Faisal Saeed Al Mutar is the founder of Ideas Beyond Borders and Bayt Al-Hikma 2.0, Global Secular Humanist Movement. He is an Iraqi refugee, satirist, and human rights activist. He is also a columnist for Free Inquiry. Here, we continue to talk about recent work.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: So, when it comes to some of the more recent initiatives of IBB, Ideas Beyond Borders, what’s going on? What’s new?
Faisal Saeed Al Mutar: There have been some amazing updates. One of things since we started the organization; it has been important to have a system of translations to me. That the moment we get a book, article, or content.
That it will go through a system and get the highest quality in the fastest time possible. The latest update is that we have built a great system. Once we have a book, we have a deadline of when it will be publishers. We translators, followed by editors, followed by proofreaders, and followed by linguists to make sure the words used by editors and translators approved, etc., will be the ones used.
We try to produce a piece of art translation. That system has been finalized, roughly, around August and beginning of September (2018). I can, honestly, say that we have two books successfully translated. One is Lying by Sam Harris. Another is Maajid Nawaz and Sam Harris, Islam and the Future of Tolerance.
There will be the premiere of the moving in November. We will launch the book as a celebration alongside the premiere of the movie. There is an Arabic version that will spread across the Arab world like wildfire, for those who desperately need it.
We tried to translate the book Radical from Maajid Nawaz. It is interesting that there is no Arabic translation, which shows we need to exist. Part of Maajid’s life was in jail in Egypt for 4 years. He did a year of college in Egypt.
Yet, he mostly is known to Western audiences. But I think the people who most need to know him are people in the Arab world. For your audience and the others, for getting shit done, there will be, at least, 10 books done by the end of the year.
We are building an online library. We have a company, affiliated with WordPress, who will work pro bono for us, make the access easy for us. Hopefully, it will be designed with quotes and derivatives, small derivatives, an audio book, a video, and so on, to make the information as accessible as possible.
We are trying to reach as many people as possible. We are an educational organization in the end, try to reach people of all ages and attention spans [Laughing].
Al Mutar: Those who want to read the whole thing. Those who want to read some of it. We are also tapping into another case, which I realized recently. This is something for people to search today, not when things will be changing.
If you look at Wikipedia, many important pages like the Civil Rights Movement, it is only 1 sentence in Arabic. In English, it is 25 pages.
Al Mutar: It is a movement for anti-racism in America: “Oh, really?” Things to do with human rights, LGBT rights, science, medicine, new discoveries. None of them exist in Arabic. If they exist, they exist as a sentence or two, but not many.
Your audience should also expect that working with many partners across the Middle East who have expertise in writing, translating, and editing. We are hoping for 50 articles per month, maybe 100. Some things may not work as we always want, though — so 50–100 per month.
Articles ranging, as we translate them, from Utilitarianism, scientists who are Arabs but live in the West and the way the people in the Middle East do not know that they exist, e.g., four Iraqis writing about biology and live in the UK. Many do not know about them.
We try to make many of these Arab scientists, liberals, and thinkers to be known in their audiences. We are also translating Arab, liberal, secular, and Enlightenment thought, and open-mindedness of Arab thinkers into English.
There is an Iraqi sociologist who is a pretty amazing person, Ali Al-Wardi. He is not known to many in the West, but he is well-known in Iraq. He wrote a book called The Mockery of the Human Mind (Arabic: مهزلة العقل البشري).
He is a sociologist who tried to understand the nuances and contradictions of Arab society: why would someone want a girlfriend but also a virgin for marriage? He taps into all of these contradictions and tries to explain them.
This is something many in the West would want to understand, because these are complicated. It is seeing things from local writers and authors, which would be fascinating. We are doing a lot of things.
Our campus program with the AHA program expanded from 6 campuses to 24 across the United States, Canada included We have York University in Canada, then we have Harvard, Columbia, Dartmouth, UCBerkley, Texas A&M, and so on. All over the place: South, Midwest, East coast, West coast, and so on.
Now, we are in Toronto. People from other areas of Canada. We are more than happy to reach out to them. The plan is to make 12 events this Fall semester. The conversations that we are mostly interested in is the women’s rights in the Islamic world, female genital mutilation, free speech in the Islamic world, secularism, separation of mosque and state, and the conflicts in the region.
We have a speakers list that is expanding such as Yasmine Mohammed, myself, and others. We are expanding to experts in extremism and experts in defeating and fighting extremism. Unfortunately, many students across the US and Canada and, hopefully, expanding into European, which they are not familiar with.
They are mostly listening to, in my opinion, a narrative that is not the full picture. They listen to people who portray America as racist and Islamophobic, which is, of course, somewhat true. But they portray the Middle East as a beacon of victimhood. And if not for America, then everything would be good.
We say, “Things are more complicated. There were civil wars before even America existed.” It is listening to more than one narrative coming from the Linda Sarsours of the world and others. The goal is to diversify the set of knowledge the Arab youth have access to, but also to those Westerners on campus — especially on the Middle East and elsewhere.
We are in connection with organizations that work on the ground in Iraq, Lebanon, and Kurdistan, and some parts of North Africa. It is starting to do workshops about the books that we translate on the subjects like extremism and others.
We start on campuses because these are the places where people are receptive to ideas, to have a place for conversation and workshops about why we have extremism in the Middle East and how to defeat it.
It is engaging with the local communities, the young people. Many people do not know this. But the Middle East is considered one of the youngest people in the world. Many are wondering about life, more than any other place of the world.
Because they are bombarded with terrorists and with words. Many of them are questioning the old way of life, the extremist way of life. Definitely, we have plans for the end of this year and next year to open branches of Ideas Beyond Borders in Baghdad, Kurdistan, Tunisia, Iraq, and Morocco.
We will start to work underground with people. The translation, campus, and workshops are the main things that we are doing. Hopefully, as we grow, people will be expecting more programs for us.
Hopefully, our programs will be expanded as possible. It is hard to translate these texts into Arabic, where most of the knowledge is not available. Our programs are definitely scalable. There is always a need for transiting more content, more books are being written every day if not every minute.
Lots of the content existing in thee books could be relevant to our target audience, which is, as of now, the Arab youth. This will expand to the Kurdish youth, Iranian youth, Turkish youth, Indonesian youth, and Pakistani youth.
My role as the ED and founder is to build a model that is so successful that can be multiplied in other places. I would rather do one thing super well than do a bunch of things with half-assed work.
We focus on the Arab world. We build a successful model there, where we are at 80% now. Our partners and amazing staff and board have done amazing work. I am proud of them. I think that as we progress; we are going to build the model the world has ever known in terms of the translation and getting access to knowledge there.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Faisal.
Image Credit: Faisal Saeed Al Mutar.