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Egypt: American Books

Egyptian blogger Asmaa Yasser – Dawn –  writes here about her experience at the Mubarak Public Library:

اعتدت منذ صغرى على الذهاب الى هناك.. الى مكتبة مبارك_الموجودة بشارع مراد بالجيزة_للقراءة واستعارة بعض الكتب..أحبها جدا لأنها تحوى الكثير من الكتب التى شكلت جزء من تفكيرى ووعيى فى فترة طفولتى

ما لفت نظرى هو ما رأيته فى المرات الأخيرة التى ذهبت فيها الى هناك وكنت بصحبة أصدقاء لى كبار وصغار..وجدنا رفوف جديدة فى قاعة الصغار عليها مجموعة من كتب وقصص الأطفال والتى تبدو هيئتها الجديدة والجميلة من على بعد..لفتت نظر الأطفال فأشاروا الينا ان نذهب لنراها عن قرب..وجدناها صادرة عن عدة دور نشر و وجدنا هذا الشريط المطبوع أسفل أغلفتها..شريط أبيض مكتوب عليه بوضوح “من الشعب الأمريكى”..أظنها جزء من المعونة على شكل ثقافى..أحببت أن تشاركونى رؤيتها وما تكون لدى من خواطر حول ذلك.
I have been used to visiting Mubarak Public Library, which is located in Mourad Street in El Guiza, since I was a child. I really like the library because of the books found there which helped in shaping my personality and way of thinking.

But in my recent visits there with some of my friends, I've noticed some new shelves in the children's hall with new and neat books on them. Also the young ones among us have noticed those new books and wanted us all to go there to see them. And there I realized that they all have the logo of the USAID on them. And I think they are part of the U.S. non-military foreign aid program, but this time in the cultural form. And I want to share with you my thoughts about those new books.
كان اول تلك الخواطر شعور داخلى ببعض الحزن..كثيرا سيتفق معى على أننا لا نحمل عداءاً للشعب الأمريكى ولكن عداءنا الحقيقى للسياسة الأمريكية.. ولكننى فى نفس الوقت لم أرتضى داخليا ان يصل أطفالنا الى مرحلة تهدى اليهم فيها الثقافة كمعونة او هدية وليست حتى من خلال برنامج تبادلى بيننا وبينهم تنتقل فيه كتب الاطفال من هنا لهناك والعكس
In the beginning I was sad … most of us will agree that we do not have any hard feelings towards the American people, but what we really hate is the American government's foreign policy … but what I really didn't like here was that those books were offered in the form of aids and donations and not in the form of mutual cultural exchange.
ولكن ما ان مررت على بعضها حتى وجدت ملمح اخر يميز الكثير منها..ملمح كثيرا ما وجدته واضحا لى فى معظم الانشطة القادمة الينا من الغرب او باشرافه

كثير من كتب المجموعة على هذه الشاكلة..هى معانى راقية ولكن الا تلاحظون كم هى مفصولة عن مرجعيتنا الاسلامية..فليست هناك اشارة ولو بسيطة الى ربط قيمة كالتسامح عند الطفل بحب الله له او بقدوة فى تاريخنا القديم او الحديث..يمكن تبرير ذلك بان الطبيعى لكاتبة لا تدين بالاسلام_على قدر ملاحظتى_ان لا ترجع الامور اليه..لكن النقطة الهامة هنا هى انهم _واحتملوا منى شيئ من نظرية المؤامرة المدروسة:)_ يمدون الينا يد العون بكتب مهداة الينا تحمل بداخلها قيم فى اصل اسلامنا وهويتنا ولكنها مفصولة عنها .
But as soon as I started to read these books, I got another impression. And impression that is common in many of the cultural activities that are imported to us from the west, and supervised by it.

