Juan Cole Loves Freedom

Forget what you’ve heard about Juan Cole – he’s an anti-Semite, he’s a conspiracy theorists, he’s a nutjob, etc. etc. The fact of the matter is that he’s one of the few people actually translating Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, and others into Arabic. Because he hates freedom.

7 thoughts on “Juan Cole Loves Freedom

  1. I have the feeling that the real spark in this project, so far, is merely the thought that it should be done, rather than any practical sense of direction. There must be millions of people who speak both English and Arabic, so one question is why this significant bilingual community would need Juan Cole’s leadership for the tiniest step of just wanting these translations. Probably they don’t need him for that. Probably he would be more useful in the middle of some much larger parade rather than at the head of his own little parade.
    For example, there is the interesting Arabic version of Wikipedia, or more in the spirit of Cole’s project, Wikisource. Arabic Wikipedia has 12000 articles on something, although I don’t quite know what since I don’t know Arabic from DES encryption. What does it say about Israel, for example?
    While I’m at it, there is an English Wikipedia page for Juan Cole, but even that has no Arabic version, nor any translation into any other language.
    On the other hand, Arabic Wikipedia does have a page on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Again, it would be great to know what it says.
    If Cole paid people to fatten the Arabic Wikipedia and Wikisource sites, that would be great. I don’t know why he is making all of these plans to print and distribute translations that don’t yet exist, instead of dumping translations onto the Internet one way or another.

  2. Happily Google has an Arabic translation tool, so that I can get some of the drift of the beginnings of the Arabic Wikipedia entries. The articles that I wondered about are at least much more objective and factual than they could have been. It seems that Arabic Wikipedia is really a great project, even though it is still small. It is surely far ahead of the curve compared to Juan Cole’s project.

  3. I don’t know why he is making all of these plans to print and distribute translations that don’t yet exist, instead of dumping translations onto the Internet one way or another.
    One reason may be the dearth of internet access in the Arab world. Only 2.5 million Arabs in the Middle East have internet access, so while the Internet, as you say, should be a part of Cole’s project, it shouldn’t be the main part.
    I’m glad the Arab Wikipedia is so fair and balanced; perhaps as the Arab world modernizes the site will help moderate the region as well.

  4. If “only” 2.5 million Arabs have Internet access, that is still vastly more Arabs than Cole can hope to reach by printing books, unless his project scaled up by several orders of magnitude. Here is a back-of-the-envelope calculation: If Arabic Wikipedia has 12,000 pages, if they could be printed and mailed at a cost of 1 cent per page, and if the typical page were sent to 100,000 Arabs, how much would that cost? The answer is 12 million dollars.
    Besides, if he had the web pages, he could always print them out anyway. In fact, it would be cheaper for him to send computers to Arab schools than the books themselves. Plans to print and distribute content that does not yet exist are usually dubious.
    Someone should talk to Cole about Arabic Wikipedia, for starters his own personal page. If he can’t be persuaded to translate even that, then he has no credibility on this project.

  5. I think your perception of Cole’s politics is clouding your judgement here. If you think Cole’s ignoring Arabic Wikipedia, then there’s something very simple you can do about it: email him.
    If Cole wanted to work to bridge the digital divide in the Arab world, he could do that. But that’s not his goal. His goal is to win the hearts and minds of the common people, not the Westernized people with the Internet who already support the U.S.

  6. Cole’s politics may color my perception a bit. However, my greater past experience in this case is with other proposed content projects, both on-line and off-line, in particular in mathematics. I have seen a lot of people plan cathedrals and even cities on paper, yet never put together anything. Somehow Cole’s site has that tone. They have a steering committee, and they have even filed with the IRS, but they are waiting for money before creating even token content.
    To the extent that Cole’s politics is a factor in my thinking, his comments about the government falling down on the job seem a bit sanctomonious. It is an entirely understandable and even somewhat justified tone of sanctimony, but at the same time it’s consistent with the syndrome of planning cathedrals on paper. It’s like the motorist who volunteers to direct traffic, as much to show up the police as to actually help.
    If I actually knew Cole well, or if otherwise he were in my professional circuit, then I probably would write to him at length about these issues. In the past, it has sometimes made a real difference, but often the targets of my advice have cordially thanked me for my input, then continued on their terminally inefficient track. So I don’t feel like getting involved. It wouldn’t really be significant advice if I wrote to him, given that he already has a committee. It would just be political chit-chat.
    But if someone else understands my real point and is also on Cole’s wavelength, then that person possibly could significantly help his project. I will grant that the man has noble intentions.

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