Brave man

As seen at Point of no return:

Professor Robert Wistrich is fuming about UNESCO’s cancellation of its Israel exhibition after two years in the planning. But equally furious is the Algerian writer Boualem Sansal, whose letter to Irina Bokova, the UNESCO Director-General, I have translated below. Sansal’s condemnation of UNESCO’s decision is all the more courageous because he still lives in an Arab country. (With thanks: Ahuva)

“I am sending you this letter to tell you of my surprise and discomfort following your decision to cancel the exhibition ” 3500 years of ties between the Jewish people and the Holy Land “.

“Your honourable institution actively participated in its preparation and agreed to host it at its premises at its headquarters in Paris. The cancellation has strengthened my decision and my pride in being part of the Honorary Committee of the exhibition alongside such eminent personalities as Elie Wiesel, Esther Coopersmith, Father Patrick Desbois, Lord Carey of Clifton and Mr Irwin Cotler.

” It seems that your decision was taken at the request of the Arab Group at UNESCO. They considered that such an exhibit would harm the peace negotiations and efforts by the U.S. secretary of State John Kerry, and undermine the neutrality of the UNESCO. I personally find it hard to believe that cancelling a cultural exhibition at the world headquarters of Culture and Science promotes current peace negotiations. This is at the very least to prejudge the content of the exhibition, and it surely introduces an additional hurdle to negotiations. The cancellation can be seen as a boycott and therefore adopting a political position.

“As a writer, my weakness is to believe that free expression is peace, it is the exchange of ideas, the dialogue with the Other, and as an Algerian, I know how the lack of democracy in our Arab countries prevents peace and breeds violence. Putting out the fire in one’s house, it seems to me, is more urgent than firefighting cultural exhibitions across the world.

“It is to have a narrow view of neutrality to demand that an institution have nothing to do with the Other. Neutrality means nothing; an institution like UNESCO does not have to be neutral: it must let everything and everyone see and be seen. A dialogue based on each and every individual reality can start and be profitable.

“The Arab Group can now celebrate its victory: it got an exhibition cancelled for exposing the Other. This suggests that far from being objective and neutral, UNESCO is being partisan. Now let’s hear about the lack of democracy in these countries which in the last three years alone has caused hundreds of thousands of deaths.

“I’m sorry, Madame Director-General, to see you complicit in an affair that ultimately harms everyone’s name.

Yours faithfully

Boualem Sansal

Now that’s what you call a brave man of principle.

It’s worth repeating this part from his letter:

“The Arab Group can now celebrate its victory: it got an exhibition cancelled for exposing the Other. This suggests that far from being objective and neutral, UNESCO is being partisan. Now let’s hear about the lack of democracy in these countries which in the last three years alone has caused hundreds of thousands of deaths.”

UNESCO seems as bad as the worst parts of the whole UN pit of poison. If only there were a way to get out of the UN, or to fix it.

You can quote me on that…

Arab council cancels award after intended recipient visits Jerusalem

From Haaretz:

The Council of Arab Ambassadors in France revoked its decision to award Algerian writer Boualem Sansal a prize for best Arab novel, shortly after Sansal took part in the International Writers Festival in Jerusalem last month.

Sansal, who writes in French, was due to receive the prize for his novel, “Rue Darwin,” on June 6 at the Arab World Institute in Paris.

But the French media have been reporting over the last few days that the council decided to call off the award ceremony and ask the judges to reconvene.

One of the judges announced following the decision that he was quitting.

“I resign from the prize council, which shamefully decided to revoke the judges’ selection, and I invite my colleagues to act likewise and to create a different framework for the prize, to honor the work of Boualem Sansal, an Algerian author, a free person and a big believer in face-to-face conversations,” Olivier Poivre d’Arvor wrote in the French newspaper Liberation.

Poivre d’Arvor, who heads the state-funded radio station France Culture and has served on the prize committee since 2008, said the decision was made shortly after Sansal – who has been widely criticized in the Arab world for drawing a connection between Islamic fundamentalism and Nazism – took part in the Israeli festival.

“The prize judges received a strange e-mail message cancelling the prize date ‘due to current events in the Arab world,'” d’Arvor wrote. “The e-mail proposed that the judges reconvene on June 12 for a meeting headed by the Jordanian and Arab League ambassadors to Paris.”

The Jordanian ambassador, who heads the Council of Arab Ambassadors in France, had been scheduled to hand Sansal the award, along with the director of the Arab World Institute.

“Behind all this was hiding a shameful baseness,” wrote d’Arvor. “During the time between selecting the prize winners and granting the prize, Boualem Sansal took part in the Jerusalem festival. Hamas, for its part, immediately released an official statement condemning the visit as an act of betrayal against the Palestinians, hence the reaction of the Council of Arab Ambassadors in France.”

I know nothing about the author, but this closing part of the article suggests he’s a believer in free speech; something that makes him an enemy of a number of institutions in this part of the world.

In an interview with Haaretz while he was in Israel for the writers festival, Sansal said he was unfazed by the antagonistic reaction to his decision to take part.

“If I had to be afraid of everybody who’s crazy or sick, or of what they say, I wouldn’t be able to do anything,” he said. “I would stay at home, and I certainly wouldn’t be writing.”