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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Why Do I Write in English?

As a comment to one of my posts, Anonymous asked:

“… do you find it normal to blog only in English? Best Syrian blogs are written in English, although this is great for exchanging ideas with other people all over the world, I think this will diminish their importance as a tool for change in our societies...like to know your point of view.”

I replied with what I thought at the time to be an appropriate comment of my own. Later that night, in bed, and before I surrounded to slumber creeping in on me, I gave it a second thought. Indeed why am I writing in English, my second language. Is it simply that I can write better in English than my native Arabic or is it my subconscious quest for vanity stirring me after a larger audience?


I am as comfortable writing in Arabic as I am in English. I definitely type quicker in English but I’m in no way living in the fast lane. I have ample time on my hand and can afford the luxury of typing with two digits only. I also relish the finesse, the intrigue and subtlety of Arabic as much as I admire the directness, efficiency and the imagism of English. Am I a different person when I think and write in English? In a way. Am I a more tolerant, open and restrained human being? Certainly.

I am a more accountable person in English. Therefore, I normally avoid sensitive and controversial issues. I have my own obligations, doctrines and loyalties. When it comes to Syria, I am a very patriotic person and my priorities, which might seem a little awkward to some of my patriotic liberal fellow countrymen, are very clear to me. Under no circumstances do I jeopardize what I believe to be in my country’s interests. Presently, our best interest does not lie in exposing our internal differences and political problems to the rest of the world. If we expect “the rest of the world” to help us achieve our aspirations then we are really mistaken. The right changes must and will only come from within. It might take a long time to do so but this is the only way my “limited” vision sees it. Although my true nature as a peace loving person might be masked by my indoctrinated stand on war and peace, this is indeed my true Arabic identity. I am longing for the day when an honorable and just peace prevails. However, and until then, I consider myself to be in a state of war. I am not talking about past, present or future governments here or on the other side. I am talking about my person. Ever since I can remember, my enemy has been working diligently on tarnishing my image; the way neutrals see me as an Arab and as a Muslim. My enemy has succeeded in portraying me as a hardliner fundamentalist at best or as a blood thirsty terrorist at worst. Millions like me have been lumped together as a lurking danger to Western civilization. I was born a Muslim and it’s a great religion of which I am proud. It suits me very well. What many outsiders hear and read about Islam might not be true after all. Even if a group of devoted Muslims insist that the rigidity, the strictness and the absolute commitment to tradition is what Islam is all about and that a true follower has to take it or leave it, I simply disagree with them. I am as much a Muslim as they are. I daresay that I consider myself a part of the silent majority rather than the “moral” majority of Islam.

Although the previous section was written in English it was a joint venture between the two key languages occupying my psyche. As a matter of fact, I am seeking a larger audience. The majority of Arab internet users have a passing knowledge in English. They constitute a potential readership. A large proportion of the world population on the internet has to handle English more than its own native language. They too are potential readers. I usually think in the language I’m writing or speaking with. I am fortunate to have reached this stage in English. Although I humbly claim that I know one or two more languages, I have not and will probably never be able to think in them while putting them to any good use.

Despite the labyrinth being further complicated by the juxtaposition of two languages in my brain, there is only one me in the end. I am the one writing. I am an honest man and I have never used my finger to secrete myself behind. I’ve always put it to better use, around a pen or on the keyboard.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dear Aboufares,
The right changes must and will only come from within, this is why I was asking about using only English for blogging, you said in ur post that you feel that u r more tolerant, open and restrained human being when you think and write in English, and I agree with u totally and I can understand very well what u r talking about, I’m living currently in France and I feel that I am more reasonable and more analytical person when I talk in French…but do u think that the problem is in the Arabic language itself And that there are languages who make people more tolerant…in my point of view of course not it is about culture behind it is about people who did not update their own expressions their own language because they did not update their own minds and culture and updating did not mean changing it is mean growing and admitting that we r living in a moving world,
When I was wondering why people like u don’t use their homeland language (even from time to time) it was nothing about politics or what so ever it was because I liked to read a new Syrian Arabic, so we can smell ur eternal Tartous
Differently so we can hear words that had been said centuries ago in this great region but with the spirit of today, so we can feel that we will stay for ever because we will not stay the same…of course in the positive way of changing
I’ve read some Egyptian and Lebanese blogs and I was happy to read their own words and to smell their lands through their words…
Finally thank you for replying and for giving me the chance to discuss that
U r motivating me for blogging and I will start soon…

abufares said...

