Posted by: sean | March 7, 2009

The “White Man” speaks

Sometimes it seems like you can’t please anybody. Recently, I was publicly called a fool by Christopher Hitchens, and now I’ve been smeared by As’ad AbuKhalil, a.k.a. The Angry Arab, who ironically enough linked to and quoted me a couple of weeks ago when I was writing about Hitchens in Beirut.

Lately, I’ve been working on an issue that came to my attention as one of the faculty advisers of the AUB book club. Each year, the club picks a theme, and the club’s new student president decided on biographies. For the first reading of this semester, she selected the Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. When she tried to order copies of the book at the university book storre, she was surprised and disappointed to find that the Lebanese Government had recently banned the book. I decided to investigate the issue further, and sent out the following two messages to the faculty list at AUB (please excuse the typos):

Sent: Thursday, February 26, 2009 1:59 PM
Subject
: [aub-faculty] Censorship in Lebanon

Dear colleagues, I am one of the faculty advisors of AUB’s book club, whose student president decided to focus on biographies this semester. In keeping with this theme, she chose the Diary of Anne Frank for our first reading. When she tried to order some copies in English from the AUB bookstore, she was informed that it had recently been banned by the Lebanese government.

I later spoke to someone at Antoine who told me that all the English copies (although not French, for some reason) in the possession of the local distributor had been destroyed. I was wondering, then, if any of you could help me get a hold of a list of banned books and a copy of the Lebanese Printing Code or any other information about censorship here in Lebanon. I am interested in pursuing this matter and would appreciate any help than anyone can provide.

Best regards,

Sean

Sent: Tuesday, March 03, 2009 1:00 PM
Subject: RE: [aub-faculty] Censorship in Lebanon

Dear all,

I would like to thank everyone for their outpouring of support. I received many messages and apologize for not responding to everyone individually.

As for the issue of censorship, I went around to several bookstores and managed to come up with a few incomplete lists of things that are banned. DVDs that are banned include Schindler’s List, anything with Paul Newman in it, the television show The Nanny, The Life of Brian, Manhattan, Pink Floyd’s The Wall, Clockwork Orange, Independence Day, Battle of Algiers and season 1 disc 2 of the Sopranos. The reasons given by General Security range from “homosexuality” and “sexual content” to “offensive to Arabs” and “offensive Christianity.” Apparently Paul Newman and Jane Fonda have become rationales in and of themselves. Otherwise, the most shocking categories are “sympathy for Jews” and “Jew content.” It is important to remark that there are separate categories for “sympathy for Israelis” and “publicity for Israel.” In other words, General Security is making a distinction between Israelis and Jews yet is nonetheless banning material like the Diary of Anne Frank and Life is Beautiful, because they might cause the Lebanese public to have “sympathy for Jews.”

As for music, much of what is banned is heavy metal, although Frank Sinatra albums are also on the list. I imagine that the reasoning behind much of the music ban is the witchcraft scare from a few years ago and offense to the Church. As is the case for other media, however, the bans are highly inconsistent. For example, most Metallica albums are banned, but none by Iron Maiden. The DVD version of Pink Floyd’s The Wall is banned, but not the album itself.

This weekend, I spoke to a contact in the Ministry of the Interior who has asked me to come up with a dossier on the problem so that it might me addressed by the Minster. I’m currently working on that, so if anyone has any information that they’d like to pass along, please feel free to do so. Before bringing publicity to the issue by writing an article or organizing any events, I’m going through the official channels of the Ministry, which under the current Minister is currently very open to initiatives from civil society. However, if this does not have any effect, I will pursue the issue through other means. In the meantime, thanks again for your support.

Best regards,

Sean

I received many messages from my colleagues at AUB, every single one of them supportive. So I was surprised when I saw that at least one of my colleagues had forwarded along the exchange to AbuKhalil, who then proceeded to dub me “the White Man at AUB,” all the while dishonestly and grossly misrepresenting what I’d written. (For the record, ya habibi, I’ve got more of a peachy-rose hue.) First of all, AbuKhalil doesn’t seem to understand the difference between a boycott and censorship by the state. As anyone with eyes can read above, I don’t mention the Arab boycott of Israel at all. What I do mention is state censorship that bans books, films and music for “Jew content,” “Sympathy for Jews,” and other dubious reasons. He also states, falsely, that censorship due to religious sensitivity or criticism of Arab governments doesn’t bother me. That’s just not true, and if he’d bothered to ask me before publicly pillorying me as a white man on a mission civilisatrice, he would know that. As an educator (and not as a “White Man,” incidentally), I’m against all forms of censorship. I am, however, particularly against racist censorship, first of all because it is disgusting, and secondly because it lends credence to the pro-Israel lobby’s claims that the only problem Arabs have with Israel is that it’s full of Jews. So when the sitcom “The Nanny” is banned for “Jew content,” and Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful, the diary of Anne Frank and Sophie’s Choice are all banned for “Sympathy for Jews,” the Lebanese government is unintentionally bolstering the argument of supporters of Israel in the US and elsewhere.

Ironically, AbuKhalil takes me to task for questioning why movies starring Paul Newman are banned:

Paul Newsman starred in a lousy (and boring–ask my students when I subjected them to it once) movie of Zionist propaganda which instilled the denigration of the Palestinians in American minds. But I don’t get it: you were hired in Lebanon to teach English and you see it as your mission to tell the Arabs that their boycott of Israel (a form of peaceful cultural resistance) is rather absurd? What business is it of you?

