Feb 7, 2006

Crisis of the Arab Book - what is not

Roba, in an interesting post, brought back to my attention this quote of the UN Arab Human Development Report, that I don't really agree with:
Here's something that made me stop and think;
الكتاب العربي.. متى تنتهي أزماته؟

أسباب أزمة الكتاب العربي-17% من إنتاج الكتاب بالعالم العربي وفق تقرير التنمية البشرية ينحصر في الكتب الدينية والتراثية وهي كتب في الغالب لا تحتاج لأي مجهود فكر
"The reasons of the demise of the 'Arab Book'- 17% of the books produced in the Arab world fall under the category of religious or cultural genres that don't require any mental effort from the reader."

The number of books published in Arabic is already very small. The solution is NOT to criticize those who are publishing!! but to convince more people to publish and read. We arabs LOVE to pick up fights with each other and point fingers. Instead of working on those who DO NOT read, we seem to focus on criticizing those who do.

Every civilization has its share of leisure-reading. We Arabs love religious easy-readings. Americans in general love Romantic Novels (similar to Riwayat Abier in Arabic), which are much simpler and naive and empty compared to our leisure-time religious books. Many Americans are hooked on comics (e.g. Superman). And a good portion of middle-states love Bible-related books & hymns.

There's nothing wrong in finding amusement in reading. At least people become fast readers, which helps when reading more serious books. Much better than playing Trix and smoking Arguilah all night long (in my humble opinion).

My suggestion is to really think about the main questions:
1- How come Arabs do not find reading books useful?
2- How come people who read books usually end up with close-to-minimum-salary jobs!?
3- Is it strange that, if books are unuseful, people tend to read them less?
4- If reading books is for amusement, then why not just watch "TV" instead? (watch Najeeb Mahfouz instead of reading him).

I personally blame the Educational system on marginalizing the importance of non-curriculum books (and to an extent Engineering Departments of US colleges). I have my own amateur theory on why Education became so unrelated to everyday life. Inshallah I'll discuss it later. But I think it's rather simplistic and needs much more professional treatment to be of real value.

my 2 cents...


  1. Hi Arrabi, that wasn't my opinion, I was simply translating what the article said.
    You also seemed to have failed to notice that the 17% the article is refering to are not books dealing with the philosophy of religion, but instead, the books that are so much more like gossip on religion that you find on koshkat and stuff.

  2. Salam Roba,
    sorry if I sounded a bit too negative. didn't mean to. ah, and I love your plural of Koshk... Koshkat... sounds delicious, like Kitkat ;-)

    My point is not about the type of the 17% of the books, but about the idea of "criticising those who read" when "we don't have enough readers". The paragraph seemed more of a "secular attack on religious books" more than anything else. It's very normal in every society to find "mindless books". The UNAHDR seemed angry that these are "religious mindless books" instead of say "comics mindless books". I find the argument out of place and invalid. The UNAHDR is otherwise very interesting & useful (and I think secular - but I have to explain that in a long post).

    As for the type of these 17% books, (which I think is unrelated to the UNAHDR point) here's my guess:
    These books are mostly about Jinn (ghosts) & dream-explanations, surely some about Torments of the Graves, some will be reprints of old famous books (tafsir al-jalalin), and few will be new studies on old subjects (e.g. life of the companions of the prophet). I'm not a big fan, but I do find interesting titles every now and then.

    As you see, I do my share of "Koshkat" rounds ;-)

  3. I think you're very right in that the education systems in the Arab world are probably (and at least definitely in Jordan) lacking when it comes to reading.

    Consider this fact. A student in Jordan can go through the 12 years of elementary and secondary education without having to read a single book other than the text books that are written by the ministry of education. He/she could still graduate with a very high average grade and go to college to study medicine if he/she wants.

    We need a reading program.