Thank you Anonymous for a most enlightening comment.
I have to agree with you that I may be able to bring out the real Tartoussi in me in Arabic rather than in English. The little subtleties and nuisances which make a place and a people are definetely better portrayed in the native language.
However, it would not be wise to post on the same blog bilingually as I would quickly lose the interest of many current readers. I wish I could post and maintain two parallel blogs but that would be impossible for me at the present.
I will try my utmost to control the language rather than let it take hold of me. My message, if I had any, is to be able to tell how a simple Tartoussi sees the world.
I look forward reading your promised blog.

Ascribo said...

Well, there's a long story behind writing in English and Arabic. It's something specific for Arabic, and I have different list of reasons from Abufares.

But as a start, I would like what Arabic are you talking about. English is pretty well-defined nowadays, and have been always. But Arabic is not! Don't you agree?

I might say that Arabic-speaking people are a huge and interesting audience, rather than people who can't bother to learn or try to learn English.

Anyway, I promise to post about that some day...after I go on with my blog

abufares said...

Hi Ascribo
As much as I always appreciate your comments, I didn't understand this one at all. It's as if you were "thinking" in Arabic and "writing" in English.
HAhaHA...

Ascribo said...

You have the right of not understanding what I said. Not because I was thinking in "Arabic" and writing in "English", But because I didn't write what I'm thinking of!!!

As I said, I can't explain that in a single comment, it needs a whole post, and I promise to post about that one day.

moryarti said...

man, i love your english posts ... stay as you are and don't change anything.

TARTOUS ROCKS!

I love Munich said...

I very much sympathize - not only because I highly appreciate and respect your opinion and views, this time though, because I basically find myself in the same position! I write my blog in English even though I am a German, residing in Germany, with deep local roots and as mother-tongue of course German. It would be only to obvious to expect my posts in German - but I do write them in English, exclusively.
Even though my command of my mother-tongue is at a - I daresay - rather high level, I mostly feel I can express the fine nuances of argumentation, never mind which issue, more eloquently in English. It may result from having received my higher education in the States, as well as working and teaching there ... sometimes though, it does seem rather weird to me.

IF I dream (which happenes VERY rarely), I MOSTLY dream in English, if I analyse a situation quietly in my mind, I predominantly do it in English ... I have to admit, I am a strange person!

I highly respect the kind of patriotism you feel toward your country! You are right, any chance has to come from within - others can not solve your problems. It is a matter of development the country and societly needs to pass ... and that takes time.

As to the longtime enemy you mention - I guess he's about to lose the stinger as more and more people start to wake up, peek behind those entirely baseless accusations and are able to recognize them as just that! I can understand you though .. it hurts and is humiliating with you being pushed into a helpless position.

About Islam ... it is a wonderful religion, honest, warm, close to life, a LIVED religion which you have all the right in the world to feel proud of! I think it is up to the Muslims community as a whole though to polish the tarnished image of it's great religion - by acting as examples and NOT giving any rise to more and more suspicion!

I enjoyed your post a lot - GREAT JOB, as always!! :)

abufares said...

Dear Moryarti

Since this is the first time you comment on a post of mine, let me tell you that I feel priviliged and honored by your visit.
I'm glad you've been here.
Thank you.

abufares said...

Karin

One of the greatest benefits out of my writing in English was meeting someone like you.
Thank you for this, and for so much more...

I love Munich said...

I am at a loss for words right now ... a situation which, I admit, does RARELY happen to me.
Your kindness does humble me, yet make me feel very fortunate!

Thanks so much great friend ... you're really very special!! :=)

On a seperate note .. where on earth did you find this hilarious "advertisement" for condoms? I laughed a LOT when I saw that ... that is SOOOO FUNNY!

abufares said...

OK,about the condom advertisement...
It was posted on the entrance of a night club in Bangkok. Originally, it was trilingual (Thai as well). I took the liberty of making it bilingual only.
:)

Shannon said...

I work all day with people struggling to express themselves in English...or any language. I respect anyone who has mastered a second language well enough to be able to express themselves as clearly as you (And I love Munich!) do. I, unfortunately, have never reached that level in a foreign language- I can orally communicate in a few. I can converse for hours. But to write as you do...I cannot.

I am grateful to be able to read your blog (and the blogs of others who choose to write in English). I feel my understanding of the world improved greatly.

abufares said...

Hi Shannon
I certainly didn't become proficient in English overnight. It's the result of years of studying, working and living in the US and of traveling abroad.
I am grateful as well to have had the chance to meet you through the exchange of the written word.
Thank you, as always, for dropping by.

I love Munich said...

Shannon ... as you mention my name, I feel I should say a few words as well - Abufares will excuse my hijacking the comment box of his blog for that purpose.

