“Urdu is sweeter when written by hand,” he said. A writeup in Wired of an Urdu newspaper being created by hand in Chennai – typically in the Nastaliq (or naskh-e ta’liq/ the hanging script) ‘font’ – along with a gallery. A word of caution: The article, by Scott Carney, does contain gems like, “While the Musalman is a Muslim newspaper, it is a hub of South Asian liberalism, employing both women and non-Muslims”. Just roll your eyes.

  • Also, this is flat wrong: “Calligraphers mastered the swooping Urdu script in ivory-tower institutions and penned copies of the Koran for wealthy patrons”. You must mean the Arabic script, Mr. Carney (and ivory-what?).
  • Also, also: “But when British colonizers swept across India importing printing presses and English, Urdu ceased to be the official court language”. Um, you mean Persian as the official court language, right? Besides, Hindoostani was taught vigorously at Fort Williams to Company officials (a nastaliq font for Persian/Urdu printing was being developed as early as 1770s) and the Urdu/Hindi divide also occurred well after 1857 and, well, I will just note that the Portugese installed the first printing presses in India in 1542.
  • Also, also, also: the part about this being ‘the last of …’ or ‘the end of …’ is off by a Turkish-word-for-an-Army-Camp-mile. There are numerous dailies published in Pakistan [mostly all are evening editions] using lithograph or typograph printing – not to mention hundreds of books and pamphlets, many of whom still employ calligraphers to create the first full draft. Sure, in the last decade or so, national dailies have started using digital word-processing and fonts etc. and, perhaps, things will trend towards the unicode future…but, let us wait to write the obituaries when the day actually arrives.

I guess, don’t read the article, just go look at the pictures (also avoid reading any captions).

Of course, the art of Khattati (calligraphers) – with variant and robust traditions in Arabic, Persian or Urdu – is still practiced widely. In Pakistan, outside any Court building, one can still find a katib [writer] selling his services [write a petition, fill out a form] at a reasonable price. And in the bazaar, one can still buy beautifully scripted art works of Ghalib or Hafiz and even the full Aya’t al-Qur’si.

My own urdu handwriting is horrible compared to my father. He was schooled in proper khat techniques, I mostly skipped my lessons – which often consisted of copying out articles from newspapers and were quite boring.

23 thoughts on “Calligraphers

  1. 1. It’s a nice article. Its importance lies in the context of India and especially Tamil Nadu which is far from the Awadh (Doab), Delhi or the Hyderabad region, which are the natural homelands of Urdu.

    It is amazing to know that the paper comes out from Chennai (formerly Madras) as down South, Bangalore, the capital of Karnataka was considered the last centre of Urdu journalism though in Arcot region there is Urdu knowing populace.

    India still has nearly 400 Urdu daily newspapers and a story based on Indian Urdu journalism is quite possible.

    2. The most authentic book on Urdu and its history & script is Shamsur Rahman Faruqi’s ‘Early Urdu literary culture and history’

    http://www.us.oup.com/us/catalog/general/subject/LiteratureEnglish/WorldLiterature/Pakistan/?view=usa&ci=9780195652017

    Amrit Rai’s books is extremely biased and not considered a good work on this subject though it is certainly controversial.

    3. Another thing. Why Q is used in ‘Aya’t al-Qur’si.’ Q is used for Qaaf. And here it is Kaaf. It is a mistake to confuse the sounds.

  2. Elizabeth:

    “and of course, academics. because they refuse to participate! even as they write long and thoughtful blog posts for a non-specialist readership…)”

    “But on this blog, you’re preaching to the choir”

    Question: how do you know that the entire readership of CM is “non specialist?” I don’t doubt that the intention of the CM bloggers might be to reach out to a non-specialist readership (by “non specialist” readership, I assume you mean people who are not academics in South Asian Studies, specifically India and Pakistan). Just because the goal of the bloggers is to reach out to non specialists, it doesn’t necessarily follow that they ARE reaching out to non specialists. How do you know that the subject matter, tone, and “discursive framework” is not attracting people with similar backgrounds? Then there are those posting comments vs. lurkers to take into consideration…

    “But I also think the necessary critique of jargon can also slip into an unfair, and yes, sometimes ANTI-INTELLECTUAL, canard that dense and sometimes badly-written academic work is usually bullshit dressed up in esoteric language”

    Just out of curiosity, how are you defining “intellectual”? I know it sounds like a stupid question, but I’m curious as to what your definition is.

