Saturday, November 22, 2003

Can you say dysfunctional? I knew you could!

U.N. report shows sad chapter for Arab books
CAIRO -- According to the holy Quran, the first message delivered to the Prophet Muhammad was a command: Read.

But walk the empty aisles of Cairo's old book bazaar, or visit the weary guardians of the Arabic literary tradition, and the conclusion is unanimous: For titles other than the Quran, that command is largely ignored today.

While writers everywhere complain that nobody reads anymore, Arab analysts now provide startling evidence. Grasping the poor state of Arab information industries such as publishing and journalism, they say, is critical to understanding the alienation, isolation and malaise roiling the modern Middle East.

"There is simply no readership," publisher Ibrahim al-Mowallem says bluntly. "We think of this as part of a pan-Arab depression. People are not reading because they have lost hope."
That's one possible explanation, but not a particularly good one. Ibrahim must be unacquainted with Spengler's Decline of the West.
Across the Arab world, a region of 280 million people, a best seller is a book that sells just 5,000 copies. Translation of foreign works into Arabic lags far behind the rest of the world -- one-fifth the number translated each year into Greek, a language spoken by just 11 million people. Some of Cairo's most storied old booksellers have given up entirely and been replaced by cell phone vendors, clothing shops and shoe stores.

The sorry state of Arab publishing is detailed for the first time in a U.N. report released last month that outlines how reading and writing are impaired by censorship, poor education, religious fundamentalism and war.
Those are better explanations as the rest of the article describes.

And in related news, check out Best of the Web's (scroll down to "Muslim Moon Moan") review of the Council on American Islamic Relations' discovery of the big conspiracy over at Johnny Hart's B.C. comic strip to besmirch Muslims. Who knew what crescent moons on outhouse doors really meant?