Friday, February 13, 2004

Culutral Exchanges

Juan Cole has a fantastic idea (link courtesy Atrios):

I have therefore decided to begin a project to translate important books by great Americans and about America into Arabic, and to subsidize their publication so that they can be bought inexpensively.

A few months back I posted a comment about how our eventual victory in the Cold War started with a solid foundation of a cultural as well as economic exchange program with Western Europe. There was a real fear at the time that German and France, shattered by the devastation of WWII, would fall to the communists. Part of the incentive for the Marshall plan was to provide economic aide to keep their economies from collapsing any further. But another part of that program was a series of cultural exchange programs that provided a counter-point to the cultural invasion from the Soviet Union. I opined a few months back that a similar program was needed to re-educate the Muslim word about what westerners valued.

Exposing them to the best western literature has to offer would be a great first step. Imagine if the average citizen of the Arab world could spend some time reading Twain, Hawthorne, Whitman and Hemmingway. They might get a better appreciation of our values and maybe realize that we are not so different from them.

Juan talks initially about translating works by Jefferson and books by westerners about the Middle-East. That would be all well and good. But I think starting with the classics of literature aimed at the ordinary citizen might be even more promising.

I wonder what they might think of Stephen King?


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