    Compadre Bort:

    “i dislike the sepoy’s post because I detect a tone of mockery in it.”

    I actually like mockery, as long as it’s backed up. That’s not the problem I had.

    “dude they treat Islam/Hinduism/X/Y/Z as monolithic!! ….man they totally ignore country X’s (which i took a grad seminar on) linguistic and cultural diversity. The fools!)”

    Hey, those are valid criticisms! I myself have written on those very things. I don’t think the above ideas can be automatically and/or always attributed to academia, the ivory tower, and “intellectuals”.

    “Yeah, yeah, I’m wrong/I misread the post/Factual inaccuracy should always be punished with internet mockery/What do I know/I’m ANTI INTELLECTUAL/I dont understand what’s at stake/ etc etc etc/ yada yada yada.”

    Judging from Elizabeth’s intepretation of “anti intellectual” canards, looks like I’ve joined your “anti intellectual” club as well.

    BTW, life ain’t nothing but a gangsta party. Even in academia.

  3. compadres – i dislike the sepoy’s post because I detect a tone of mockery in it.

    i read this blog because it usually engages big issues smartly, nimbly, and succinctly. and sometimes even wittily :-)

    There are plenty of other blogs that can lash holier-than-thou-smarter-than-thou criticism on any ol’ article that comes out. It’s so easy.

    (…dude they treat Islam/Hinduism/X/Y/Z as monolithic!! ….man they totally ignore country X’s (which i took a grad seminar on) linguistic and cultural diversity. The fools!)

    That is not creative, progressive, or thought-provoking.

    And before you ask, no, I’m not saying I dont want the writer to ever engage current media. I loved the post on that NYR article dalrymple wrote, for example, for the reasons I mention above.

    Yeah, yeah, I’m wrong/I misread the post/Factual inaccuracy should always be punished with internet mockery/What do I know/I’m anti intellectual/I dont understand what’s at stake/ etc etc etc/ yada yada yada.

  4. Hi DI-

    I’m sorry if I was unclear, by “some comments above” I was not referring solely to yours, but to sentiments expressed by a number of posters. And I regret my last line, which was uncharitable. Clearly, we’ve had different experiences in both academia and media work. But on this blog, you’re preaching to the choir—and your tone in the first comment suggested a real dislike for music-making.

    I spoke narrowly about my field because that’s what I know, and because my experience there so strongly contradicts what I was reading in your comments. I wanted to be very concrete in offering counter-examples precisely because of the highly general nature of the criticisms offered about the behavior of academics and the lack of specific examples of that behavior.

    Of course it may be different in other fields, and yes, the heightened public attention to Islam/MENA issues has bolstered these efforts. But I look around at my friends and colleagues who work in, say, South Asian studies, IR, development studies, African history, gender studies–and see a similar willingness, often eagerness, to share their knowledge–and often even fewer opportunities for them to do so. I don’t think ME/Islam scholars are any more public-minded by nature than the rest.

    Basically, in my experience the *refusal* to respond to requests for comment is very rare (and often is the result of having been burned by a bad past experience–lord knows I will never say anything on the record around Friedman again!) Much more common, I think, is a failure to be pro-active, and a failure to engage effectively–i.e, the inability to communicate well with non-specialists. But that’s usually more about ineptitude more than disdain.

    (Incidentally, I have worked as an academic editor for more than half a decade, so I in fact have often been the one scrawling “de-jargonize” across people’s drafts. The archives of my own blog attest to a fair amount of ranting about this very subject. So I am hardly disagreeing with the notion that academics need to be better communicators. But I also think the necessary critique of jargon can also slip into an unfair, and yes, sometimes anti-intellectual, canard that dense and sometimes badly-written academic work is usually bullshit dressed up in esoteric language.)

    My sense is that the solution to those failures is more training and encouragement, but that won’t change the fact that editorial decisions and commercial priorities often make the more fruitful interaction you’re
    looking for hard to achieve.

    By essentialist, I meant the kind of sloppy reduction of complex social phenomena and groups to stereotypes–like orientalism, but not solely in relation to constructions of “the East.” So, for example, gender essentialism as well as essentialist statements about countries, races, religions, etc–the very kind of bad media coverage that both this blog and your own often critique.

