UAE MP on How and Why We Need ‘To Make Arabic Cool’

From the wonderful illustrators' blog: http://kootoob.blogspot.com/

Yesterday, I was following the Twitter notes from UAE Member of Parliament Najla Al Awadhi, who launched with:

[An] Emirati columnist writes “Arabs seem to have a problem with the Arabic language.” That we are abandoning it in favor of other languages.

And she really caught my attention with:

Reality is we have failed the Arabic language, thru decades of rote education, and lack of innovation in science, arts and industries.

My son—like so many others—enjoys learning. He loves games with Arabic letters, words, and puzzles. He loves (quality) Arabic children’s books. But he does not, as I have mentioned before, love his Egyptian-government-issued textbook, or all the additional copying the teachers have him do. The whole process serves to make him and his classmates much “smarter” in English than he is in Arabic.

In English, they can write and think creatively. They can make up stories; they can think for themselves. In Arabic, they can sort nouns into شمسية and قمرية.

Al Awadhi noted that things are progressing, with initiatives in the UAE and beyond. She didn’t name any—the limits of 140 characters, I suppose—but I will list a few: Kalimat, Bloomsbury-Qatar, the Etisalat Prize, the Doha Children’s Literature Festival, Anna Lindh’s new prizes, children’s bookstores, Buzoor’s online community.

She finished up by saying:

We are young demographic in the Arab world, and so we need to innovate to make Arabic cool. Cool enough for our youth to love.

I would love to hear your thoughts on how we make Arabic cooler. Two ways I think we can make Arabic “cool” are through: 1) turning Arabic YA novels into films, and 2) graphic novels.

A third way, of course, is to 3) respect Arabic as parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and educators. Give Arabic books as presents! Put up Arabic posters in children’s rooms!

1) Yes, we can complain about not having “our own” Harry Potter or Diary of a Wimpy Kid (although I am not a fan of the latter). But movies are—in part—what make these books so “cool.” Fatima Sharafeddine has done an excellent job with فاتن; YA would receive a tremendous boost if someone were to make this book into a feature film. (Any film producers out there? I really do think it would make a lovely film.)

2) We can also encourage talented local artists to produce graphic novels for elementary, middle-grade, and YA readers. The first Arabic ComicCon in Abu Dhabi is a wonderful start.

Related thoughts:

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2 Responses to UAE MP on How and Why We Need ‘To Make Arabic Cool’

  1. Nesrin Amin says:

    I agree with you of course, Marcia. I’m not as aware of the Arabic children’s books market as you, since living in the UK my kids only read English books. But from what I’ve seen in Egyptian bookshops, I think the main issue is to simply get talented writers to WRITE books for kids between the ages of 8 and 15. My oldest daughter (13) is an avid reader and from the age of 8 has found a myriad of interesting English-language books that stimulate and respect her mentality. I just don’t feel that this kind of literature exists in Arabic, not even in translation, at least not enough to satisfy a child throughout his/her childhood/YA life. So before books are turned into films (certainly a good idea too), we need to have such books first!

    • mlynxqualey says:

      Yes, there is very little available for the middle-grade and YA markets in Arabic. A few things in translation. A handful of books, by Emily Nasrallah and now Fatima Sharafeddine.

      I think: There hasn’t been the prestige in it that there is in grown-up books, and it’s not seen as “easy” or “fun,” like writing children’s picture books. (In English, of course, there’s good money in it.) Therein the rub. We will need to somehow make it more prestigious…or get some money into it….

      I do think publishers—well, at least Kalimat and BQFP—have a notion that this is a very necessary hole to fill.

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