Sunday, February 17, 2008

journalist fine is linked to the culturolanguage debate

Three Afghan journalists working for government-owned media have been fined for using words not approved by cultural policy. A reporter and two of his superiors were fined for using three words from Persian, as used in Iran, instead of their local equivalent derived from Pashtu -- the language of the Afghan majority. Afghanistan's official languages are Dari-Farsi and Pashtu, both members of indo-persian languages, a subclass of indo-european languages. Pashtu has dominated Dari in the last two centuries in Afghanistan. The Pashtun rulers and Kings pursued a cultural policy of Pashtuization, changing names of location, people and objects into Pashto from Dari.

The reporter fined used three words for "university", "students" and "certificate", in a report from Persian spoken in Iran. Many Dari scholars in Afghanistan would argue that reference should be made to language history and indeed the original Persian words are not used in Afghanistan because of Pashtu influence. The governments in the past only introduced a Pashtu word for the above three and promoted its use in Dari too. The influence of Pashtu on Dari is tremendous and vice versa. there are many Dari words in Afghan Pashtu while they have an English or Hindi equivalent in Pakistani Pashtu. The two languages of Afghanistan are very close to each other and the government policy has been to identify both particular to Afghanistan and set some peculiarities to separate them from the same languages spoken in the region. The origin of Dari debate has heated up lately, new media outlets have mushroomed across the country and each pursue different language policy over which the government has no control. Popular stations like Tolo uses the Dari as it is spoken in Iran and it seem to enjoy a lot of popularity. Government officials have not spoken against this because they don’t have a policy guidelines. However, unofficially they have condemned the new approach Dari. In an unofficial gathering Jabar Sabit, Afghan General Attorney, was arguing that the Dari language in Afghanistan is not only similar in words with the one spoken in Iran but there are structural differences. This is clearly a prove of General Attorney’s ignorance but it does show that senior officials in Karzai government pursue the old policy and Karzai seem to appoint more of them and tacitly support the implicit policy.

Pashtu words in Dari have been challenged after the collapse of Taliban. The minorities who speak Dari feel free than ever before and they want to use their own language –purely. The question is whether it’s a good thing or not. I am going to try to answer.

My primary response would be it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter how we speak and what words we use. What matters is whether it adheres with the national creative policy. We don’t know that because there is no national creative policy. The creative and cultural policy in Afghanistan is managed by people like Khuram who are fanatic and racist. Even if the government will come up with a cultural policy it will never be trusted by the public, if khuram-minded people are in the government. After fining the journalist in another move Khuram introduced the English word ‘Gallery’ to replace the Dari word equivalent of it. the Dari equivalent was used for decades. Khurams move has been seen by many Dari scholars as an anti-Dari policy. In many countries around the world governments try to coup with the English influence by introduce local equivalent. The gesture of Khuram is very rare. There was no explanation given in support of the change. In a country without a lid we have to think for ourselves, everybody is on their own. The right policy is promoting knowledge creation and the generation of wealth. If Dari language in Afghanistan is changing in a way that it separates from Pashtu and connects with regional languages further; in a way that it contributes to national knowledge and wealth then it’s a good thing. I am aware of the price we are going to pay; its going to intensify ethnic tension because the groups will become further separated. its very dangerous to look at this issue from one dimension. i was watching a video of Wasif Bakhtari on the internet and raved on about the history of Farsi language and how ignorant the current government is and have been. this is not helping.

BBC, and all international media targeting Afghanistan, have Pashtu services targeting Pashtu speakers in Afghanistan and in Pakistan. The Dari services target audiences/readers in central Asia, Afghanistan and Iran. One could argue that it’s an old colonial approach to countries and regions and there is no merit of knowledge creation in such programming. But it has proved to be an economically better approach for media coverage.

Tolo and many others also use words in Dari which is similar to Iranian Farsi. I don’t believe owners of tolo have any cultural policy and care about afghan culture they are only after the money and they have realised that audiences like Dari with new words in it. does this tell us there is economic gain? If there was no economic gain then why would tolo pursue a controversial language approach?

I know many afghans who make a living from their language knowledge. there are many jobs for Persian speakers in UK as translators, I know a few and they deal with Iranian more than with afghans.

The hard part of the argument is whether it creates knowledge. I could start the argument by connecting it to naïve arguments such as the human rights. It’s the right of every individual to speak in their first language and acquire education and information in their first language. Dari is a very rich language and the literature is very strong, the new language is reusing the old terms from classical language it could be argued that the use of old terms enriches people life and brings more meaning. I have managed several radio and TV stations in the last few years. I have observed that internet is the primary source for general information for journalists. The information gathered from the internet comes from websites such as Wikipedia in Persian. the reason Persian Wikipedia is rich and has tens of thousands of articles is because of the contribution of individuals from Iran and other Persian speaking countries. Another example is SPIP, it is an open-source, free publication system on the Internet used by many media outlets to build websites. SPIP allows contributive writing. The reason it’s used widely is because its available in Persian. if Persian was only spoken in Afghanistan there was not a big enough market to translate SPIP. I could make many arguments why the new Dari could contribute to knowledge generation.

In the letter sent to reporters by ministry of information and culture, which I have obtained a copy, no explanation was given on why their action was considered against cultural policy. However it was written that their action is unislamic. This is again another sign to show us how similar minded the government is to Taliban. Iranian Farsi is also perceived by Taliban unislamic. It’s the language of Shias, who are worst than infidels. For Taliban the only Islamic language is Pashtu and Arabic. They hate dari more than English.

In Afghanistan we can never explain anything. Any explaination ends up with more questions. I have more questions now than when I started to write this. Why is there no cultural policy? Why decisions are taken in regard to cultural policy but they are not explained? Why is the government not, at least in paper, having a knowledge policy? Why is the international community spending billions to make Afghanistan economically viable and educationally rich not understanding this? Why can’t international community produce recommendations for knowledge policy?

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