UAE | Heritage and Culture

Arabic works victim of European agenda

Arabic literary works are translated on a European agenda rather than on their merits as great works of literature, according to renowned Arabic language authors.

  • By Alice Johnson, Deputy UAE Editor
  • Published: 23:01 March 1, 2009
  • Gulf News

Dubai: Arabic literary works are translated on a European agenda rather than on their merits as great works of literature, according to renowned Arabic language authors.

Ebrahim Nasrallah, Mekkawi Saeed and Fadhil Al Azzawi discussed the issue of translation and raising awareness of Arabic writing with author Khalid Al Khamissi on the penultimate day of the Emirates Airline International Festival of Literature.

The three-day festival concluded on Sunday.

"Translation is a very important tool," author Mekkawi Saeed said.

"Our work is being translated into other languages, but on a European agenda; we respond to the criteria of the West," he said.

Saeed continued that a book, such as one focusing on female circumcision in Egypt, has been translated on "a European agenda".

The discussion continued, on the choice of books translated for European audiences.

Fadhil Al Azzawi, said: "We should make a definition between books. Just because it has been translated, it doesn't mean that it's an important literary work."

"We should not beg the Westerners to translate us; they have to discover us. We have to be discovered in our own language as an enrichment of author cultures," he said.

Discussions also focused on the merit of literary prizes and whether authors should accept prizes from governmental organisations, or whether this contravened the objectivity of an author.

"I did not want to accept a prize for a book while I was being taken to court by the government for writing another," Ebrahim Nasrallah said.

Nasrallah's collection of poetry, 'Nu'man Yastariddu Lawnahu' (Anenome Regains its Colour) was banned in Jordan (first written in 1984).

Nasrallah was then faced with charges of insulting the state and inciting dissension.

"Not all prizes are the same. It is not correct to say that authors who accept prizes are not objective, because some are," Al Azzawi said.

He continued that authors should accept prizes if they are awarded them, but not if it impedes their objectivity or makes them write subjectively in the future.

While some prizes are awarded, the discussion continued, for literary merit and worth, authors have to be careful and determine whether the prize is being awarded for literary merit alone, or to complement a wider political agenda.

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