I am a liberal arts major, so don't get me wrong, but something about "Great Books" just makes me snooze. I think it's inhuman to only read and talk about the great ideas. At a certain point one also has to take sides in these debates --or else you fall into the ultimate arrogance of the agnostic. It's one thing to be unsure of the right answer because you admit ignorance ("I don't know who's right.") But if you read two geniuses and try to sit out the debate as some kind of impartial observer on the ground you can see both of their points, what you're really saying is that you --being a greater genius than either-- have found a way to harmonize what the finest minds that have ever lived could not harmonize. And I say you're not that smart. But I digress.
What I wanted to point out is this wonderful Jonathan Rauch piece in National Journal about a project to translate the classics of liberal thought into Arabic for the internet.
somewhere in Baghdad a man is working in secrecy to edit new Arabic versions of Liberalism, by the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises, and In Defense of Global Capitalism, by the Swedish economist Johan Norberg. He is doing this at some risk of kidnap, beating, and death, because he hopes that a new Arabic-language Web site, called LampofLiberty.org -- MisbahAlHurriyya.org in Arabic -- can change the world by publishing liberal classics.
This Iraqi translator fell in with Thomas Palmer of the Cato Institute, who has previously worked to get classics translated into Russian.
he recounts meeting an American who was lecturing in Baghdad on principles of constitutional government. The message struck home. "Yes, you could say I am libertarian," Kamil says. "I believe in liberty for all, equality and human rights, freedom and democracy, free-market ethics, and I hate extremism in everything. I believe in life more than death as being the way to happiness."
And I can't say I'm surprised to learn this, but I've never seen it documented anywhere:
Intellectual isolation is a widespread Arab phenomenon, not just an Iraqi one. Some of the statistics are startling. According to the United Nations' 2003 "Arab Human
Development Report," five times more books are translated annually into Greek, a language spoken by just 11 million people, than into Arabic. "No more than 10,000 books were translated into Arabic over the entire past millennium," says the U.N., "equivalent to the number translated into Spanish each year." Authors and publishers must cope with the whims of 22 Arab censors. "As a result," writes a contributor to the report, "books do not move easily through their natural markets." Newspapers are a fifth as common as in the non-Arab developed world; computers, a fourth as common. "Most media institutions in Arab countries remain state-owned," the report says. [emphasis mine]
There's more, and it's exciting --go read, go read! Curtsy way down to the ground to Eve Tushnet.