    Oh, and re: media audience: I never disagreed with your characterization of the perceived audience as “white”–because I do, in fact, fully agree that that’s the case. Where on earth did you get the idea I might think Fox would be addressing working-class communities of color? I objected specifically to the terms “liberal” and “highly educated”–true of many elite publications, esp. in print media but by no means of all or even most mass media in this country (whether cable TV, talk radio, local and/or tabloid papers, and so on).

    If you want to continue this conversation by email, feel free to get in touch; I have already told poor sepoy I shall stop having tangential arguments in his comments. ;)

  5. “And there’s nothing really “ivory towerish” about his discussion- you could easily get the same facts from a comprehensive, investigative google seach.”

    Not to undermine the wealth of Sepoy’s knowledge on this topic by saying that you could find the named errors easily on google while not knowing a thing about the said discussion. Obviously you also need to know what you’re looking for when you google, and knowing what to look for comes from having some prior inkling.

    “And if we’re talking about “ISLAM” and “ISLAMIC COUNTRIES,” are we talking about the mundane things that can’t be easily framed by these topics? Such as poverty? Hazardous mine waste discharged by US MNC’s in Indonesia and TURKEY which pose enormous consequences for the people living there?Turkey which pose enormous consequences for the people living there?”

    Also, I know Turkey is not considered an “Islamic” or an officially “Muslim” country, but the majority of its citizens are which is why I made a connection (in case someone’s waiting to pounce on that and call me out).

    And re-reading my comments, I’ve realized I’ve been rather high handed and I’ve been lashing out without specifying what I’m talking about; but Lapata’s comment really ruffled my feathers. Apologies if I’ve offended anybody (I also take out my frustrations, pent up ideas, etc onto blogosphere. Yay for blogs.)

    Ok, last comment for today.

  6. Just to make myself clear (I posted the above comment before leaving work, and hence it was hastily written), when I say that Mid East and Islamic orgs do have vigorous outreach and those topics do get coverage, the coverage is still flawed, lopsided, and skewed. All the more to have orgs and individuals who earnestly seek out journalists and help spread information to combat the misinformation. Still, mass media coverage on this area is pathetic. And I respect people who are working to rectify that.

    I say the Mid East and Islam are “hot topics,” and there are reasons for why Americans should be concerned and exposed to these topics (I wrote about it here http://anask.wordpress.com/2006/12/14/desi-italianas-response/).

    However, there are MANY other topics and events that do not even make it to our TV/computer screens the way the Mid East does. Again, there’s good reason the Mid East is on our minds,and yes, the coverage blows. But there are many, many things that miss the radar of people who constantly talk about everything under the umbrella terms of “Middle East” and “Islam”. Many write about the US involvement in the Mid East- rightfully so. But what about the US involvement in say, Latin America or North Korea? And the implications of US policies there? And if we’re talking about “Islam” and “Islamic countries,” are we talking about the mundane things that can’t be easily framed by these topics? Such as poverty? Hazardous mine waste discharged by US MNC’s in Indonesia and Turkey which pose enormous consequences for the people living there? How about the refugees going to Lampedusa- who are “Muslim”, Arab, South Asian, and Africans? There are some people who know about this, and there are SOME academics who work on this, and publications that cover these incidents. But it is nowhere near the level of the number of people working for Mid East orgs in the US and that have the potency of these names.

    Additionally, you named a lot of academics who write about the Mid East. And they are indeed wonderful. But there are also journalists, lawyers, activists, and so on who are not academics but do just as much- such as Robert Fisk, John Pilger (and journalists like them who go out and do the nitty gritty work on the ground- viewing war/nasty events first hand, tirelessly chasing down stories, digging for facts and what not to let us know what’s going on), Raja whats-his-face(I forget his last name) lawyer from Ramallah, and a whole slew of people whose work I read, admire, etc.

    And while it is true that the Middle East is currently the theatre of unjust politics, imperialism, and the prime site where US imperialism plays itself out the most, there’s a lot of stuff going on where the US is involved or is not involved-but still merits our attention.

    So in the end, it’s not about being “anti intellectual,” it’s not about being “ignorant” because of having made “snide remarks” against academics. And with specific regards to this post, there is sloppy/hasty/whatever journalism and kudos to academics who point these things out. But from personal experiences, I get really annoyed when I hear academics take issues with mass media, journalism, and so on when they’ve been given an opportunity to say something but they don’t do it. Yes, there are plenty more academics who are more than willing to talk to journalists. And generally, they’re not the ones writing the missives and long rants against journalists (unless they are being misquoted in the true sense, in which case they have every right to get mad.)

