Barriers to the Broad Dissemination of Creative Works in the Arab World

The RAND report “Barriers to the Broad Dissemination of Creative Works in the Arab World” offers recommendations on creating Arab access to Arab authors that counter and refute the ideology of extremism.

Three major barriers confront the dissemination and consumption of Arabic literature. The first barrier is censorship, which is a significant problem in the Middle East. … A second barrier is the small market for literary material in the Arab world. … A final barrier is the poor internal distribution systems for books.

One of these lessons is how to overcome the understandable skepticism that foreign audiences have toward government-sponsored media activities. … Another lesson from the Cold War is to carefully consider the target audience and identify media sources that are most likely to influence them. … A third lesson is the value of nonpolitical material in combating extremism.

The report is a worthwhile read even they did not (understandably) mention the a) number of Lincoln biographies in State’s Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) distribution list (not too long the # was 10) and b) past DOD efforts to correct – and ultimately work around – this failure to understand the requirements.  

One Reply to “Barriers to the Broad Dissemination of Creative Works in the Arab World”

  1. A lot of excellent suggestions! There is some movement in this regard in the Arab world today and it is ripe for a big push. During this year’s Ramadan episodes of “Khawater,” Ahmed Shuqair compared the current [sorry]state of Arab cultural habits with that of Japan, especially with regard to learning [in the broadest sense, not just school] order, respect for others, and how they spend, not waste their time, and progress without losing one’s traditions. One focus was on how they READ a lot, including on the metro, something rarely seen in today’s Arab world.Not only is there now a regional book prize, and both colloquial and classical televised poetry contests and it is amazing to watch they fill up an entire huge arena with avid fans, almost all young enthusiasts. Poetry has always been dear to Arabic speakers and this seems to have revived interest. The Gulf states are taking the lead on all this, as they are with film and TV drama.
    It should not be too hard to encourage someone to launch a PSA series on the TV channels around the region called “Read!” [which is the first thing in the Qur’an] with teen-young adult readers from around the region and encourage TV stations to have popular TV shows [like Kalam Nawaem…for women]discuss or recommend works of fiction. A very simple and subliminal approach is to encourage those who produce regular TV series to have their young characters, who you often see sitting around either watching TV, playing on the computer or doing nothing, be reading a book instead.
    While it is tempting to go to the web for solutions, it brings with it a limited audience. While censorship is real, people seem to get a hold of the books they hear about and really want to read. Many are sold under the counter. An important part of the solution is to try to find a business model on a regional basis that would be profitable for the publishers and provide books that are priced so the poorly paid youth can have access to them. This has to remain sustainable even when we lose interest.
    The most important proviso is that WE don’t try to second guess the market on what appeals to their readers. Like music, the arts, and TV/cinema production, the idea is not so much the content, but the idea of “thinking” and “imagining” and “creating.” It is also the fight against those who say there is no place for a sense of aesthetics/appreciation for beauty beyond the religious sphere. A look at much of the better programming, including drama on Arab TV today is a conscious effort to challenge audiences to think in a different way about both the past and the present.

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