The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion English is no longer a monopoly of the West

Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) places his hand on an English translation of the Koran published in the 1750s and once owned by Thomas Jefferson as he is sworn in as the first Muslim member of Congress  on Jan. 4, 2007.
Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) places his hand on an English translation of the Koran published in the 1750s and once owned by Thomas Jefferson as he is sworn in as the first Muslim member of Congress on Jan. 4, 2007. (Jim Young/Reuters)
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Regarding Viet Thanh Nguyen’s May 6 Outlook essay, “Canon fodder”:  

It must be pointed out that the soul of American literature is not European or necessarily white. It is hybrid. Nor is the English language a monopoly of the West anymore. This language has had to bear the weight and texture of diverse experiences all over the world in the post-colonial era and in so doing has become a global language. Today it is the lingua franca of the modern world. Indeed, a Pakistani translator of the Koran has had the audacity to remark that he will make English an Islamic language.

As correctly pointed out by Nguyen, in the past 40 years or so, many American multicultural writers have brought the world together in art, literature, religion and culture by emphasizing our common humanity and exposing false boundaries erected by ignorant, ethnocentric demagogues. Today, more than ever, we need to continue bridging the spheres of mutual ignorance between diverse ethnicities that make up the American mosaic. In fact, it was in 1931 that Jean Toomer, a light-skinned African American, proclaimed in his work “Essentials ” a Whitmanesque creed: “I am of no particular race. I am of the human race, a man at large in the human world.”

Javed Amir, College Park

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