Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Lost for Words

[posted by Callimachus]

Khalid al-Maaly, an Iraqi-born writer living in Germany, notes that many Arab intellectuals, especially those in the West, seem to speak from different sides of the same mouth depending on the audience.

Many of them are characterised by a carefully masked double standard. In their home countries they present themselves as guardians of traditional Arab values, but when writing in other languages for foreign audiences they express very different, more cosmopolitan views.

The Arab intellectual behaves like a despotic father. No internal family matter may be exposed to the outside world; regardless of what the reality may be, a façade of unbroken unity must be maintained.

He gives a list of comparisons for various writers and thinkers. It seems pretty damning. Perhaps nothing is as damning, though, as the anecdote he saves for last:

Two months after the 9/11 attacks, during an Arab book fair, a rumour suddenly made the rounds that an aircraft had crashed into a high-rise building in Italy. Many people immediately thought this was a repeat of the previous attacks on America. Numerous publishers and editors shouted Allahu akbar (God is great) and welcomed the presumed act, which turned out never to have happened at all. Some of these intellectuals are welcome guests at conferences on Euro-Arab dialogue. But I wonder about the value of such events, when some participants lack all credibility and the emphasis is on mere politeness and flattery.