    And Bort:

    “it’s a wired.com article for god’s sake, save the pontificating for something that comes vaguely close to spooking the ivory tower you can’t seem to deorbit.”

    Come on, dude. That’s really arrogant on your part. Wired actually gets read by a lot of people in certain circles, so it’s good Sepoy pointed out the errors. And there’s nothing really “ivory towerish” about his discussion- you could easily get the same facts from a comprehensive, investigative google seach.

    Or is Bort’s identity known and he/she is being sassy and I missed it? If so, disregard my above comment.

  7. Elizabeth:

    “I just found it odd that in the comments section of a blog that does an absolutely exemplary job of just the sort of public outreach you’re talking about (and which is well known for snarking on self-important theory divas) you were trashing academics in such broad terms.”

    I was not trashing academics in broad terms; I believe I used the word “sometimes” and perhaps I should have said “some academics.”

    “You’ve painted this picture of snooty academics holed up in their towers, spurning the journalists who come knocking on their doors.”

    Where did I talk about “ivory towers?” I think you’re confusing my comment with b’s. I was talking about how some academics are not willing to spread their knowledge via the media, even when journalists ask them to.

    “But I know and see so many people in my field who are actively striving to do such outreach. Organizations like MERIP/Middle East Desk, MESA etc put a great deal of effort into public education and media outreach on Islam/MENA issues, for example.”

    Yes, I agree that academics in the Mid East field are more than willing to talk about issues, and I find that wonderful. But Middle East and Islam are also hot topics currently, even if they are not accurately reported (and plus, since the US is always in that region and we are directly/indirectly implicated in the situation of the Mid East and South Asia, more reason why it SHOULD be a hot topic). However, not many people are being courted and/or making an effort to talk about other issues that do not relate to the Middle East (some are, but not to the extent of the coverage on Mid East and Islam, however flawed that coverage may be).

    “Many people (myself included) have also had rather negative experiences of being misquoted/misrepresented in mainstream media, which is discouraging.”

    Misquoting/misrepresenting quotes does happen, but there are also instances such as this: academics and people from academic backgrounds- are used to speaking a certain kind of language in a certain way, as well as trying to explain every single nuance (which is good- we need people who call to attention the complexities, and so on). However, what happens is that 1) the language needs to be changed and/or simplified so that it’s comprehensible to readers who haven’t been trained in academic language and “discourses” and 2) there’s a space issue. If the quote isn’t central to the story, then it gets compacted. At times, academics get very pissed (especially science folks [rightfully so], because they spend their entire careers building up their reputation by being careful with details and they are usually very hesitant to make large general claims; but with an article that is only allotted 2,000, 3,000, and at the most 7,000 words and the topic is complex, it’s hard to find that space).

    “And don’t underestimate the role of fear and intimidation for those speaking out on issues like Islam or Palestine in recent years—there have been active and well-funded efforts to sabotage the careers of scholars like Juan Cole, Rashid Khalidi, Norman Finkelstein, Joseph Massad, and many more.”

    I know all about this, and I am very familiar and well versed with the works of the names that you’ve cited. These same people were the models that I wanted to emulate when I decided to go to graduate school. I’m very grateful for academics like these, but I will also say that there are journalists and news mediums that give exposure to these figures you named above- however few or little the exposure. And furthermore, there are journalists who are listening to these folks, consulting them, and so on- even if admittedly, these academics get minimal coverage compared to the others.

    “Of course academics should respond to journalists and provide information when asked—and in my experience, they are usually happy to do so (who doesn’t like to get asked to talk all about the work they do and the issues they care about?)”

    You’d be surprised how many academics don’t speak when asked. Then they write missives on how messed up the media is, even if they’ve been contacted repeatedly by reporters. But I would like to say for the record that I’ve come across very passionate and willing professors with unlimited patience who will speak to journalists.

    “They often face the kind of anti-intellectualism that show up in some of the comments above—the insinuation that their knowledge is too esoteric or ivory towerish to be useful, or that they are “biased”.”

    First of all, don’t confuse my comment with b’s.

    Second of all, look at the first comment on this post- what’s that snark about former academics going into journalism and changing their vocabulary? Academics in general should be the last people to talk about linguistic styles, with all of the jargon that is used.

