Marcin Michalski (Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Poland) “Recapturing the Self: Arabs and Islam in Contemporary Arabic Translations of European Literature”


This paper analyzes how terms and expressions relating to the Arab world and Islam in selected works of European literature are transformed in their Arabic translations published in the last half century. In translation into Arabic, the language of a predominantly Islamic culture, elements such as the terms naming Arabs as a people or Muslims as a religious community, the name of Muhammad as the Prophet of Islam, etcetera, cease to be foreign and exotic and become local and familiar. However, these elements are not always simply returned to their native culture if the original text represents them in a negative, Eurocentric way, which can even be considered blasphemous by Muslims if religious content is involved. They are then subject to more or less significant transformations that involve judgement and are ideologically motivated. Instead of restitution to the native culture, one is rather faced here with a kind of annexation of texts which consists in that the negatively portrayed ‘Other’ is replaced by a positively, or at least neutrally, represented ‘We’. Such annexationist manipulations may be explicit (signalled in the footnotes) or tacit. In extreme cases anti-Islamic passages become sympathetic towards Islam when translated into Arabic. In this way the authors of Arabic translations liberate the texts from the dominating Western perspective and adapt them to their own vision of the world. What seems to be manipulation and censorship from the ‘Western’ point of view may be perceived in an entirely different manner inside the Arabo-Islamic culture, e.g. as correction of obvious factual errors.