The books have got many positive values and morals, but they are all separated from our Islamic values. There is not even a single hint that relates some noble value like forgiveness for example to our beliefs and our own cultural heritage. This is normal because the writers are non-Muslims but what really concerned me here – and please bear with me and my conspiracy theories :) – is that such books are intended to separate those noble values from our Islamic beliefs.
نجد أنفسنا امام أمرين اما التفاعل بوعى مع كتب وقصص كتلك واما الابتعاد عنها مؤثرين السلامة واللجوء الى الحلول الأسهل كحصر مجال القراءة على الانتاج ذى الطابع الاسلامى المباشر..أجد نفسى بالطبع مع الحل الأول وهو التفاعل معها وعدم غلق اعيننا واعين اطفالنا عنها لكن مع وعينا وحرصنا على ان نربطها لهم باسلامنا وهويتنا واخلاق نبينا وقدواتنا بشكل محبب بل و يروها فينا واقعا يعاش من حولهم
And finally we have to chose one of two options, either to consciously react with those books or keep our children away from them and limit their readings to Islamic books. And I myself prefer the first option where we can let our children read such books but exert some efforts in parallel to relate those values in their minds to our Islamic values and our Prophet's teachings in a way which is pleasant to them.

8 comments

  • Terry

    Assma,
    You say that the new books from the US do not behold Islamic values? Maybe because there is a growing consern that Islam have no values! For the last eight years we have been watching innocent people being beheaded, blown up, and shot and except for a vary few and I mean a vary few Muslims, there has been no condemnation of all the killings. By your silence, you then must approve of all innocents death, so what Islamic values do you speak of?

  • Terry, if the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims were all deemed valueless simply on the basis of their religion, the world truly would be a sad place. I have a lot more hope for humanity than that.

    It is all of our jobs to ensure against British statesman Edmund Burke’s famous quote: “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

  • Solo

    Have to agree, and disagree with Terry on this one. On one hand the numerous calls by radical Islamic clerics for Muslims to rise up and kill all infidels has been ignored by mainstream Muslims, but they are still allowed to preach their hatred. Condemnation is there, but has largely been on the internet and ignored by the main stream media. On the other hand, we are not an Islamic state so of course our books will not reflect Islamic ideals( we’ve heard the words, but actions contradict ). Most Americans were introduced to Islam on 9/11/01. What we have seen and heard since then has done little to change opinion on the American street. A Muslim friend and I after many discussions agree this will take a few generations to come to an understanding.

  • Solo, you write:

    “A Muslim friend and I after many discussions agree this will take a few generations to come to an understanding.”

    So aside from time passing, how will the change come about? What needs to happen?

  • I see that Asmaa doesn’t criticize the American Books, she just means that they have many positive values, but not is an Islamic context.

    She believes that the culture that we provide our kids must be related to our current culture , our Islamic culture , our Religious culture and our Egyptian culture.

    And She quoted in her Arabic text from a book about Tolerance and Forgiveness
    The Book says we must be Tolerant Because Tolerance is good.

    she think that our kids needs a books about Tolerance Because Islam says be Tolerant and God rewards the Tolerant people,
    And must have stories from our heritage about Tolerance .

  • Solo

    Well Maya I think blogs are a good start. It’s the one place where we don’t have to depend on diplomats or the media to do our talking for us, where people can find common ground. The younger generations also won’t (hopefully) grow up with the prejudices we are plagued with.

  • I may not totally agree with the writer of the post. I really cannot understand why shall we relate the positive values found in those books to Islam or any other beliefs, or else we shall not let them read those books.

    Yes, it is good for them to know that such morals already exist in Islam, but on the other hand a positive value or good morals are good by their own. And it is always good to raise children and teach them such values, and it is always good to let them read books that teach them good things, regardless of the religion of the author of those books.

    And I believe people are supposed to be happy if the teachers of their children taught them noble values, whether those teachers were Christians, Hindu, or even infidels.

    Now back to Mr. Terry’s comment. The problem here is that you insist to judge a 1400 old religions and 1.5 billion people by the deeds of few people who happen to believe in the same religion as those 1.5 Bn. You have to know that people all over the world try to give their deeds authenticity by relating those deeds to some values that are accepted by others. And terrorist when relate their assassinations and bombings to Islam, they are just trying to deceive others – especially Muslims – but this doesn’t really mean that what they have done is really related Islam or even accepted by Muslims.

    Maya, thanks for being reasonable here. And you may not know this, but what have just said it applicable Terry as well as myself :)

    Solo, I also have great expectations that Social Media (Blogs, YouTube, GVO, etc) can help in solving this misunderstanding. As I have already lost hope in the Official Media in solving anything.

    Mahmoud, Thanks.

  • I really enjoyed this post, thanks Tarek.

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