial distribution is spotty, and copyright laws are little honored, so that royalties are often not paid. Book piracy is a big problem. Beyond these issues, authoritarian governments have put up barriers to book imports, which further limits the market. It may be that Thomas Jefferson, a revolutionary, is still too radical for many regimes in the area.
The lack of accessible, inexpensive books on the subject is an important limitation on the ability of Arab universities to teach about the United States. There is only one America specialist at Cairo University to my knowledge. God knows what this person uses as texts. Most Arab universities have no specialist in American studies, and most university libraries in the region have almost no Arabic language books on the subject. This situation then ensures that normal schools or teacher training colleges do not produce high school teachers who know much solid about the US. Of course, many Arab intellectuals know French or English and some have lived in the US, but they constitute a tiny sliver of these societies, which are mainly Arabophone.
So, I’m going to try something. As my own tiny contribution to helping resolve this problem, I have therefore decided to begin a project to translate important books by great Americans and about America into Arabic, and to subsidize their publication so that they can be bought inexpensively. This is a non-profit project, but until it grows large enough to become a proper foundation, it will not be tax-deductible. I will try to ensure that almost all of the money goes to actual translation, publication, and distribution. If the office work becomes a burden, some money may have to be spent on overhead here, though I’ll see if I can’t get some University or extramural support for that.
The project will begin with a selected set of passages and essays by Thomas Jefferson on constitutional and governmental issues such as freedom of religion, the separation of powers, inalienable rights, the sovereignty of the people, and so forth.
Contributions will allow me to locate and fund qualified Arab translators, to arrange for printing (possibly in Baghdad), to subsidize the printing so as to ensure the book is affordable and that there is a paperback version, and to subsidize and ensure wide distribution, to bookstores, street vendors and libraries.