The United Nations said in June that 10.8 million Syrians—nearly half the population—were in need of humanitarian aid. For participants in Hyper Paralysis: Global Governance and the Syrian Question, a recent panel discussion in AUC’s Tahrir Dialogues series, the problem of aid distribution cannot be solved without a political solution. “By humanizing the Syrian question, often we do something else: we take the humanity out of the Syrians themselves,” said Hani Sayed, chair of AUC’s Law Department. “We turn them into victims. Helpless victims.” Abeer Etefa, senior regional public information officer at the World Food Programme, noted that some donor countries complain about directing aid to one side or another, but an untenable weighing of “good” and “bad” citizens would result without a policy of neutrality. Georges Michel Abi-Saab, professor of international law at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, lamented the bleak prospects for a political solution. “What we are seeing,” he said, “is a new level of barbarism.”
Does translation offer a means for rapprochement between cultures in conflict? The conventional answer is yes. English translations of Arabic literature have increased; this year, Arabic is the fourth most translated language into English in the United States. But the Iraqi translator Sinan Antoon, an associate professor of Arab literature at New York University, argues that the English translations served not only as a reference for better understanding but as “a form of cultural interrogation” of Middle Eastern society. Many Americans, Antoon explained in a lecture titled “Translation as Mourning” hosted by AUC’s Center for Translation Studies, sought evidence that would justify blaming Muslims for their trauma and loss. Iraqis, he reminded his listeners, have their own need for explanations of American “wars of terror that are labeled as wars on terror.” A noble purpose of translation, Antoon argued, is offering a means to understand loss. He recited verses by Sargon Boulus, an Assyrian Iraqi poet, whose work mourns Iraqi losses using ghosts as a motif—victims of invasions and sanctions who demand no revenge or retribution, seeking only to be recognized as part of humanity.
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