Readers Chime In

Reader Jonathan Wright writes in to take issue with the 3% figure from the Los Angeles Times article quoted in this entry. Wright says that the figure is “based on the number of authorised translations into Arabic i.e. where the author and publisher approve the translation and receive some royalties. But a casual glance at the bookstalls of Cairo would show they are stacked with unauthorised translations of English books. Every significant work on Middle East current affairs is rapidly translated into Arabic in pirate copies and they appear to sell well, judging by the stacks I see in the streets, including the usual suspects (Bernard Lewis, Tom Friedman etc). I couldn’t hazard a guess at the proportion but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was at least 20 percent (should one include cookbooks, for example?). This doesn’t mean that Arabs read as much as they should (far from it), but if they read more, perhaps it would be better for them to read more works written by Arabs. The three percent myth, of course, fits well with the neo-conservative campaign to portray Arabs as benighted isolationists, deprived by authoritarian governments of the right to read what others are writing. This is mostly nonsense.” My own issues with the UN report from which that 3% figure was taken can be found in a previous post.

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