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.
- What about turning Arabic classics into graphic novels? What about turning a Kamel Kilani-like version of 1,001 Nights into cool, contemporary-looking graphic novels?
- What about turning classic, child-appropriate Arabic poetry into illustrated graphic novels? (I’m serious.)
- More rewards for innovation in graphic design, illustration, and cover design. (For instance, the work of Lebanese artist Daniel Georges.) Words are important, but so is the skill of decoding rich, beautiful imagery.