One of the questions I’m asked most is: “Why do you blog in English?”. The previous post on Arabic reminded me that I never really explained here why I don’t blog in Arabic. A few months ago, a reporter from SMEX asked me that same question and I emailed him a detailed reply. For some reason, he didn’t get to publish his article, so I’m going to publish the (edited) exchange below:
I am currently working on a piece for our website about prominent Arab bloggers who write in English, as opposed to Arabic, and their reasons for doing so. I follow your blog [...] and was hoping that you would be able to provide me with some insight as to why you’ve chosen to publish your blog in English. [...] Do you have a particular audience in mind that you hope to reach through English, or do you find Arabic somehow limiting?
When I first started my blog back in 2005, I chose English for mainly a practical reason: My education in AUB meant that I had plenty of reports to submit in English, which resulted in me getting touch-typing skills (I only had to submit two Arabic type-written reports in the course of 6 years in AUB, and I simply paid someone else to type them for me). This meant that for me, typing a paragraph in Arabic will take thirty minutes, but typing in Latin characters will take less than one minute.
Then there’s the foreign connection. After launching Beirut Spring, I was initially surprised, then thrilled at the attention I got from International readers and media. I became the proverbial bridge to the outside world and that gave me a sense of purpose that up to now helps motivate me.
Despite the above, I have recently tried to expand my readership and launch a blog in Arabic. I was ready to teach myself typing in Arabic, and even considered using transliteration services like Yamli.com. But I kept bumping into technical walls. Working with Arabic online is very challenging. As a test, try to copy and paste any arabic text online and you’ll run into weird difficulties (Arabic letters are contextual, meaning the same letter is displayed differently depending on its position in the sentence. In addition to that, Arabic characters are RTL (right to left), but special characters ( ; : ” ! %$ ..etc) are LTR (left to right). If a special character is present in an Arabic paragraph, selecting that paragraph for editing or copying becomes impossible).
I am aware that other bloggers do use Arabic ( Imad bazzi of trella.org and Hummus Nation come to mind), but have you noticed that they rarely include quotes in their posts? My kind of blogging involves a lot of pull-quotes and references to public statements. I am yet to find a way to make that practical or even feasible.
My audience is a combination of foreign Journalists, Lebanese (expatriates and those living in Lebanon) who, like me are more comfortable in expressing themselves in English, and curious passer-bys who are visiting Lebanon and want to know more about the country)