Last weekend, LSB and I got the DART to Dalkey. We stumbled across a charming independent bookstore and I found just the title to assist me in my continuing quest to familiarise myself with the Arab world and its beautiful language. It’s called Al-Jazeera: How Arab TV News challenged the World and is written by Hugh Miles, a young award-winning journalist who was born in Saudi Arabia and studied English Literature at Trinity College (there’s hope for us all!) and Arabic at Oxford.
I first mentioned Al-Jazeera in a column for Teen Times in The Irish Times five years ago. Then as of now, I knew very little about the network, but since we used to pick it up on our makeshift Satellite dish from Aldi, it became something I’d watch when in a curious mood. Part of the reason I want to learn Arabic so badly may be because I associate its sounds with Irish, or because learning it poses much more of a challenge than acquiring a European language. But I know a big part of it is my wanting to be able to understand more about the Middle East and to find out how ideology, the human brain and culture interact.
The first Arab person I got to know was a Syrian asylum seeker, whom I met when I was volunteering at Hatch Hall . His English was quite good and he was very kind. The differences between my worldview and his began to emerge over time though and the nature of these fundamental oppositions fascinated me. He once gave me some sweets, which he had bought with a large part of the €19 a week to which he was entitled. I accepted them gratefully but was perturbed to find later that my mere acceptance may have been an unintended indication of my special regard for him. Since then, I have come into daily contact with students from the Middle East, particularly from Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait. I have had some fascinating discussions with them and invariably these talks have left with the desire to find out more about this large area and its people.
I wish I had the time to devote myself to study but I feel these days that what tiny, little precious time I have left over from work and writing, I am inclined to spend with friends and with LSB rather than over a book or in front of a screen. I’m determined to fit it in though, and over the next few weeks, I will be sharing some of my attempts at learning more about the Middle East and the Arabic language. I need your help though. Would you prefer to join me in learning some basic Arabic or in learning more about the politics and geography of the region? What do you know about Islam? If you played Sporcle, could you name every country in the Middle East? What assumptions do you make about the Arab world and do you have any Arab friends? What about the Uprisings? Suggestions on a postcard, please or – alternatively – if I’m not worth the stamp, do post them below.