Sam Harris and The Number of Books Translated Into Arabic

In his criticisms of Islamist views, Sam Harris has repeatedly highlighted the intellectual isolation of the Arab world by repeating this claim:

Spain translates more books into Spanish each year than the entire Arab world has translated into Arabic since the ninth century.

A quick Google search suggests that Spain’s current population is about 47 million, while there are about 366 million Arabic speakers, so that would be an amazing statistic, if true. But is it true?

The source for this is the Arab Human Development Report 2003 – Building a Knowledge Society (2MB PDF), which was spearheaded by Dr. Rima Khalaf Hunaidi, director of the Arab regional office of the UN Development Program. According to that report,

Most Arab countries have not learned from the lessons of the past and the field of translation remains chaotic. In terms of quantity, and notwithstanding the increase in the number of translated books from 175 per year during 1970-1975 to 330, the number of books translated in the Arab world is one fifth of the number translated in Greece. The aggregate total of translated books from the Alma’moon era to the present day amounts to 10,000 books – equivalent to what Spain translates in a single year (Shawki Galal, in Arabic, 1999, 87)3 . This disparity was revealed in the first half of the 1980s when the average number of books translated per 1 million people in the Arab world during the 5-year period was 4.4 (less than one book for every million Arabs), while in Hungary it was 519, and in Spain 920. (Figure 2.9.)

The Alma’moon era refers to the seventh Abbasid caliph who reigned from 813-833 CE. So Harris appears to have good grounds for his claim.

In the United States, there are roughly 300,000 new and re-issued books published every year. Roughly 3 percent of those are translations or roughly 9,000 translated books per year for a country with roughly the same population as total Arabic speakers.

Part of the issue in the Arab world is that it isn’t just that there are relatively few translations published, but that there are few books published in general. Accurate statistics are hard to come by, but the Arab Human Development Report 2003 and other sources estimate that only 7,000-8,000 books are published in the entire Arab world annually. This is due, in part, to high levels of illiteracy,

Literary production faces other major challenges. These include the small number of readers owing to high rates of illiteracy in some Arab countries and the weak purchasing power of the Arab reader. This limited readership is clearly reflected in the number of books published in the Arab world, which does not exceed 1.1% of world production, although Arabs constitute 5% of the world population. The production of literary and artistic books in Arab countries is lower than the general level. In 1996 it did not exceed 1,945 books, representing only 0.8% of world production, i.e., less than the production of a country such as Turkey, with a population one quarter of that of Arab countries. An abundance of religious books and a relative paucity of books in other fields characterize the Arab book market. Religious books account for 17% of the total number of books published in Arab countries, compared to 5% of the total number of books produced in other parts of the world.

Human Trafficking Women Threatened Nigerian Women with ‘Voodoo Curses’

Spanish authorities recently busted a human trafficking ring that was bringing women from Nigeria and forcing them to work as prostitutes. They coerced the women, in part, by threatening them with “Voodoo curses” if they didn’t comply. According to the Associated Press,

The victims, aged 25 to 35, were forced to pay large sums of money to the gang members, who told the women they would go mad or have their souls destroyed if they disobeyed orders given during Voodoo rituals that were held in Nigeria involving pieces of their fingernails or hair.

How utterly bizarre.


Spanish police arrest Voodoo extortion gang. Associated Press, May 23, 2009.

Majorca’s Bizarre Fiesta of the Ducks

A small news item on News24.Com in August briefly mentioned a controversy surrounding a festival on the Spanish island of Majorca that involves the throwing of live ducks. A Google search turned up the following account of the Fiesta of the Ducks,

In spite of the high temperatures and the rumours of denunciations, fines and sanctions this illegal fiesta attracted around 3000 people, year after year, the Conselleria d Agricultura i Pesca of the Government warns the town hall of Santa Margalida that it is prohibited to celebrate this fiesta, but the town hall goes ahead prepared to pay any fines, last year cost the municipal treasury 3.000 euros.

Shortly after noon, five boats holding 350 ducks dropped anchor in front of the hotel Sol y Mar and released the ducks, the idea then is that swimmers take to the sea and try to capture the ducks as trophies.

The ducks are not harmed in this event, most are captured and then released at the Torrent de Son Baulo, some escape and fly away to freedom – and some – have been known to occasionally finish up in a casserole

According to the News24.Com account,

Animal rights campaigners have long criticised the tradition. Mayor Antoni del Olmo defended it, saying it was more than 100 years old.



‘Ducking’ the issue. News24.Com, August 16, 2005.

Will Fertility Tourism Increase as the UK Adopts New Fertility Treatment Regulations?

An article in The Scotsman suggests that new regulations the United Kingdom is imposing on fertility treatments there are likely to force couples to travel abroad for fertility treatments, which would have the unintended consequences of diminishing the availability of fertility treatments for less wealthy women and couples.

