Francophone Book Exhibition: Protecting the ‘Purity’ of the French Language?

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(Photo: Marwan Tahtah)

By: Rasha al-Amir

Published Thursday, October 20, 2011

The popular Francophone book exhibition in Lebanon has attracted large crowds, yet its ban against exhibiting books written in Arabic, the native language of some Francophone countries, is a sign of its outdated understanding of what contemporary Francophone culture is or should be.

The francophone book exhibition will soon be held in Beirut. The successful ‘salon’ was previously held under the title “Read in French and in Music” (meaning French music, of course), and was supported by the cultural mission of the French Embassy. It has since been handed over to the syndicate of French book importers. This intertwining of national and business interests has become standard practice in countries undergoing privatization and free market restructuring.

The exhibition has attracted a large following in Lebanon, whose number exceeded 92,000 in 2005. They came to get to know the literary and intellectual stars of the French-speaking world. “Francophonism” was a clever idea devised by France to support its post-colonial policies in Africa, Canada, and the Middle East. Sarkozy attempted a similar project recently, the Mediterranean Union scheme, but it received little support from the francophonie.

The event in Beirut ranks third among the most successful Francophone exhibitions after those in Paris and Montreal. But the organizers should lead the exhibit outside its linguistic ghetto. They should not be afraid to integrate other languages, especially the Arabic language native to Lebanon.

What is the harm in allowing other languages alongside French in a country like Lebanon, where a significant number of people are multi-lingual? What is the harm in welcoming Armenian, Kurdish, or Arab publishing houses? What is the harm for French book importers in Lebanon to abandon the idea of language purity? Will book importers and their supporters protect their commercial and political interests with ‘purity?’

What happened to Dar al-Jadid is a case in point. The publishing house has been working for years to persuade organizers of major book exhibitions in this fragmented country to hold one exhibition that would combine Lebanon’s diversity and richness, but to no avail. Dar al-Jadid, which seeks to build bridges between Arabic and other vital languages, wanted to participate in this year’s French book salon, under the sponsorship of Umam, a sister organization. However, the exhibitions’ organizers claimed there was no room, however small, in the vast exhibition space to accommodate Arabic books.

Therefore, Dar al-Jadid will only be participating in the humble Arabic book exhibition, that does not compare with the French salon, neither in its language purity nor in its high-class and exclusive organization.

Rasha al-Amir is Dar al-Jadid’s publisher.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

What a stupid and uniformed article. So you think that the francophonie is a post-colonialist plot from France? The Francophonie is an anti-colonialist idea and an anti-imperialist organization. it was started by Léopold Sédor Senghor, Aimé César, and Habib Bourghiba, and exists thanks to Africa and Quebec. France (aside from the anti-imperialist left) couldn't care less about it. Only when France is at its most anti-imperialist/Gaullist/Leftist does it take the Francophonie serously, as in 2003 when the francophonie united together to oppose the Iraq war at the UN. Its reason for existence is to resist the hegemony of American english/globish and its cultural imperialism and globalized markets. The logic behind its creation was that, for the de-colonized peoples, as the FLN put it, "la langue française est notre butin de guerre".
And you show your complete and appalling ignorance of the subject when you talk about "French post-colonial policies in......Cananda" !! i'm sorry, but Canada? Have you ever met a Québécois? They very much see themselves as in a colonial situation, colonized by... the English, and for them the Francophonie is a tool of post-colonial emancipation. But I suppose you prefer that everyone speak English, and if that is the case I will leave you to your hamburgers, your markets, and your wars....But if not, why would there be books from other languages at a specifically french book salon? are there french or english books at the Arabic book salon? of course not, and there shouldn't be, otherwise why have these salons? I can see part of your point about having other languages participate in the book salon, at least an argument can be made for it, but your argument is completely undermind by your stupid and vicious characerization of the francophonie, which shows that you are a typical useful idiot of the American empire

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