Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 22 seconds

Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

#Fedwiki like it’s 1973 – on context, voice, and getting heard


Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 22 seconds

I wanted to give a clear example of something I have been talking about on #fedwiki, following Mike Caulfield’s style in his keynote by using historical example.

Disclaimer: Mike, and everyone else from #fedwikihappening, I love you, I love what you do, and how sensitive you are, and this is not a criticism of you personally, but just something that needs to be said longform that I had not been able to express on fedwiki or twitter.

I have said that while I admire the notion of multiple versions of a document, instead of a canonical, consensus-based version like Wikipedia (or any encyclopedia, but I guess Wikipedia is the crowdsourced, more democratic encyclopedia).

Here is an example of an already-existing federation of sorts in Wikipedia, and it is a political example that is worth discussing.

Think of Yom Kippur, better known in Egypt as the 6th October victory. Now look at this screen shot from the English version of history. Note the “Israeli military victory” written beside the “result” in the English wikipedia. Ok so far?


Ha! Now look at the Arabic version of wikipedia and I’ll translate the result for you if you don’t read Arabic.


Actually, if you want you can translate it yourself, it says in Arabic
“انتصار عسكري مصري حاسم على الجيش الإسرائيلي.”
Which google translate does a good enough job of translating as: “Egyptian decisive military victory of the Israeli army” or better said, ‘Decisive Egyptian military victory over the Israeli army”.

The difference I imagine between wikipedia and a fedwiki is… Well, the Arabic wikipedia is not really a federated version of the English. I have not checked the talk pages of the English version, to see if some Arabs tried to change the “result” (the details, by the way, are largely similar, but the interpretation of the end result is clearly hugely different).

If this were a fedwiki, first of all, would it all have to be in the same language as it gets federated in order to be read and forked? That alone is a big deal and big power issue. How many people on it would have good enough English to write it out well, and would there be enough of them? A beautiful thing would be if one person read an Egyptian version and another read the Israeli/US version, and merged them together to highlight the reasons why each side thought they were the victor. The English version of this article is actually not bad; it highlights the initial success from the Egyptian side but for example, states that the Camp David accords gave Israel the victory of being recognized officially by an Arab state and that Egyptians admitted defeat.


Ok, I remember back in high school when someone alerted me that the rest of the world thought Egypt lost that war. Egypt thinks it won that war because it eventually got Sinai back (Camp David). I was disillusioned and shocked, but it was an amazing lesson in multiple versions of history. But really, THAT different?

Egypt CELEBRATES 6 October as a national holiday. Our most important bridge is called 6 October. One of our new and impressive suburbs of Cairo (off Giza) is called 6 October. No kidding.

But anyway, back to my fedwiki point. Let’s take #fedwikihappening as an example. Count the 20 or so people who were active on it. All of them living in the West, right? Almost all native speakers of English (i don’t know if all, because i don’t know every single one well enough to know)… And me. Yes, powerful as I am, and good listeners as they all are… Something like a multiple version document could come out of it. I would be the only contributor to the Egyptian version. I, who did not grow up in Egypt and never studied its history ‘properly’ would have to do a lot of research to get this done. Granted, none of the others are from Israel and likely don’t have the same importance on that event altogether, nor do they have access to people who can give them firsthand accounts of what happened (I have plenty, it was only a few years before i was born so almost everyone of my parents’ age was in their 20s at the time and remember it clearly).

I think I should stop. Have I made my point?

Writing different versions is important and empowering, having them forked is a good way to get them noticed and recorded rather than hidden from google or whatever.

But will people read them? For postcolonial people, speaking is important. But getting heard is more important in some instances.

Although Audre Lorde has said, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house”.

Also, a quote I love to use:

We [the minorities] and you [the dominant] do not talk the same language. When we talk to you we use your language: the language of your experience and of your theories. We try to use it to communicate our world of experience. But since your language and your theories are inadequate in expressing our experiences, we only succeed in communicating our experience of exclusion. We cannot talk to you in our language because you do not understand it. (p. 575 in Lugones & Spelman, 1983)

Thanks for listening 🙂


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