Beginning in April 2005, fertility clinics are required to permanently retain the identity of all sperm and egg donors. When the children produced from donated eggs and sperm reach 18, they will legally be able to force fertility clinics to divulge the identity of the egg or sperm donor.

The likely result, not surprisingly, will be a severe downturn in donors. Already, according to The Scotsman, many clinics are “reporting severe shortages of donors” ahead of implementation of the regulations. Dr. Gillian Lockwood, medical director at Midland Fertility Services, tells the newspaper,

The waiting list for donor eggs has gone in my clinic from about six months to 18 months to two years. If you’re 39 and you know that your only chance of having a baby is by using donor eggs, what are you going to do? Wait two years or go to Spain?

Spain, which protects donor anonymity, is likely to be one of a number of popular destinations for “fertility tourism,” where women can travel and obtain treatment quickly and then return to the UK. In essence, if these fears pan out, there will still be donor anonymity, it will just be very expensive for patients.

Something similar happened in Sweden which abandoned donor anonymity in 1985. Many Swedish couples simply travel to Denmark as sperm and egg donors fell after the end of anonymity. The trend is driven, in party, by the parent(s)-to-be’s preference that the sperm or egg donor remain permanently anonymous. In recent years, more Swedish women have conceived through artificial insemination carried out in Denmark than in Sweden.


Couples turn to ‘fertility tourism’ as crisis hits IVF. Rhiannon Edward, The Scotsman, December 31, 2004.

Sperm donors ‘want to keep anonymity’. Matthew Hill, The BBC, October 15, 2002.

Activists Run Semi-Nude to Protest Pamplona Running of the Bulls

In early July, Pamplona once again held its centuries old — and world famous thanks to Ernest Hemingway — running of the bulls. Along with thousands of spectators and runners, about 200-300 animal rights activists from 15 countries showed up to protest the event.

Sponsored by People for Ethical Treatment of Animals, the activists protested by running the route the day before the event topless and in underwear. According to The Associated Press,

They had planned to run the route totally nude but did not have the necessary town hall permit, the Efe news agency reported.

So Pamplona actually has a permit allowing people to run through the streets nude? How cool is that?

Anyway, according to PETA (emphasis added),

Every year, thousands of visitors from around the world arrive in Pamplona, Spain, to join in the annual spectacle of the “Running of the Bulls.” But tourists are appalled to see the terrified animals racing through streets crawling with drinking, brawling people. The bulls’ hooves slip on the pavement as they race frantically, trying to escape the chaos. Sometimes, in their confusion, they bash into doors or the sides of buildings, breaking horns or legs. Human runners and spectators gouge them with sticks or pull their tails, and they, too, are sometimes injured, gored, or trampled by bulls desperate to escape.

So on the one hand, according to PETA, its tourists — especially Americans — responsible for the continuation of bullfighting and the running of the bulls, but on the other hand these very same tourists “are appalled” at what they see. Okay, then why do they keep on coming?

Regardless of whether or not the event is cruel, it is certainly extremely popular (in fact, according to the Associated Press, the event is so popular that there are no less than eight separate runnings of the bulls over a weeklong period).


Protesters decry bullfighting in Spain. Associated Press, July 5, 2004.

Running of the Bulls Starts in Spain. Associated Press, July 6, 2004.

Thousands run with Pamplona bulls. The BBC, July 7, 2004.

Running of the Nudes. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Undated.

Imam Sentenced in Spain for Book with Wife Beating Advice

The BBC reports that Muslim cleric Mohamed Kamal Mustafa was sentenced to 15 months in jail by a Spanish court for writing a book that included advice on the proper way to beat one’s wife. Under Spanish law, however, the sentence will be suspended and Mustafa will not serve any time in jail provided he doesn’t commit another similar offense.

The book in question, Women in Islam, was published in Spain in 2000 and offered advice for men on how to assault their wives without landing in trouble with Spanish legal authorities. For example, Mustafa advised that when men physically discipline their wives,

The blows should be concentrated on the hands and feet using a rod that is thin and light so that it does not leave scars or bruises on the body.

Women’s groups in Spain were outraged by the publication of the book, and the state agreed, charging Mustafa with inciting violence against women. This was the first successful prosecution of inciting violence against women in Spain.

Muslim groups in Spain were quick to distance themselves from Mustafa’s claims that he was simply interpreting the Koran. Mohamed Halhoul, director of the Islamic Council of Catalonia, told the New York Times,

We respect the sentence. In Islam, there does not exist any type of call for aggression, either towards men or women.


Imam rapped for wife-beating book. The BBC, January 14, 2004.

Spain Sentences Imam for Book Offering Advice on Wife-Beating. Dale Fuchs, The New York Times, January 15, 2004.