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Why Are The Arabs Not Free: The Politics of Writing Paperback – Jun 11 2007

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For centuries the dominant image of the Middle East has been one of despotism. Those on the right argue that this despotism is the result of Arab or Islamic culture; those on the left see it as an effect of Imperialism. In this ground breaking book the eminent Egyptian psychoanalyst Moustapha Safouan argues that this endless despotism finds its most important foundation in the divorce between the classical Arabic which is the medium of education and the diverse vernacular Arabics which are the language of the street. Safouan's impassioned argument to his fellow Arabs is that if they wish to realise the potential of their great culture, they must follow the linguistic lead of the European Reformation and develop the currently despised vernaculars. Safouan's magisterial essay is a tour de force of political philosophy, religious argument and linguistic history. It will be required reading for all those interested in the relations between language and culture, religion and politics.

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Moustapha Safouan, in this courageous and honest book, confronts head-on the problem of Arab despotism, examining it from the point of view of political philosophy, religious argument and linguistic history. Safouan’s impassioned argument to his fellow Arabs is that if they wish to realise the potential of their great culture, they must follow the linguistic lead of the European Reformation and develop their currently despised vernaculars as written languages.

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Language as ideological "screen" for self-censorship Sept. 22 2008
By Robert J. Crawford - Published on
Format: Paperback
This is a very interesting book by a leading Arab intellectual. Safouan is a prominent psychoanalyst, born in Egypt and emigrated to France, where he became a therapist and writer. In this book, Safouan argues that Arabs are bound by their language and rhetorical style, which uses the religious vocabulary of the Koran. This leads to a kind of intellectual dead end, he argues, as it limits their range of thought. In this view, because they are unable to conceive of a more secular world as determined by the personal and political vocabulary available to them, those that control the language - autocrats and mullahs - control the evolution of society. To overcome this, he asserts, the Arab countries must develop an entirely new vocabulary, one autonomous from the sacred. The argument closely follows French intellectual currents (Levi-Strauss, Lacan, etc.), i.e. that written language is an instrument of power, binding them to an ideology and world view: he wants to free the Arab peoples from it by furnishing western classic literature and modern ideas in translation as well as encouraging the the development of local argot.

This fundamental idea explains part of the Islamic dilemma. However, as Islamic culture evolves, Moslems will have to discover their own solutions, of which a new vocabulary would form one element, though perhaps more as a reflection of change than a catalyst. In my opinion, Safouan's argument is too intellectual, too literary.

REcommended as a valuable point of view.