Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Why Boycott the Paris Book-Fair?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 13/03/2008

boycott.jpgThe Paris Book Fair opens today to the selected few and tomorrow to the general public. Unfortunately, Lebanon will not be participating this year. Tareq Mitri, Lebanon’s Minister of Culture, had announced in February that his country will be withdrawing from the event to protest against the organizers’ decision to honor Israel. By doing so, Lebanon became the first country to boycott this year’s Book-Fair. Several other Arab countries and publishers followed suit.  I was much surprised by Tareq Mitri’s decision. I expected a more intelligent move from someone with his experience in interfaith dialogue and his commitment to fight censorship and intolerance. His reaction seems to confirm what I call the Mubarakisation of the Siniora government. To balance its alliance with the US and its lack of arabo-islamist credentials, the government never misses an opportunity to confirm its ideological “orthodoxy”.What did Lebanon or the “Arab cause” gain from this boycott? How was this symbolic gesture interpreted? It certainly pleased Israel’s foes, but they probably think it’s the least the Lebanese government could do (and they probably deplore the government’s lack of commitment in fighting Israel other than by symbolic actions). As for Israel’s supporters, the boycott represents another proof of the Arab’s deep-rooted hostility toward Israel. How productive or counterproductive was it? This question ushers in two others: how legitimate and efficient are such boycotts?I personally believe that boycotts are important symbolic actions the first time they are acted. In other words, if Belgium had decided to boycott the book-fair for the same reason, it would have been a meaningful gesture. It would have sparked a real debate around the call of boycott and the honouring of Israeli in this francophone book-fair. But Lebanon has no chance of sparking a debate over that question because it has been systematically boycotting Israel for nearly 60 years.  Aren’t there more efficient and creative ways to protest against the honouring of Israel by the Paris Book-Fair? Why didn’t Tareq Mitri think of them? 

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