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Thursday, December 02, 2010

National Geographic Magazine Arabic Edition

On  a long gone day in the summer of 1976 I flipped the pages of my first National Geographic magazine. Although my English proficiency was rudimentary the superb photography transcended the language barrier. It took me over a month to read and partially understand every article in that issue and by the time I finished my determination to improve my English intensified. Reading, which later became my favorite pastime and pursuit, started then and never ended.

Besides my formal academic training, I owe my early education to National Geographic magazine in great part. Along with the National Geographic Channel (NGC) it became my prime source of non-fiction erudition. As a graduate teaching assistant in the States I was fortunate that my designated office contained the department’s archives of the magazine. I spent hours on end reading avariciously about geography, anthropology, history and the physical sciences and staring dreamily at the photographs from distant lands and galaxies. On lonely nights and as a bedtime diversion I turned to reading fiction and my intellectual fate was sealed by my mid-twenties.

In October of 2010, 122 years after the first issue was published in 1888 the 33rd Arabic Edition  of the magazine finally saw the light of day. It followed the inauguration of National Geographic Abu Dhabi TV channel earlier this year. This free-to-air satellite channel is, in my opinion, the UAE’s greatest contribution to the Arab speaking World. For the first time I refrain from cursing their petrodollars and am obliged to give them a thumbs-up. After flooding the market with cheapish rubbish in the form of “entertainment” magazines the decision to publish something of substance and value is greatly appreciated albeit being late. While the 3rd issue (December 2010) was released today there remains a significant problem in distribution. Hopefully the publishers, given enough time, can overcome this very serious matter. As far as I understand the Arabic Edition is being printed in small quantities awaiting further market evaluation. The online subscription page is unusable since instead of providing an e-payment option I was “promised” that a representative shall contact me. I was not able to acquire the first October issue and managed with difficulty to find the second one in Beirut. If these logistic hurdles are adequately overcome National Geographic Magazine in Arabic could become a compelling source of education for a new generation of Arab speakers.

My two younger kids and I are already fighting over reading priority of the single issue we have at home. It is a dream of mine that National Geographic TV and magazine impregnate their minds with the light of knowledge, fill their hearts with the desire to discover the unknown, goad them into asking questions without fear of retribution and propel them to challenge their egocentric sense of decency. It is as important to learn that we are not alone on this planet as it is to speculate that we are not the only sentient beings in the universe. Young Arab men and women deserve at least that chance.

10 comments:

Isobel said...

Oh! Fantastic, Abufares! I love National Geographic and have subscribed partially for me but mostly for my kids. It's a superb source of information about the world. I'm glad your kids are already diving into the issue with such zeal. Enjoy!

Gabriela said...

I can tell you are simply delighted with this news. I can imagine your pride of seeing your children fighting over who reads the magazine first. I am so delighted when my nephew asks me things that I know that feeling is awesome.
Enjoy it Abufares. And I really hope you'll find the first issue soon.
¡Saludos!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful magazine! We have been a member of National Geographic since the 80's, and enjoy them fully. Is the English version on the market there also? or only the few publications of the Arab version? Are your children fluid in english?

We could certainly get you copies in English if you would like them...

w.b. yeats

abufares said...

@Isobel
NG is without a doubt the best source of "world" education kids and adults can have. The sense of an extended human community and our role as guardians of the lives of other species on this planet is the ultimate message.
My only objection over the years was NG political outlook on the world which at times was tainted by the narrow mindedness of the American Right.
I'm happy our kids are getting this chance.

abufares said...

@Gabriela
Pride and something else too. If I were a smart kid, with an appetite to read and learn, in this day and age in Syria I have one of 2 options: Extremely senseless entertainment magazines OR Religious literature (mostly senseless too I must emphasize).
NG provides for the first time for this generation (there were attempts before to provide sound knowledge in the form of periodicals) an alternative. I only hope that it is here to stay.

abufares said...

@w.b. yeats
The English version is available in limited quantities in Damascus but since my kids' English is limited indeed I'm very happy with the Arabic edition, for them and for everybody else as a matter of fact.
Thank you for your generous offer :-) but up until a couple of years ago I was receiving the magazine in my mailbox. Perhaps I should renew my subscription!

boinky said...

ah, we have National Geographic Asia channel here in the rural Philippines and watch it all the time. It gives us joy to see the beauty of the world.

We get it in English, because most people with even a basic education here are bilingual.

abufares said...

@boinky
We have NGA in English here too on satellite TV. It's indeed a window to the world.
Thank you for dropping by.

KJ said...

I agree; the super photography of NG is what caught my attention and hooked me to it, though I have not spend much time reading as I have ogling over the images (and still, do, as I subscribed to their photo of the day).

It was a great pleasure to meet one of NG's most ambitious photographers, Joe McNally.

abufares said...

@KJ
Back in my college days I aspired to become a photographer/writer for NG. It didn't go the way I wanted like many things in life.
I enjoy most of their articles, save for the politically motivated ones. An undertone of rightist, nationalist and dare I say colonialist view of the world creeps in their journalism destroying their credibility. Luckily without the burden of "A" message NG is one of the best sources of information on the international scene.