Posted by: sean | July 6, 2008

Leaving for East Africa

I’m about to leave for a five-week trip seeing East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda), but I wanted to post a link to an execrable op-ed about learning Arabic in the Washington Post by Joel Pollak.

I sent out a hasty letter to the editor, which reads as follows:

Joel Pollak complains that there isn’t enough of an Israeli perspective in Arabic language classes. He then goes on to describe “West Beirut,” a gem of Lebanese cinema that recounts a love story between a Muslim boy and a Christian girl, as a film that casts Christians as “the prime bad guys in Lebanon’s civil war.” Obviously Pollak’s Arabic has not progressed far enough to have understood the movie.

He then assures us that he refused to talk about Abdel Nassar in class. In French courses, one learns about Napoleon as a grand statesman, not a brutal imperial dictator. Likewise in Arabic classes, as well as in much of the third world, Nasser was seen as a hero.

One of the points of language courses is to better understand the culture of the speakers of that language. Since Pollak would obviously prefer to learn about Israeli and Jewish history, one can only assume that mistakenly signed up for Arabic lessons when he was actually looking to learn Hebrew.

In other news, there’s this nasty piece calling for collective punishment. I’d have more to say about this last one, except that I’m in a hurry.

I don’t know what the internet situation is going to be like in any of the places where I’ll be over the next month or so, but I can’t imagine that posting will be any slower than it has been in the last month or two. Which means that I’ll do my best to step it up considerably.



  1. This garbage needs to be discredited. Al-Kitaab’s maps either DO show Israel or depict time periods that predate its existence. The offending passage on Nasser that he decries as “propaganda” translates as follows:

    “Gamal Abdel Nasser was born in Egypt in 1918 and spent his childhood in Alexandria where his father worked in the post office. When his mother died, his father sent him to his uncle in Cairo. After his graduation from high school, he joined the Egyptian army and became an officer. He and a group of young officers called the ‘Free Officers’ ejected King Faruq from Egypt on 23 July 1952 and thus Egypt became a republic. In 1954 Abdel Nasser became the first president of Egypt, and remained
    president until his death in 1970. Afterwards, Anwar al-Sadat assumed the presidency of Egypt. Nasser’s most noted achievements included the nationalization of the Suez Canal, the United Arabic Republic, and the High Dam in Aswan.”

    This is nothing but a lame attempt to intimidate Middle East studies departments with a call for governmental interference and should be denounced as such.

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