A Syrian blogger in Japan? That's no other than our Syria author and Arabic Lingua editor Yazan Badran, who has agreed to sit with us this week for our Blogger of the Week series of interviews with Global Voices Online authors and volunteers.
Who is Yazan Badran and what does he do? What interests him and what annoys him?
“I am a Syrian, and a Human. I grew up in Latakia, which is a little sleepy city on the eastern Mediterranean. In my early years I spent the summers in Beirut, another Mediterranean city, not-so-sleepy, though. Culturally, I am as Levantine as they come.
My parents were veteran Marxists, and my grand parents were highly-respected religious figures, one of the many paradoxes and extremes that gave me interesting insights into very different worlds of thought, something I feel very privileged to have had at such a young age.
Humans interest me in a profound way, and in many ways I find myself on the extreme side of anthropocentrism. Interests? First and far most, travel. Then comes Philosophy, Literature and Photographic arts, Politics and Technology are the areas that fascinate me the most.
Annoyances are a slippery road. I am very easily annoyed [something I'm not too proud of], whether it is someone parking their cart in the middle of a supermarket aisle, or having to watch Fox News covering just about any story,” says the 21-year-old blogger.
What are you studying in Japan and what has it got to do with blogging?
Well, I am a Monbukagakusho Scholar, studying Computer Science at Nagoya Institute of Technology. What has it got to do with blogging? Well, it depends. My studies per se are not quite influential in my blogging; I don't blog about Technology much, but the cultural experience of living in Japan, learning the language, and studying in that (very) foreign language has affected what I blog about, and how I blog.
How long have you been blogging and why? What do you blog about mostly?
I've been blogging since June 2005, which is just a little less than three years. At that day, a car bomb in Beirut had assassinated Samir Qassir, someone that I had much respect for. The event itself, and its context shook me deeply. I felt it was extremely important to voice out the individuals. In an area where we live daily with interconnected conflicts, it becomes easy to forget the humans, the individuals, in favor of the “Causes” that are always “Just” in the eyes of their beholders. I wanted to write about me, simple and clear. I wrote much about politics, religion, society and development, but I was always very careful to remind every reader that it was very personal. When I wrote about politics it was politics that was personal to me. And with the number of national and international media personnel covering these conflicts, each with their own agendas, and each claiming objectivity to himself, it was important to have people who are just that, individuals.
How long have you been with Global Voices Online and why?
I came to Global Voices in February 2006. The next day riots in Damascus torched the Norwegian and Danish embassies in Damascus. That was my first article on Global Voices. It was something very painful to watch, never mind writing about it. But the amount of reaction, and the kind of reaction the Syrian blogsphere took that day was and still one of the reasons I still blog, and in a way one of the reasons I write for Global Voices. I don't want to mention the obvious, Global Voices has been covering many stories that conventional media wouldn't think of covering, and in many ways they seem to be the only ones worth covering. Representing the Syrian blogsphere in such a diverse environment seemed extremely important for two main reasons; One is the amount of encouragement that will give to what was a young, small blogsphere that was to grow ever rapidly since then. The second, is that it represent the “individuals” which is exactly what I went out to do when I started blogging.
In a nutshell, can you describe the Syrian blogoshere? As Syria author, what interests you about the Syrian blogosphere? Who are your favourite bloggers and what do they write about? Are Syrian bloggers a true reflection of Syrian society?
When I first started blogging, back in June 2005, there were only a handful of blogs out there [maybe eight]. Ayman Haykal, was the first blogger I'd read, and his enthusiasm about blogging Syria was enormous that I can safely say he inspired many people to keep blogging at a point when we seemed very lonely.
Now, the picture is very different, the Syrian blogsphere is one that is growing rapidly. And more importantly the amount of quality blogs is increasing. That growth was extremely hindered last year with the government's censorship of all (.blogspot) blogs, but I can safely say that it has started to recover again, with many people returning with ever more enthusiasm, switching to other blogging platforms just to circumvent the blocking.
Is it representative of the Syrian society? I can't really say that. A great number of bloggers are expats [including myself], and those who are inside Syria mostly blog in English. Lately the blogsphere has been expanding horizontally, with many blogs in Arabic or switching to Arabic, which is a good sign, because it helps paint a more sincere picture of Syria.
There are many great bloggers out there, many of them have come to be good friends at one point. I can only mention a few. Ayman Haykal, whom I'd mentioned earlier. Abu Fares is our own rock-star famous blogger, whom I've interviewed for GV before. Omar Faleh, whose posts I personally relate to very much. Razan Ghazzawi, whose conviction, enthusiasm and activism, in real life just as much as on the blogsphere has been a real inspiration for the last year. And many many others – Rime Allaf, The Syrian Brit, Omar Salaymeh, Sasa, Abu Kareem, Wassim.
Describe your work at Arabic Lingua and tell us about your plans and future hopes for the site?
I am the editor for the Arabic Lingua project. I run a wonderful team of volunteer translators, and do translations myself.
Lingua seemed like the natural expansion of GVO. As someone mentioned before, to actually call ourselves Global, we need to speak Globally. So now GV speaks more than 10 languages. Which is, to say the least, amazing. Arabic Lingua is a part of this family. It is important to bring all these wonderful diverse stories from authors all around the world to the reach of Arabic readers. It was important to bridge that gap between Middle Eastern blogs that blogged in Arabic and those that blogged in English. When I translate an article from an Arab country, and all the links are to blogs that blog in English, I am linking them to a whole new audience who otherwise would not read it. And vice-versa.
Arabic Lingua is still a very young project [we were officially launched just before the new year]. So for now we are trying to keep a flow of articles appearing on the site, and sustain that flow to build up a readership. Future plans include more systematic focus on regions other than MENA, as to serve in widening the sphere of interest for Arabic readers. Quality is also something that is very important, to develop methods to determine the quality of a certain translation and how to improve that; something that is very important because all of us are just amateur translators.
When not online, what do you do? What are your hobbies and interests?
I am in love with the outdoors. Coming from the Mediterranean, both the sea and the mountain feels like natural habitat to me. I am happy to spend days on end camping out in the wonderful mountains around here in Japan. Travelling is also a real passion of mine. The simple conversations and everyday encounters while travelling are of my dearest memories. Swimming, walking and playing basketball is how I (try) to keep myself in shape. Music and Reading are as personal as politics to me. And, watching a Stanley Kubrick or Woody Allen movie with a glass of vodka is also known as a personal pastime.
Can you talk to us a bit about being an Arab in Japan? How different are the customs and traditions; people and attitudes; and everyday living from life in Syria?
Japan, is a very interesting experience. But like every other interesting experience, it is a very difficult one. The really difficult part is not being an Arab in Japan, as much as being a Foreigner in Japan. Being a foreigner in Japan is something that's been talked about again and again, so I won't go into that.
How different? As different as it can get. The main fundamental difference would be that Syria is a society with extremely complex ethnic, historic, religious and social backgrounds to every stone and every person. While Japan is an Island that was isolated from the outside world until 200 years ago, so it developed a very distinct culture. That is something that determines many aspects of your daily life. The matter of fact is, Japan is a country that you Need to be a part of in order to live comfortably in. Yet, it is not one that will accept you easily. Everyday here brings a new experience, but what makes it special is that most of these experiences borderline on the Extremes.
Thank you for this wonderful opportunity. I am personally very proud to be a member of this GV family, along with an amazing team of volunteer authors and translators. GVO is a wonderful symbol of how the Internet has changed the world, and ourselves, to the better.