Like Abufares, it took a long time to reach the current level. I did a lot of travelling in my life, backpacking and mingling with people in different countries and the language of choice, wherever I went, was English. On top of that I did get my higher education in California.

I think you have a lot to be proud of ... to be able to converse in serveral languages is not necessarily an every-day-thing and in my book absolutely admirable!

It's so nice to know you Shannon!!

Anonymous said...

Dear Abu fares,
I find that most comments went in totally another direction, I wasn’t asking about blogging in English that I found great, and a big chance for everyone to have friends all over the planet,
I was clear in asking why only in English to understand more, and I get your point of view, I hope u at least got mine, anyway I am not discouraging you to write in your remarkably fluent English that u can very proud of, and I’m really proud of it and of the English of other Syrian fellow as well, because u can transfer a very real image of an extraordinary ordinary Syrian…Finally again hope u get my idea, it is not about discouraging anyone to blog in English or any other language that he or she find the best for expressing his or her ideas clearly or to find a larger audience or a larger circle of friends. It is about other living languages that start to be dead ones.

abufares said...

Dear Anonymous

I indeed got your point the first time. And, I totally agree that we should keep our native language alive and diffuse it if at all possible.
I think eventually, the internet might cause more damage to all the major languages of the world, with the exception of English of course.
At a certain time, Greek, Chinese, Arabic, Persian, Latin,... prevailed through the advances in the sciences and arts in addition to the military supremacy of the speakers of these languages.
After WWII, the British Empire handed over the reign (willingly or not) to the Americans. Just as a (what if) supposition... What if the Germans won the war, or later, the Russians, or... What language would we be chatting with today!
In any case, I really believe that English has transcended any national boundary. We are no longer using American English or British English. We are using the Lingua Franca of today. It will evolve further as more and more people bring their impetus with new biases, dialects, accents and so forth.
Finally, I would love that you publish under any name. It just sounds better than addressing you as "Dear Anonymous".
Thank You for taking the time...

Anonymous said...

OK, my name is Ranwa and it is my real name.

abufares said...

Thank you Ranwa,
beautiful name.

Ascribo said...

I kind of believe that Arabic (not necessarily other languages) is dying or about to die. It is NOT because people are not blogging in it, But because very few people can write in good, REAL formal Arabic. And even when these few write, few people are able to understand it well.

Local Arabic has no distiction, it is not dependable, it is changning, it has no written grammar or vocabulary, and the worst of all, no SERIOUS language research is being done, if any at all. All of that means Local Arabic can not be an evolving form of Arabic we know.

If you want a proof, pick up any newspaper and count how many basic grammar mistakes you can find. Things such as: قال المسؤولين really hurts my eyes. On the contrary, you can read the BEST english, French, or any other language in its Newspapers...

It is a shame if you cannot communicate properly in English, but it is a BIGGER shame if you make basic mistakes in your own mother-tongue.

abufares said...

Ascribo

Modern Arabic, with the almost universal absence of authentic scientific research in the Arab world, is kept alive only through the minute production of reputable literature (fiction and poetry). Unfortunately, the bulk of Arabic publishing is about either religion or dream interpretation.
I consider myself fortunate to have lived in the age of Nizar kabbani and Najib mahfouz just to name a couple of the (few) modern great ones.
If you haven't, read "Adrift on the Nile" by Najib Mahfouz
ثرثرة فوق النيل
give it a try and find out for yourself what a beautiful language Arabic is in the hand of a master.
For the non-Arab speakers, and if they are interested in learning a little about modern Arabic literature, I strongly suggest the Egyptian Nobel Laureate Najib Mahfouz. His work has been translated in all the major languages. Even in translation, his words portray the Arab psyche like no other.

Amr T said...

I loved this post. I have to say, your blog, for me, is one of the best syrian ones out there.

keep up the good work.

abufares said...

Thank You Amr for the kind words.
Your opinion means the world to me.

Abu Kareem said...

Abu Fares,

This is a late comment to this post; I hope you see it. I have been catching up on my reading.

Loved your post. I particularly liked the following:"Even if a group of devoted Muslims insist that the rigidity, the strictness and the absolute commitment to tradition is what Islam is all about and that a true follower has to take it or leave it, I simply disagree with them. I am as much a Muslim as they are. I daresay that I consider myself a part of the silent majority rather than the “moral” majority of Islam".
I am totally with you on that point.

abufares said...

Thank you Abu Kareem for your comment. Yours are always welcome and highly appreciated. I know that I am one of the "silent" majority. I hope that one day the true message and meaning of Islam prevails over the centuries long prevailing status quo.