Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Meaning of Gaza's Book Burning

The Jerusalem Post's Khaled Abu Toameh provides additional details and a specific motive for last Friday's destruction of the Gaza YMCA library:

Sources in Gaza told The Jerusalem Post the attack was in response to the re-publication of cartoons "ridiculing" the Prophet Muhammad in a number of Danish newspapers last week.

The sources said at least 12 gunmen participated in the assault, the latest in a series of attacks on Christian figures and institutions.

"The attackers kidnapped the two guards before they stormed the building in the Shajaiyeh neighborhood of Gaza City," the sources said. "Then they entered the library, where they detonated a number of explosive charges, causing heavy damage."

One of the guards, Abdel Mu'ti Abu Khoussa, 52, said the attackers also stole computers and other equipment from the offices of the YMCA. Only some of them had masks on their faces, he said.

Issa Saba, secretary-general of the YMCA in the Gaza Strip, said all 8,000 books were destroyed. He said the gunmen also stole a vehicle belonging to the organization.

Hamas policemen who rushed to the scene discovered another bomb in the library that had not exploded.

(Emphasis added-DD)

I have written about numerous instances of Islamist censorship on this site. None of those incidents, however, define the pathological Islamist hatred of intellectual freedom quite like this one. Responding to offensive cartoons by burning thousands of books? The reprehensible and barbarous nature of this crime speaks for itself.

Heinrich Heine's famous quote that "[w]here they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings" has long since become a cliche. The murderous record of al Qaeda and other Salafist-jihadist groups, Iran's autocracy and Sudan's regime have proven its validity for Islamists. This also applies to Palestinian Islamists.

As I noted in my previous post on this incident, the destruction of the YMCA library was merely the latest in a string of such attacks directed against Christian and other "un-Islamic" symbols. The ultimate purpose of this campaign is to cleanse Gaza not only of "infidel" ideas, but of infidels themselves. In particular, it is aimed at Gaza's 3,500 strong Christian community. Father Raymond J. De Souza made this point quite clearly in an essay for Canada's National Post:

If indeed the attack on the YMCA was motivated by the latest wave of violence in Denmark over the cartoon controversy, it shows how precarious the Christian position is. The Young Men's Christian Association in Gaza is open to Muslims and includes a school, sports club and community hall. It is not a centre of Christian proselytism. But if events in Denmark which have nothing to do with Christianity can produce anti-Christian violence in Gaza, then it is clear that there is nothing Christians can do to avoid such violence.

The problem is not their behaviour but, in the eyes of the violent Islamist jihadists, their very presence. They must simply live in hope that some faraway event does not inflame the anti-Christian wrath of their neighbours. Is it any wonder that Christians in such situations desire to emigrate? Could anyone judge harshly the few thousand Christians in Gaza if they were to leave entirely?

(Emphasis added-DD)

This reinforces the point that Lee Harris made in his recent essay "Speaking of Islam". Defying Islamist censorship carries a price. All too often that cost includes lives. If radical Islamists such as those in Gaza are unable to satisfy their lust for blood censorship from the "far infidel", they will extract it from the "near infidel".

This is not to say that Palestinian Islamists are uninterested in punishing those guilty of "un-Islamic" expression in distant lands. Last November, when a right-wing Danish political party included a drawing of the Prophet Muhammed in their election commercials, the Palestinian al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade responded by threatening to add the party to its "list of enemies".

Just this Monday, a spokesman for the Gaza-based Popular Resistance Committees responded to last week's republication of the 2005 Danish Muhammed cartoons by calling for violence against Denmark. According to the Jerusalem Post:

Israel Radio reported that the spokesman, speaking to demonstrators burning Danish flags, said anyone involved the drawing, printing, or publication of the caricatures should be "slaughtered."

Eventually, after Gaza's radical Islamists have succeeded in driving out the remaining infidels in their midst, they will look to start making good on such threats.

The attack on the YMCA was the second time in less than a year that Islamists in Gaza have destroyed a library. According to the Intellectual Freedom section of the American Library Association's Policy Manual, ALA "deplores the destruction of libraries, library collections and property, and the disruption of the educational process by that act, whether it be done by individuals or groups of individuals and whether it be in the name of honest dissent, the desire to control or limit thought or ideas, or for any other purpose."

After reading this passage, one would think ALA would be eager to condemn this latest act of cultural desecration. Yet, as Walter Skold at Freadom has pointed out, ALA has said nothing. Long-time readers of this site (and Walter's) will know that such lack of interest in Islamist censorship is sadly typical in our profession.

Many librarians who will passionately and justifiably condemn acts of book burning and desecration in this country are strangely unperturbed by such behavior when Islamists are the guilty party. When an article about the YMCA attack was posted on LISNews, it drew a typically snarky and uninformed response from a left of center librarian. Had this been a mosque library burned down by right-wing fanatics in Europe, I doubt "Chuck" would have quite so flippant about it.

There are several possible explanations for such attitudes. Perhaps it is partly a belief that Islamist censorship is something that only occurs in the Middle East. This argument ignores the widespread fear among European writers and intellectuals of saying the "wrong thing" about Islam, inspired by the November 2004 murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh and the numerous Islamist death threats against Europeans such as those cited above. Those who believe Islamist censorship is not anything Americans need to worry about also fail to realize that the phenomenon already exists in this country. So far, Muslim reformers and freethinkers living in the US have been the main targets, but it is only a matter of time before this changes.

There are other explanations. Considering the political makeup of American librarianship, there are undoubtedly some for whom being on the opposite side of George W. Bush and the dreaded "Neocons" is an imperative that overwhelms any other consideration. For others, it is a mix of political correctness and multiculturalism run amok. This is the notion that, as Irshad Manji has described it, Islamists and Muslims in general are victims of Western racism and ethnocentrism and simply cannot be held to the same standards of behavior as we are. This notion is both implicitly bigoted and ignores the fact that it is Muslims who are the main victims of the Islamists.

Islamism is a global ideology and its brutal war on intellectual freedom is a worldwide phenomenon. One does not have to sing the praises of George W, Bush, become a "Neocon", or support the American military presence in Iraq to recognize this. Resolute opposition to Islamist censorship should be something that everyone who values free expression can agree on.


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