    And I’m sorry, but this is snobbery and arrogance on your part- there’s nothing “anti intellectual” about my criticisms, unless you think that all academics are automatically “intellectuals,” and if someone talks about the language that academics use, they’re “anti intellectual.” I hate that kind of dismissive arrogance that is at times associated with academia- “oh, they are whining because they’re ‘anti intellectual,’ they don’t get it, blah blah blah.” It’s not about being “anti intellectual,” it’s about putting to use the knowledge that academics have and presenting that to the larger public.

    Thirdly, you’re talking about knowledge being “esoteric.” In this post, I talked about their use of language being esoteric.

    Here’s the thing about the writing style, jargon, manners of framing the discussion and so on that academics use.
    1. Academia trains you to speak, read, and engage in a certain way, which is confined by the parameters of academic structure (I take serious issue with format and structure of academia, and this is not the fault of academics always- we’re trained to write, speak and read a certain way and in the end, it’s second nature).
    2. Most people are not in academia and/or familiar with academic styles of discussion. This is why if you ever send in a piece that is written in academic styles, you will see huge red question marks by editors and they will write in big letters: “DE- JARGONIZE!!”
    3. Sometimes the knowledge being produced by academics is all theory and completed devoid of any concrete facts- and most people are going to really listen, or care (especially if you work 14 hours plus).

    “Blogs have been a fruitful space for this kind of work, as have non-mainstream and online publications.”

    Yes and no. Blogs can be powerful, but blog readership is actually really low in terms of the entire population in the US, for example. And for the time being, most blogs don’t do original reporting- they comment on original reporting done by others. I’d like to see this change, but for the time being, this is how it is. Finally, blogs attract readers that are more or less in line with the blog’s politics/stance.

    “I don’t really agree that the mass media *audience* in the US is necessarily envisaged as being “highly educated” or “liberal.” Consider that Fox News has roughly half the market share for cable news in this country.”

    From personal and work experiences as well as my interactions with editorial staff, editors, reporters, writers, sitting in on editorial meetings, and so on with well known publications, you learn very quickly who the editors image their readership to be: white, middle class, and educated; and this is especially true for so-called “liberal” and “progressive” publications (ironically). This is why so much of the editorial content seems like it gets “whitewashed”, so to speak. I’ve seen that happen more than once. Even with Fox- do you think the producers of FOX see their target audience as poor blacks? South Asians? Etc? This is why there is “ethnic media,” for better or for worse.

    “Obviously, we want the same thing—more accurate/less essentialist reporting”

    “Essentialist” reporting? Meaning…. (and no, I’m not being “anti intellectual.”)

    “but I don’t think academics are the primary culprit (nor are journalists).”

    I never said that. I was talking about a more fruitful interaction between journalists and professors. I do think that journalists should pursue a variety of sources and information, regardless of whether professors come knocking on their door. And even if they do, it’s ultimately the editors who hold the power to keep a phrase, line edit, or chuck an entire paragraph. What you see as the end product on publications is very very different from what the article originally looked like.

    “Which another reason why I’m annoyed by snide comments about a “refusal to engage” that display ignorance of actual doings in this regard.”

    Are you sure about this? Just because I have a different viewpoint doesn’t mean I’m “ignorant of the actual doings.” How do you know what my field is and whether I know what I’m talking about? You shouldn’t make this assumption. One could very easily say the same thing about your comments, but you don’t see anybody alleging you of “ignorance,” no?

    In all of your comments, you’ve spoken about the Middle East, Islam, and professors who are linked to these topics. I for one am glad that there is media outreach, organizations dedicated to getting the word out on topics that are both in our faces all the time yet a very flawed understanding reigns. And even if great professors on these subjects are not getting as much play as the others are, the point is that there IS an organized effort via organizations.
    But you’re forgetting that there are TONS of issues that have nothing to do with the Middle East, Islam, and even issues in the Mid East that get overlooked because they don’t fit within the frame of “Islam.” Not many of these non Mid East issues, non Islamic, and non religious issues have the same amount of dedicated individuals that Middle East and Islam organizations do. Again, I think it’s great that these orgs are out there, and there are fearless profs even if they are always criticized. But look at the bigger picture. Not everything always revolves around “Islam” and the Middle East. From what I gather in your comments, you’re very involved in the Middle East affairs and Islam as an umbrella topic. That is good, but your experiences and contacts do not reflect all of what the mass media is about, academia, activists scholars, and so on (and this latter criticism goes for me, too).

  8. Andrew—
    MESA doesn’t publish much besides IJMES (but at recent conferences there has been much more talk about how to do better media outreach). I think it would be great for them to do more stuff like this, though I don’t know how much they have in the way of financial resources for it.

