Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Burn Bird, Burn Again?

I woke up to the distressing news that the Palestinian ministry was planning to burn copies of Speak Bird, Speak Again, the most comprehensive and priceless collection of Palestinian oral folktales. I literally shook and cried when I read the news: the collection is the most convincing plea for justice and nationhood in Palestine; it brings together folktales from all the lost villages and the ones that remain; from men and women who are no longer alive or able to tell the tale. Anyone who disbelieves in the Palestinian right to a nation or to return would have their hearts turned by reading the book. Besides all that, it's an anthropological and folk treasure: a trove of oral stories and a delightful entertainment.

Then, I read that the decision was not made out of the blue, but that shipments of the book had arrived at a school and that officials there were shocked by the sexual content (there are three sexual references in the book, and they're hilarious) and the "foul language." Here is the minister of education's reply: "the book ... 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Furthermore, the book includes filthy expressions, which we can not afford to accept in our schools, and so it is being withdrawn from the libraries only."

Oh. Right. Library bans. Well, looks like Palestinian kids and American kids have a lot in common.

In any case, I urge you all to buy it and read it, and in the case that it does get burned or banned in Palestine, to take copies of it with you the next time you travel there. The volume is tangible proof of Palestinians' history and humanity, something they are robbed of daily, and to take it away seems the cruelest of punishments.

You can read a selection of the tales here (scroll down over the intro).

Buy it here through UC Press, and here through Amazon.


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