Monday, March 5, 2007

The Book Burners of Hamas

A Disturbing Article Contributed by Lucia

Dr Kana'nah: Burning my book "speak bird, speak again" is like burning my son

"Ramallah - Ma'an - Professor of sociology and anthropology at Bir Zeit University, Ashraf Kana'nah, has commented on the decision of the Palestinian ministry of education to burn copies of the book he collated with his colleague, Dr Ibrahim Mhawi. The book, collated from Palestinian oral narratives, is entitled "Speak bird, speak again". Dr Kana'nah described the ministry's decision as "cultural terrorism"; while the ministry claims that stories in the book contain "immoral expression".

Kana'nah told Ma'an's correspondent in Ramallah that "those who conducted such measures are not related to academia", since he found no more than three references to sexual activity in a 400 page book.

Dr Kana'nah expressed his disturbance over the burning of his book, saying that "every book one writes is continuity of his own ideology, as much as the son is the biological continuity of his father." He added that it was the ministry of culture who decided to distribute the book at the schools, and they also funded the printing of 3000 copies.

The book was misinterpreted, explained the author, "since it was not meant to be taught to children, as it is taught at the masters and doctorate level [in literature studies]". Kana'nah himself taught the study of the book in the masters programs at Bir Zeit University. In addition, the English version of the book is studied as part of literature courses at both Berkeley and Chicago Universities. It was the best-selling Palestinian academic text book in foreign countries.

"The book should be read by teachers at schools, rather than be given to students, and if the teacher is embarrassed to read some expressions, which the students hear every day, he does not deserve to be a teacher," declared Dr Kana'nah.

The ministry of education allegedly endorsed a decision at the beginning of February to destroy all copies of the book, "Speak bird, speak again" at the libraries of governmental schools under the pretext of containing "filthy expressions".

This book, first published in 1989, contains forty-five folktales drawn from a collection of two hundred tales narrated by women from different areas of historic Palestine (the Galilee, the West Bank, and Gaza). The stories collected were chosen on the basis of their popularity, their aesthetic and narrative qualities, and what they tell about popular Palestinian culture dating back many centuries. In order to maintain the specificity of these tales, it was necessary to transcribe them in the original colloquial dialect in which they were narrated. The tales are accompanied by an in-depth study that compares them to similar cultural products in Arab and world cultures.

For his part, member of the Palestinian People's Party's politburo, Haidar Awadallah, described the decision as "a threat to liquidate the democratic heritage of the Palestinian people and their cultural, literary and ideological pluralism". This is done on behalf of "a fundamental, superficial and close preaching."

Ministerial reaction

Palestinian minister of education, Dr Nasser Addin Ash-Shaer, denied on Monday that his ministry had taken the decision to burn copies of the folktales, claiming that he only heard the news in the media.

Ash-Shaer told Ma'an that the issue "is not about a school's text book, but it is a book that was written in the informal accent which the educational orientation of the ministry found inappropriate for the accent." The minister also denied the news reported about the ministry's decision to burn the book or destroy the copies.

The minister added, "there has been no such decision, and we are not against the people's heritage. Besides, the book is available in the book stores, but it arrived in the schools without our knowledge, and so, the ministry's office is still checking the issue... the book is written in an informal language, which is inappropriate to be taught at schools, as schools teach the formal Arabic only. Furthermore, the book includes filthy expressions, which we can not afford to accept in our schools, and so it is being withdrawn from the libraries only.""

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