Monday, March 12, 2007

Background on Speak Bird,, Speak Again

Friday's Christian Science Monitor has a good article on Hamas' banning of the book Speak Bird, Speak Again from Palestinian school libraries:

While literature lovers and others on the more progressive side of Palestinian society see the order to ban the book as an attack on the cultural freedoms, the Islamist Hamas movement and its supporters see the move as a democratically endorsed step toward protecting students from "harmful" influences and "offensive" language, in the words of one leading official here.

"The book was withdrawn because of the problems with offensive language which contradicts our beliefs and morals," says Sheikh Yazid Khader, who is the director-general of the PA's Ministry of Education.

The author of the Monitor piece, Ilene R. Prusher, does a particularly good job of explaining why Hamas chose to ban the book. The passage is worth quoting for what it reveals of the totalitarian Islamist worldview:

"Our society depends on Islamic values and has for hundreds of years," continues Sheikh Khader. "Our most important objective is to make curriculum adhere to our social values."

In his viewpoint, too many Western influences are seeping into Palestinian society, and children must be better shielded from them.

"This new generation is unable to distinguish between what is harmful and what is beneficial, so we have to protect them from these harmful influences," he says. "The Israeli occupation is interested in introducing us to Western values that work to destroy our Arab and Muslim values."

(Emphasis added-DD)

Secular Palestinians are worried, with good reason, that this incident is simply the beginning of a broader attack on intellectual freedom by the Hamas government:

One of the incidents people here cite happened two years ago, when the Hamas-run municipality in the West Bank city of Qalqilya banned a cultural festival that would have including the debke, a Palestinian folk dance that includes men and women holding hands.

"We can say now that Hamas is being revealed to the Palestinian people," says Yakhlef. "I think the popularity of Hamas has dropped."

It's not the first time the PA has banned a book. In the 1990s, the works of intellectual Edward Said were banned because of his criticism of the PLO and the Oslo Peace Accords. Israel once used to censor Palestinian newspapers and periodicals. But this is the first time that a book is being taken off the shelves for something other than its political content. "Speak Bird, Speak Again," is still being used in colleges and can be purchased in stores.

Actually, that last part might not be true. According to the BBC, "the then Fatah-led education ministry removed a book from schools which contained a passage referring to boyfriends and girlfriends."

Still, it is likely that the banning of Speak Bird is just the beginning.


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