    But they don’t need to produce a basic fiqh guide because some of the eminences have done just that—John Esposito wrote a great little book called “What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam” that I’ve used with (teenage, American) students before; the Islam volume in OUP’s Very Short Introduction series is good; I believe there’s even an “Islam for Dummies,” though I won’t vouch for its quality. (Esposito, btw, has actually done a pretty awesome job of writing and speaking in mainstream/popular media; put his name in Nexis or Google and you’ll see what I mean. And he’s been branded an “apologist for militant Islamism” by Campus Watch for his pains).

    Actually, this is another area in which MERIP is fantastic—they have a media resource list that accredited journalists can sign up for, and every week they sent to them an email focused on “current issues in the news” with contact info and bios for 3-5 scholars or experts who are willing to be contacted by journalists to provide commentary on said issues—for example, this week they are probably providing sources on the Turkey/Iraqi Kurdistan flareup, instability in Iran, the events in Pakistan, and maybe on militant Islam in the UK. I don’t know if similar things exist for other regions/issues, but they ought to. Also, if you care about this stuff and have some money, donate to MERIP. They work on a shoestring budget and do a fucking awesome job. IMEU (Institute for Middle East Understanding) is also pretty excellent–they are focused mostly on Israel/Palestine though.

    So the information is available. Even the wikipedia entry on Islam isn’t bad, and quick googling shows some excellent resource lists—at Columbia & Berkeley for example:
    http://www.columbia.edu/cu/lweb/indiv/mideast/cuvlm/Islam.html
    http://www.ias.berkeley.edu/orias/Islam.html

    Another problem, of course, is that there’s also a lot of misinformation out there—some of it just ignorant, some of it more malicious. (When you’ve got the likes of Bernard Lewis spouting bullshit about how Aug. 22 is the mystically-ordained date for Iran to bomb Israel, it’s easy to see how people get confused….) And mainstream media often prefers the Lewises of the world (or pundits and self-proclaimed experts, from Daniel Pipes to Thomas Friedman to Irshad Manji) rather than to scholars who provide less sensationalistic content.

    What I would love to see is an even more dedicated effort to debunk misinformation in the media—Juan Cole is great on this score, and our Sepoy himself has made valiant efforts with regards to the fevered imaginings of Prof. Lewis. It would be great to have something more organized, a little academic Truth Squad, like FAIR or MediaMatters for the field. Any millionaires out there want to fund one?

    Also, because the resources are so limited, this work often happens on a part-time or pro-bono basis, done by people who don’t get paid much, if at all, for it. Which another reason why I’m annoyed by snide comments about a “refusal to engage” that display ignorance of actual doings in this regard.

  9. Elizabeth,

    Something that I think would be great for MESA to do (and who knows, maybe they do and I don’t know about it) would be for them to issue something like a basic guide to fiqh for the irreligious Westerner. It wouldn’t need to be too complex, just something that would (for example) keep people who really should know better from saying that a state run by Twelver Shi’ites wants to “re-establish the Caliphate.” All it would take is to have a few of the eminences grises to take the sort of things they present in an Intro to Islam course and make it available for the public at large.

  10. Hi Desi Italiana,

    No, I didn’t think you were talking about Sepoy—I just found it odd that in the comments section of a blog that does an absolutely exemplary job of just the sort of public outreach you’re talking about (and which is well known for snarking on self-important theory divas) you were trashing academics in such broad terms.

    And I’m speaking as someone who left academia (for the time being) precisely because I wanted to be more directly engaged in public policy/advocacy—and whose job largely consists of trying to get journalists to cover human rights and social justice issues (and often, to cover non-Western regions of the world with greater sensitivity and accuracy). It’s not as easy as some would make it sound.

    You’ve painted this picture of snooty academics holed up in their towers, spurning the journalists who come knocking on their doors. But I know and see so many people in my field who are actively striving to do such outreach. Organizations like MERIP/Middle East Desk, MESA etc put a great deal of effort into public education and media outreach on Islam/MENA issues, for example. But they don’t always find a willing audience, especially as what they have to say is often at odds with mainstream views, and nuance is not exactly perceived as “marketable.”

