Updated: Apr 27
Author: Hala Gamal
“No sooner did people step into the light than they were advised that darkness wasn’t so bad after all, that they should stop daring to understand so much, that dogmas and formulas deserved another chance.” This is how Steven Pinker described the Counter-Enlightenment movement in his book Enlightenment Now. Unfortunately, we still see this theme repeated to this day across the Middle East.
For this to change, the works of great modern thinkers and scientists, such as Neil deGrasse Tyson, Annaka Harris, and Steven Pinker, need to be translated into different languages to reach as many people as possible. For this reason, I was extremely excited when Ideas Beyond Borders told me that they wanted to translate Enlightenment Now into Arabic. As an Arab, I know how desperately the Arab world needs this type of content and how important it is to have a daring and wise translation movement change the status quo in the region. This is what Ideas Beyond Borders has been trying to do since day one.
Even with my excitement, I was somewhat scared. I live in Egypt, where people are still persecuted for blasphemy. I knew that parts of the book would push some buttons, especially since many people have prejudice against scientists like Dr. Pinker. From my personal experience in translating controversial content, I knew I would get backlash. But I realized that this fear is precisely why we should continue translating the works of brilliant scientists and thinkers. We need to work toward spreading the knowledge and ideas crucial for change in the region.
Working on such an important project was not easy. This book is a journey inside a great mind, walking us through a series of ideas, philosophies, scientific and medical discoveries that dramatically changed our lives. Additionally, it reveals statistics that prove the world has developed substantially due to the application of the Enlightenment ideals. It was also a roller coaster ride, taking me into the fields of history, science, medicine, politics, terrorism, and economics. This did not make my job any easier. A massive challenge for me was translating this comprehensive project with a wide range of topics and specialized terms while still maintaining the same tone and style it possesses.
Translation requires a deep understanding of the text at hand and the ability to completely absorb it. As a reader and a translator of Enlightenment Now, my views of the world have changed significantly. It has made me realize that we are not as ‘doomed’ as we all thought we once were. It also helped me understand how continuous progress enhanced and is still enhancing our lives, as opposed to the prevalent negative anti-progress world views and the skeptical trend of science. It allowed me to view humanity differently and boosted my optimism for our future. Moreover, it gave me hope for the progress that could be achieved in the Arab region and a positive outlook on our present times.
I hope many people have the opportunity to read this brilliant book, and I hope translating it into Arabic helps change more minds about our world, as it has changed mine. I also hope that translating this book and other similar books will be a stone thrown into the still waters of the Arab world. This article was edited by Skyeler Antonino