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The Book is Good… But Ban it

The Book is Good… But Ban it

Monday, 29 March, 2021 - 10:00

“…the book is known to have been translated into over 45 languages since it was published in 2011, and the English version topped the New York Times bestsellers list.”

When one reads such a phrase, what does he do? He rushes to buy the book, and if he didn’t find it in his country, he would order it from abroad. However, we should avoid rushing to conclusions and behaving rashly. The phrase above, an excerpt from a “cultural” piece published in the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar (on 3/19), is not meant to encourage readers to read the book. The exact opposite is being advocated: they are demanding that readers boycott the book and that the state ban it. As for our language becoming one of the “over 45 languages” the book has been translated into, this would be a hateful and ugly act.

What the newspaper is saying, in other words, is the following: the book might be good and useful; indeed, it might be excellent. But don’t read it.

The reason is found in the title of the same piece: “An Israeli book in Lebanese stores?” The question mark, here, is akin to shouting, “my goodness!” Let us lower our voices so that one of us whispers - after making sure that no one else is around: the writer is Israeli.

The paragraph’s first line begins like this: “A post by the ‘Arab Network for Research and Publishing,’ which was founded in Beirut in 2008, has provoked many queries on promoting the Arabic version of the book ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’ by Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari.” The newspaper immediately elaborates on its description, adding that the publisher mentioned above “is a subsidiary- in disguise - of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies ect...”

The paragraph starts by suggesting “provocation” (though we still don’t know whom it is that had been provoked), and then there are words like “promoting”, “queries” and “disguise” though the content of the item at hand does not call for this climate of policing. The book deals with “the cognitive revolution, the role of humans and the evolution of their abilities because of it,” as the newspaper itself quotes Harari himself as saying.

What the paragraph’s writer has done is present what could be the strongest argument against the cognitive revolution and the evolution of human abilities. Indeed, now we have many other arguments for this pessimistic view on the evolution of our capacities. For we have seen two waves of this nonsense over the past two decades: a wave that translated what Israelis wrote and allowed us to read but from the perspective that we should “know our enemy”; and another wave that demanded that we not read Israeli works so that we protect our minds from the intrigues and conspiracies that reside in their books. It seems that the third wave, the current one, is more self-aggrandizing and defiant to reason. It says: the book may be excellent, but don’t read it.

The argument might have been tenable if the book had called for violence, incited the persecution of Palestinians, advocated racism or sectarianism, demeaned women, published pornography for children or taught jailers how to torture prisoners. Indeed, the matter may have been worth discussing if the author had been an Israeli political or security official, bearing in mind that if this were the case, the need to read it should increase.

According to the newspaper itself, these characteristics do not apply to Harari’s book.

Worse than that would be delusions of leaving an impact on the Israeli economy by boycotting the books issued in Israel!

This third wave, for its part, reflects just how debased our understanding of the conflict with the Jewish state has been: from its low point under Nasser, the Baath and the Palestinian resistance, to its lowest point under Iran and Hezbollah. Here, with its unprecedented absolutism, it strengthens our safeguards against reason by establishing two links: one of racist nature, which ties cultural production with its producers’ background, though civilization has gone a long way to break this primitive connection (and as long as we are talking about backgrounds, we could add that the Hararis are a Lebanese Jewish family who left Lebanon for reasons similar to what is being pushed by the advocates for banning books). As for the second safeguard, it is of totalitarian nature and links every cultural or intellectual production to politics and politicization. Those who hold this view cannot see anything outside the lens of enmity.

In general, we have been facing indiscriminate blows thrown by unofficial, unpopular and unelected censors eager to play the repressive roles that the state is reluctant to play as it abets them. These censors have decided, on their own, what is right and what is wrong, and what should be allowed and should not be, based on concerns that only a tiny minority shares with them, while the vast majority is harmed. This is exactly what movements like the “moral majority” would do in the United States, demand, from time to time, that a book be banned because it offends the Church, Christ or morality. Since, with astonishing humility, it designated itself the “moral majority,” it came to be in a position to determine and decide.

In fact, the invasion of the mind is worse and more dangerous than the invasion of territory. As for those who want the cause to necessitate banning books, nothing remains of their cause but mutual longing shared with graveyards.

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