    Many people (myself included) have also had rather negative experiences of being misquoted/misrepresented in mainstream media, which is discouraging. And don’t underestimate the role of fear and intimidation for those speaking out on issues like Islam or Palestine in recent years—there have been active and well-funded efforts to sabotage the careers of scholars like Juan Cole, Rashid Khalidi, Norman Finkelstein, Joseph Massad, and many more. And the impact of *bad media coverage*–like the role of the NYC tabloids in fomenting the MEALAC affair—has left people further wary. If Juan Cole’s job offer at Yale was derailed because of his outspokenness, then some untenured assistant prof or grad student has good reason to feel vulnerable.

    Of course academics should respond to journalists and provide information when asked—and in my experience, they are usually happy to do so (who doesn’t like to get asked to talk all about the work they do and the issues they care about?) The point is, they don’t always get asked. They often face the kind of anti-intellectualism that show up in some of the comments above—the insinuation that their knowledge is too esoteric or ivory towerish to be useful, or that they are “biased”. I do agree that it would be great if even more scholars were pro-active in doing media outreach, rather than waiting for journalists to come knocking. Blogs have been a fruitful space for this kind of work, as have non-mainstream and online publications.

    Also, I take issue with some of your characterizations of the media industry above; while I think you are spot-on in your description of the composition of the media sector itself, I don’t really agree that the mass media *audience* in the US is necessarily envisaged as being “highly educated” or “liberal.” Consider that Fox News has roughly half the market share for cable news in this country.

    Obviously, we want the same thing—more accurate/less essentialist reporting—but I don’t think academics are the primary culprit (nor are journalists).

  11. Elizabeth:

    “(and of course, academics. because they refuse to participate! even as they write long and thoughtful blog posts for a non-specialist readership…)”

    Obviously I am not talking about Sepoy, as I check his blog almost everyday.

    You do get that I’m making a larger and more general claim, right?

    And maybe I wasn’t being clear in my comment, but I’m talking about a more fruitful interaction between journalists and academics…you got that, no? I’m talking about academics being willing to participate when they are encouraged by jouralists to present a given picture to citizens. Of course I am not saying journalists should do just sit back, contact professors, officials, etc and regurgitate (sp?) what they say. Journalists MUST actively do their research as thoroughly as possible, be very diligent with details, double/triple check their facts, and report a story with honesty and integrity. I also think that some academics are fountains of knowledge, and they can put that to use by engaging much more with the public. One of the ways is by giving their two cents to journalists who are willing to listen and perhaps take note of an angle/perspective/fact/piece of information they hadn’t thought of before.

    “i blame the heat”

    I blame frustration- frustration with people who are given the opportunities to do something, reach a larger audience, and spread their knowledge but don’t do it.

  12. goodness there are some cranky people up in this thread. i blame the heat (and of course, academics. because they refuse to participate! even as they write long and thoughtful blog posts for a non-specialist readership…)

    anyway, the photographs were lovely. and mr. sepoy, i have a question: what’s this about the turkish-word-for-army-camp inaccuracy? i’ve seen countless references to that etymology, and want to know if they’re wrong.

    and speaking of bad handwriting, my Arabic teacher is also a calligrapher–and I almost can’t bear to let him see the chicken-scratch I’ve scribbled on the pages of my notebook.

  13. Sepoy:

    “im in ur ivory towerz, spooking ur akademiz.”

    Quit it, you’re spooking me out too much :)

    “You are correct that the Wired readership does not skew heavily into South Asian historians”

    I could write a whole article about the mass media industry; but for right now, it’s suffice to say that most of it is basically a white, middle class/upper middle class field which lacks diversity in almost all realms- ethnic background, gender, socio-economic status, and so on. Consequently, there is a dire lack of diversity in thought and opinion. This is one of the reasons why we tend to have one angle, one voice, and one perspective represented all the time in the media. Furthermore, most of the target audience that mass media publications shoot for is white, highly “educated,” middle class/upper middle class, and “liberal.”

    “Still, I call myself a historian and have made a point of fact-checking popular press – if only to make sure future googlers have some thing to take away.”

    I understand what you are saying in terms of pointing out errors in the popular press.

    But don’t you think that academics should help journalists out- when asked- to ensure that the picture is accurate, not skewed, factual, and informative? For example, let’s say a journalist calls up an academic to solicit an opinion or take on the state of our world.

    Sometimes ACADEMICS REFUSE TO PARTICIPATE. THEY RENOUNCE THE EFFORT TO SHAPE IDEAS, PERCEPTIONS, AND PROVIDE THE FACTS.

