Monday, February 23, 2004


As I continue my current cyber-plunge into autoerotic irrelevancy, I find I'm no longer all that excited about what the Big Bloggers are thinking and saying. The blogging movement has burgeoned and diversified-- further evidence that the Protestant Principle is a sociological fact. My attention turns more and more these days to what friends and co-bloggers are blogging (apologies for the lack of shout-outs in recent days; I've been going nuts with my scanner and drawing Freudian cartoons).

But today's quick once-over of Satan's Anus brought me up short. It's a brief post, but one brimming with exciting potential. The post in full:

JUAN COLE is starting a project to translate American political thought into Arabic. As one Cranky Professor observes:

I can't imagine a better thing for intellectuals to do than pay semi-employed Iraquis [sic] with good English to translate (the translator should indeed be a native speaker of the destination language).

Cole has more on his project here.

This had me practically jumping for joy, and I hope more people get involved with this.

Dialogue doesn't have to be about agreement, but at the very least, it's about presence and engagement. It's vitally important for the ideas to get out to the people-- specifically, for Muslims to educate themselves about Western thought, culture, politics-- the whole shebang. At the same time, we Westerners need to continue raiding the Barnes & Nobles, reading up on Muslim culture and history, balancing our Karen Armstrongs with our Bernard Lewises, and returning to the intellectual and spiritual fray.

In the end, the war on terrorism is a war of the mind and heart, and for people to poo-poo dialogue and rest all their hopes in military solutions is simply stupid. I don't view dialogue as a catch-all solution; nothing can be so. By extension, I can't view war as a catch-all solution either, because in both cases, with dialogue and with war, the story never ends. The process is itself dialogical. No definitive "The End," no "once and for all." Reality moves, and solutions consistent with a moving reality will also move. People who seek cosmic firmness or absolute stasis are doing no more than driving short pegs into shifting sands. And that's vanity, as the Tao Te Ching and Ecclesiastes both agree.

So at the risk of pissing off a lot of Muslims who probably won't like what they see, we should indeed open our discourse up to them. The fastest way is through this type of translation project, because we can't wait for (or realistically expect) the entire Muslim world to learn English.

Ideally, this translation project needs to grow huge and variegated-- allow itself to fall victim to the Protestant Principle, so that Muslims will have choices about where to go, whom to read (and how to read around). Perhaps the more level-headed among them will "diversify their blogroll" and scan many and varied opinions (if a blogging metaphor isn't too precious), perhaps coming to the realization that the world is indeed wide and Allah paints in many unexpected colors. It wouldn't be wrong for us Westerners to remember this as well, as we sit comfortably at our keyboards.


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