In a seminar organized by the Qatari Literature Initiative in cooperation with the Department of English Literature and Linguistics at Qatar University: Experts and academics discussed the role of translation in the local media in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The seminar coincided with the International Translation Day and was held via the Webex app on Tuesday 6 October 2020.The seminar aimed to shed light on the role of translators in supporting the efforts of the Supreme Committee for Crisis Management to raise awareness and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The seminar also discussed the official translation policies and practices as regards social media, and presented an in-depth analysis of communication challenges in Qatar. The speakers introduced new perspectives in crisis translation training brought about by the current pandemic.
The event featured contributions by Ibrahim Sultan Al-Hashemi – Secretary of the Supreme Committee for Crisis Management, Dr. Khaled Al-Shahari from Qatar University, Dr. Rizwan Ahmed from Qatar University, Dr. Sarah Hillman from Texas A&M University in Qatar, and Dr. Dhyiaa Borresly from Qatar University. The seminar was moderated by Ms. Hind Ibrahim Zourob, member of the Qatari Literature Initiative.
In his speech, Ibrahim Sultan Al-Hashemi thanked the Qatari Literature Initiative and Qatar University for the invitation, and addressed the first theme “Translation in the context of public policies in Qatar during the COVID-19 pandemic”. He stressed that translation is an important tool for communication and that Qatar is now in dire need of translation services, especially in view of the recent increase in expat population related to preparations for World Cup 2020.
He posed the question: “If the translation is a tool for communication, then what message do we want to deliver? What is the nature of our relationship with the target audience?” He further stressed that translation cannot be viewed as separate from the reforms that Qatar has undertaken regarding labor laws, adding that such reforms would have no effect if individuals have no awareness of their civic rights and responsibilities, and that one of the most effective ways to educate individuals is by addressing them in their own mother tongue. Allah says in the Qur’an “Verily we have sent it down as an Arabic Qur’an in order that you may understand.” While the Qur’an was revealed to all humanity, it was first revealed in the Arabian Peninsula and its first recipients were Arabs, therefore Allah addressed them in their native language.

Mr. Ibrahim Sultan Al-Hashemi explained that one of the common misconceptions about Qatar’s commitment to labor reforms is that these reforms were was initiated in response to the negative media coverage associated with hosting World Cup 2020. In fact, the state of Qatar had already committed to reforming these laws and regulations in its 2030 vision. This is evident in its continuing to follow the timeline for these reforms, in line with the nature of the local market, the culture of the society, and the reality on the ground, independently of the media bubbles that appeared from time to time. “Today, praise be to Allah, we have reached a stage where Qatar, according to the International Labor Organization, has become a model for the region in terms of labor laws for expatriate workers”, he said.
Mr. Al-Hashemi added that one of the most important principles of communication during the COVID-19 crisis is transparency. He reminded the audience that the numbers were terrifying before the gradual easing of restrictions began, as we were seeing nearly two thousand cases a day in a country the size of Qatar. However, the state was committed to credibility and transparency, given that this crisis affects all segments of society and everyone is vulnerable to this virus. Therefore, transparency in the context of a pandemic is a moral obligation, not a choice, since this is a matter of public health. He noted that some countries did not conduct tests or announce the real figures in order to protect the economy, tourism, and other interests. Mr. Al-Hashemi said “I would like to apologize to my friends who are promoting conspiracy theories because the numbers that are reported by COVID-19 committees and recorded at the Ministry of Public Health are exactly the same as those that are announced”.
He continued, “As the subject concerns public health, everyone has the right to access correct medical information and know the latest decisions. Here translation is important to be able to reach the largest possible segment of society. In addition, the developments in the crisis require continuous updating of government messages. For example, at the beginning of the pandemic, there were no studies to prove the effectiveness of wearing masks, but after this was proven, the state updated its laws and messages.”
Al-Hashemi explained that the messages that Qatar translates into different languages are divided into several categories including “community messages” which are important messages that confirm that we are all united in fighting the pandemic. The official slogan used by the state of Qatar during the crisis is “Your safety is my safety”. Al-Hashemi stressed that, as a Qatari citizen, he was proud of the discourse adopted by the State of Qatar at a time when many governments and leading figures stooped to the level of populist and accusatory rhetoric, sometimes accusing specific countries of spreading the virus or making excuses for the persecution of minorities. “As for Qatar, praise be to Allah, our words and actions affirm that we are all equal in this pandemic and the evidence for this is that our health system provided health care for everyone”, he remarked.

For his part, Dr. Khaled Al-Shahari addressed the theme “Official policies and practices in the translation of COVID-19 related material on social media in Qatar”. He focused on two main topics: the importance of the policies adopted by the Qatari government during the current crisis in regards to the delivery of basic information to residents who are non-Arabic speakers, and the use of social media by government institutions in Qatar to communicate basic information related to COVID-19 to residents who are non-Arabic speakers. Al-Shahari stressed the need for the government communications office to use all social media and not only the Twitter platform.
Dr. Rizwan Ahmed from Qatar University addressed the third theme “Communication challenges in multilingual societies: Qatar as a model”. He presented a joint research paper produced with Dr. Sarah Hillman from Texas A&M University Qatar. The project examined the communication strategies used to contain the spread of COVID-19 in Qatar with a focus on using languages of non-Arab communities. The findings of the study reveal that while it is important to use the languages of the communities including Urdu, Malayalam, Nepali, Filipino, and other languages, and employ various communication channels to spread awareness, it is equally or more important to know “who delivers the message and in what form”. The study shows the important roles played by the communication channel (printed manuals and audiovisual materials), community leaders, religious figures, and social media influencers in disseminating health awareness material to communities in their own different languages. The study also dealt with the requirements of translation under the Law of the Protection of the Arabic Language issued in 2019. Dr. Rizwan Ahmed stressed that
Law No. 7/2019 on the protection of the Arabic language was not an obstacle to the use of the languages of the various communities.
Dr. Dhyiaa Borresly from Qatar University addressed the fourth theme of the symposium “Training translators to deal with crises”. She stated that translators and interpreters play an important role in facilitating communication during crises. Therefore, it is necessary to take into account the translation requirements during crises, and for translation to be an integral part of crisis management.
Borresly also emphasized the need to train translation students to deal with crises. She discussed the translation experience of a group of Qatar University students during the COVID-19 crisis.
After the speakers concluded their presentations, Ms. Hind Ibrahim Zoroub, a member of the Qatari Literature Initiative, invited questions from the audience and moderated the discussion. In closing, Ms. Zoroub presented the main recommendations of the seminar, with a view to implementing them in the near future.
The Qatari Literature Initiative is an independent voluntary cultural initiative that aims to support literature and culture in Qatar seeks to promote research in the field of literary criticism and to provide opportunities for discussion in the areas of literature and culture. The initiative was founded in 2018 by a group of specialized researchers in the field of Humanities.



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