    I’m all down for criticism of the mass media. I also think that if an academic is given the opportunity to offer their criticisms in order to give citizens the tools to make informed opinions and decisions, then they should do it. After all, if one is given the opportunity to correct what they see as flawed, then they should do it, rather than complain about the current state of the media.

    Don’t you think so, Sepoy?

  14. Scott: I sympathize 100% and I hope you took my snark in the spirit it was intended: on CM we believe in equal opportunity thwacks for academic jargon (who are these people who think we like academic jargon??) and journalese!

  15. Lapata,

    Actually it took a lot longer than I would have liked. After three years steeped in a Ph.D. program learning how write convoluted sentences and words with too many syllables I am lucky that anyone in the publishing world had the patience to hire me. Academia ruined my English. I had to relearn from scratch.

    Scott

  16. Scott: Welcome. You are correct that the Wired readership does not skew heavily into South Asian historians and most of what I snarked about will never even be noticed by the l33t (non-l33t?) [in fact, the comments on the gallery about ‘majority’ are really strange]. Still, I call myself a historian and have made a point of fact-checking popular press – if only to make sure future googlers have some thing to take away.

  17. Well I’m glad you guys at least like the photos. Funny you should point out the mistakes in the piece, it was edited while I was on the road for another assignment and I didn’t have time to proof what happened in the digestion from a 2000 footnoted piece into an 800 word story on WIRED News and, unfortunately, ABC.

    Though to be fair, some of what you call mistakes were certainly in the original.

    1) Note on “Urdu Script” – yes it is Arabic script, but my understanding of Urdu (which is limited since I am a Hindi speaker) and what was imparted to my by the katibs at The Muslamaan is that there are differences between Urdu and Arabic scripts. Remember that WIRED articles don’t only go out to you folks who have a great deal of knowledge about the subject, but to people all over America who can barely place India on a map, let alone engage in discussions of literary nuances. For instance, while Hindi is certainly based on the Devanagri script, I wouldn’t say that in an article lest I confuse my readers more.

    2) Persian as court language: Urdu was spoken in the courts in Delhi along with Persian. Yes Urdu was considered less erudite, however it flourished under the Mughals and was in court documents as well as in poetry. However I will grant you that the sentence makes it sound like it was the only court language. that is incorrect. (I didn’t know about the Portuguese printing press, what a cool detail. However, certainly the British propagated the devices)

    3) “Last of”. This is certainly the last hand written paper in India. I did a very extensive search from what I could find here. I cannot speak about Pakistan with certainty and would love to hear more about what you know about hand written publications there. The thrust of this article was “Last hand written newspaper” — it is certainly the claim that the people that Musalmaan make– I was not able to find any others in the world that are still active and that have a significant circulation.

    I must say that while you complain about inaccuracies in the story (which in at least my mind may be over-blown) it is very important to get any stories out into the American mainstream that have a positive take on the muslim world.

    This week I was also asked to head up to Bangalore to check out the family of the London bombers and write about growing Islamic extremism in India. I turned down the assignment.

    Scott Carney

  18. im in ur ivory towerz, spooking ur akademiz.

  19. it’s a wired.com article for god’s sake, save the pontificating for something that comes vaguely close to spooking the ivory tower you can’t seem to deorbit. i generally enjoy your blog, but damn, we get it already, you know? y’all already drove the guy out of the academe, what more do you want?!

  20. “I wonder how long it takes between leaving academia and becoming a journalist to master these vocabulary flourishes like calling the script ’swooping’ and using the verb ‘to pen’ instead of ‘to write’…”

    Not as long as it takes academics to stop speaking in indecipherable jargon, quit reading into things that aren’t even there, stop making absurd connections (for example, like linking genocide with visual theory), and realize that bullshit is still bullshit-even if it’s put eloquently and framed in highly esoteric language.

    But yes, Carney’s article has several errors. There needs to be a vigorous fact checker to make sure that these sloppy mistakes don’t get published.

  21. Zack: You can try Alok Rai’s Hindi Nationalism (2001) or Christopher King’s One Language, Two Scripts (1997) among many others … and thanks!

  22. So many mistakes in such a short article!! But the images are nice.

    BTW, any recommendations for books on Urdu/Hindi/Hindustani history?

    PS. Nice new look for Chapati Mystery!

  23. I wonder how long it takes between leaving academia and becoming a journalist to master these vocabulary flourishes like calling the script ‘swooping’ and using the verb ‘to pen’ instead of ‘to write’…

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