Updated: Apr 28
By Abdullah Arfa (Translator and Editor at Bayt Al Hikma 2)
Humans have been around for 200,000 years. Generations went by. Clans and tribes rose and fell. Events that we can only imagine happened repeatedly. Today, we know nothing whatsoever about any of this. Then, 5000 years ago, humans embarked upon an invention that surpasses every other invention: writing.
Writing is a form of rendering a language into a form that can be reconstructed by other humans separated by time and/or space. This means that I, a 21st-century young man, can listen to what Plato said 2500 years ago. I can listen to what an Egyptian peasant hymned some 4000 years ago, only in my voice. We cannot overestimate how writing defined our history as a species.
But the ability to transform these symbols into language, i.e. reading, requires prior knowledge. Languages evolving in different places at different times led to different writing systems. You cannot read what Plato wrote unless you know Ancient Greek. Here comes a new invention: translation.
In translation, you communicate the meaning from a source language to another target language. Translation removed a big flaw in languages that prevented full communication, which is the very goal of languages in the first place.
Now we back up from this Anthropology lesson to the present. My name is Abdullah Arafa and I live in the Middle East and that’s where the story begins to complicate. For decades now, the Middle East has been a source of all bad news in broadcasts around the world: wars, civil wars, hunger, terrorism and social crisis all happened/happens here. But I believe all of this is not only politics. I believe you don’t need to be a politician, a president, or a senator to make a contribution.
Today, we have a very powerful tool that can go around any censorship. We have the internet and the media. I can read about humanist values and what Hobbes thought without attending college. I can see how people in a village in northern Finland live without sweating. But with power comes responsibility.
On the media, and while hundreds of thousands of articles are published daily, it becomes a challenge to get the right information. It becomes a challenge to get around all the scams and all the pseudoscience. It gets really difficult to get around what tyrannical regimes want you to believe. Here comes Ideas Beyond Borders.
I work at Ideas Beyond Borders as a translator and chief editor at Bayt Alhikma 2.0 project. The core goal of the organization is to battle all these challenges. As an Arabic speaker, only 0.6% of the content online is available for you. You are literally blind to all the history, physics, chemistry and enlightenment values, etc. that English speakers for example have. So he/she becomes an easy target for propaganda, deceit, and pseudoscience. Hatred toward others can also prevail because they can’t get to know other cultures. In brief, it becomes the Middle East as we know it today.
So you can imagine how crucial it is to have a project like this. A project that translates all this into Arabic. A project that gives a man in the middle of the Arabian Desert, a woman in northern Iraq, or a boy and a girl in southern Egypt the opportunity to have the power of knowledge. We translate books and articles about civil rights, science, reason, critical thinking, and tackling extremism and I think you know why this matters the most to this region at this point in time
I work as a doctor and I feel accomplished whenever a patient thanks me or tells me how much I changed his/her life or made him/her feel better. I feel the accomplishment because I made a difference in a person’s life. You can imagine my feeling whenever an article against propaganda is read by 5 million! The Middle East needs change and change Ideas Beyond Borders does!