Powered by WebAds

Friday, May 09, 2008

'Muslim intellectuals' seethe over Turin book fair

'Muslim intellectuals' are seething over the Turin book fair, which is taking place in Italy this week. The reason: Like the Paris book fair in March, the Turin book fair honors the 60th anniversary of the creation of the State of Israel.
Writer and Professor Tariq Ramadan on Monday criticized the planned presence of Italian President Giorgio Napolitano at the fair, saying his attendance would make it "a political and not a cultural event."

Ahead of the five-day expo, several Muslim writers, intellectuals and artists as well as the Free Palestine association staged a two-day protest seminar at the University of Turin titled "Western Democracies and Ethnic Cleansing in Palestine."

Free Palestine is also planning a protest on Saturday.


The Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization had called on its 50 member states to stay away, arguing that Israel's "crimes against humanity" in the Palestinian territories make it "unworthy" of such an honor.

Muslim critics say Israel should not be rewarded in this manner while it faces international outrage over its actions in the Palestinian territories.
The Italians - like the French before them - are apparently determined to ignore the Muslim seething. One could dismiss that as an acknowledgment of reality in the context of a book fair. While the Jews are known as the 'people of the book,' a 2002 study found that only 330 books annually are translated into Arabic. By comparison, here are some statistics from Israel's 2005 book week, which takes place annually in June:
During 2004, 8,201 new Israeli titles were registered by the Legal Deposit Department of the JNUL: 6,436 books, 884 new periodicals, and 881 non-print titles, such as CDs and cassettes. In additions, 11,959issues of current periodicals were received at the JNUL.

Most of the titles were in Hebrew: 5,183. Of these, about 89% were originally written in Hebrew, and about 11% were translated into Hebrew. The next common languages are English, 616 titles; Russian, 114 titles; and Arabic, 62 titles. In addition, 26 Romanian titles were published in Israel last year, 21 in Spanish and 13 in French. Only five titles in Amharic were registered, four in Yiddish and one in Ladino. A few books were published in other languages, such as German, Hungarian, Italian and Chinese.
And there are much fewer Israelis than Arabs.

So one could argue that Israelis have much to contribute to a book fair, while the Arabs who stay away don't have much to contribute anyway. But there's more to this story than a simple realization that it is Israel and not the Arab world that is Europe's intellectual peer. In a JPost column earlier this week, Barry Rubin reported on Europe's improving ties with Israel, saying that things are better than they have been at any time since the early '80's.
On a political level, then, Europe's relationship with Israel is quite good.

The most marked change is with France, where relations are better than at any time since 1967, when President Charles de Gaulle broke off the special relationship with Israel. Given the French president's almost monarchical status, other institutions are following Sarkozy's lead to some extent.

Take, for example, IRIS, arguably the single most important international affairs‚ think tank in France and one not known for friendliness toward Israel in the past. It has just published a paper by Samuel Ghiles Meilhac, "La relation entre Israël et l'Union Européenne à l'épreuve de la seconde Intifada," which reports the steady improvement in EU-Israel relations during the past few years.

Regarding Italy, Berlusconi and his supporters are explicitly pro-Israel, whereas his predecessors, especially the left-wing foreign minister, seemed on the verge of sympathy with Hamas and Hizbullah at times. For Berlusconi, Israel is not just a marginal issue but a central one, a symbol of the need to fight extremism and terrorism while upholding the importance of democratic societies.

Precisely because the anti-Israel cause has been so high on the agenda of the Italian left, Berlusconi and his followers are eager to do battle on that front.

And as Merkel's recent visit shows, the German commitment to Israel remains quite high.
Rubin glossed over the fourth country he mentioned - the United Kingdom.
Relations are now probably better than at any time since the early 1980s. With the end of the Palestinian intifada in 2003, Israelis' withdrawal from - and the Hamas takeover of - the Gaza Strip, European experience with radical Islamist terror, and the growing threat from Iran's nuclear drive, the situation has shifted. Today, the governments of the four main European countries - France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom - are all quite friendly toward Israel, with the first three being especially so.
Rubin wrote his column before British Prime Minister Gordon Brown donned a kippa and spent Wednesday night at an Israel Independence Day celebration in London's Finchley synagogue (which I assume to be Orthodox, given that only men are in the picture).
Speaking in a rare visit to Finchley Synagogue on Wednesday night, Brown called for a future in which the "children of Abraham" would live together in peace as part of the same extended family.

"Let us all stand ready to help Israel find a truly secure place in a peaceful Middle East," he said. "Let us celebrate a country that even people thousands of miles away, in the remotest corners of the world, think of as home. And it is this that gives me faith in the future."
Brown's hope for "the children of Abraham" living together in peace is unrealistic, at least for the foreseeable future. And in the long run, I believe we have major problems on the horizon in Europe (for example, this report indicates that by 2035 there will be more practicing British Muslims than British Christians, which cannot bode well for Israel). But for now, I'm happy to watch the Muslims seethe and enjoy the quiet period in our relations with Europe while we can.

So if any of you are anywhere near there, go to the Turin book fair this week and buy a couple of Israeli books. You won't be sorry.


At 12:05 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Jews as educated and well read people stands in stark contrast to the illiteracy and fanaticism prevalent in the Arab Muslim World. Muslim intellectuals in particular have a hard time reconciling the contradiction between theoretical Islamic superiority and the reality of Muslim backwardness vis a vis the Jewish State.

That's why in this century, progress towards an Arab-Israeli peace is not in the cards for that would mean a change in traditional Muslim attitudes towards the Jews. And the backward nature of Muslim culture and the fact Arab countries (and Iran) are in general closed societies resistant to the adoption of liberal and Western ideas prevent that kind of change from taking place.

In short, the key to peace lies not with what Israel can offer but can only be affected from within Arab (also Iranian) societies. As long as Jew hatred remains a staple of discourse in the Arab and Muslim World, no peace breakthrough in the Middle East will happen.

That's important to remember in view of the Muslim hostility to Israel's participation in European book fairs.


Post a Comment

<< Home