I’m in Amman, Jordan for the next three days (well, 54 hours remaining…) for a meeting of Open Society’s Information program. One of our guests at the meeting this morning was Isam Bayazidi, an open source hacker, wikipedian and blogger. He’s helped the OSI team get some understanding of the dynamics of weblogging in the Middle East, along with rockstars like Daoud Kuttab of Ammannet and women’s rights activist Ra’ida al-Zu’bi.
I’ve been reading a couple of Jordanian bloggers regularly – Mental Mayhem, Sabbah, Jad Madi – but I wasn’t aware of Jordan Planet, a fantastic aggregator of english-language blogs from Jordan. Not only does it have great content, it’s very technically impressive – Isam tells me he’s using Drupal to aggregate RSS feeds, and a clever Atom to RSS script to feed Blogger blogs to Drupal. Very elegant…
We spent a while talking about why so many Arabic speakers are blogging in English in Jordan, and throughout the region. Many bloggers from the region have a technical background, which requires good English comprehension, so it’s unsurprising that they’re fluent. What did surprise me were the explanations offered by some of our discussants: that some authors chose to write in English because a) many of the subjects they wanted to talk about didn’t have well-defined terms in Arabic and b) that writing in classical Arabic – so that it would be understood by writers throughout the region – rather than colloquial Arabic – which varies from region to region – seemed uncomfortable when discussing personal, opinionated, bloggy matters.
(I get into trouble every time I try to make generaizations about Arabic, a language I don’t speak or read, so apologies if I’m wrong on linguistic details – I’m doing my best to convey other people’s opinions and impressions.)
The upside of the decision of many Arabic speakers to write in English is that it’s easy to get opinions and personal views from a part of the world that Americans think they know a lot about and actually know very little about. Glad that my aggregator grows a little fatter every time I come to this sort of a meeting.