So let’s see, Paul Newman was in the film Exodus, but rather than leaving it to the public to boycott that movie, which I doubt would have much of an audience in Lebanon anyway, AbuKhalil thinks the Lebanese need to be protected by the General Security, not just from that movie, but also from Cool Hand Luke and The Hustler. Even more ironic, he seems to think that his students in sunny California (to whom he showed the film) are intellectually able to handle it, but that the whole of Lebanon is not. So apparently a civil boycott of Israeli goods is not good enough for AbuKhalil; the state should impose a ban on anything and anyone who may have once been in the same ideological camp as Israel. And the General Security seems to agree.

Incidentally, I’d like to ask AbuKhalil whether Ilan Pappe’s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine should be banned. It’s not, despite the fact that Pappe is Israeli. There are legitimate questions and room for debate about the forms that Arab boycotts should take. Is the boycott against individuals or a state? Should cultural products be subjected to the same boycott as other goods? Who is to make these decisions? These are interesting questions that ought to be discussed and debated, but I don’t think it is useful or even accurate to say that censorship and boycotts are the same thing. And I also don’t think it should be controversial for an educator to object to blatantly racist government censorship. If anything, I find it scandalous that an educator would be willing to defend it.

So to answer AbuKhalil’s question of who am I to care that there is censorship (much of it racist and absurd) in Lebanon: I’m an educator who lives in Lebanon. And as an educator, I don’t think that books should be banned. It’s as simple as that, and had AbuKhalil bothered to ask me instead of smearing me as “White Man Lee” who “traveled to Beirut to civilize the natives,” we might have been able to have an actual discussion about the issue. But he seems much more interested in sensationalist shooting from the hip, even when he ends up way off the mark. And by the by, I wonder if I was also “White Man Lee,” when he linked to one of my posts the other day.

There’s a disturbing undertone in AbuKhalil’s message that implies that since I’m not Lebanese, I shouldn’t be able to criticize Lebanon. I’m not Saudi or Israeli or Egyptian or French or Sudanese either, but I don’t think that means that I don’t have the right to criticize any of those countries, as I have on this blog plenty of times. Likewise, I doubt AbuKhalil would complain about non-Americans criticizing the US.

Finally, I’d like to ask my readers to perform a little thought experiment. Let’s say that someone from AIPAC had taken issue with something AbuKhalil had written and then decided to misrepresent him and call him out as the “Brown Man at California State University, Stanislaus” and imply that if he didn’t like American policies, he should just go back to Lebanon? What would AbuKhalil have to say about that?

We’ll see if AbuKhalil is willing to put up my response on his own site.

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Responses

  1. While I have found the tone of comments you left on other blogs (remarkz, comes to mind) to be at times uppity and preachy, I do think AA flew off the handle here. From what you’ve posted of your messages to the faculty regarding censorship, I fully agree with you that boycotting Newman films and Anne Frank’s Diary (as well as cultural materials deemed ‘offensive’, although I do take greater issue with the racist boycotting of “Jew content”) is not only insupportable, but also totally counterproductive to Israel boycott aims. What are your views on boycotting companies that do business with Israel and, in particular, business linked to the occupation? I’m glad you responded to AA and published your letters to the faculty. Please keep us updated on any developments with the Ministry of Interior. I’d be interested to know how recent the boycott of Anne Frank’s Diary is, if you know.

  2. Even though I am a fan of the Angry Arab, I fully support you on this issue.

    Sometimes As’ad shoots too fast and doesn’t give it enough thought.

    He’s like Lucky Luke, “l”homme qui tire plus vite que son ombre”, if you know the French comics.

    But I am sure As’ad would agree with you on the necessity to distinguish between “boycott” and “censorship”, and most importantly, between “Israeli” and “Jew”.

    Best

  3. You’re totally right man. Censorhip in this country in this country has reached ridiculous levels when it comes to anything remotely political/religious.

    I believe at one point they banned the Da Vinci Code too for some odd reason.

    As’ad Abu Khalil, as I once told him on his blog, is a Brontosaurus, a relic of the 1970s revolutionary left who just can’t deal with the fact that the world turned right side up (no pun intended).

    He now makes a living in America, the country he claims to oppose and revile.

  4. Censorship is wrong and intellectual censorship is counter-productive; I imagine one day Lebanon will boycott a medicine or a medical procedure because it offends religion or comes out of Israel? Brown, yellow, White or Black, anybody that comes to Lebanon and points out something as fundamentally wrong and retarded in our system is welcome.

    I am against all censorship in Lebanon, as a Lebanese and living in Lebanon (Unlike Asa’d an American living in California) I am affected first hand by the limited intellectual access and will have to deal with slow bandwidth to access movies, music and books. I appreciate any effort to crack a hole in the censorship wall.

  5. Angry Arab is a fascist nut job. Thanks for telling the world about these ludicrous boycotts. Until Lebanon drops this silliness (Paul Newman? Anne Frank? You have GOT to be kidding me!) it can forget about being a free and democratic state.

    I had no idea this was going on. Can’t say I’m too surprised though, considering the actors.

    It’s this kind of thing that completely undermines the Palestinian cause.

  6. Sean,

    Good post.

  7. Honeslty Sean,

    I found the post of Asa’ad Abu Khalil silly and disgustingly stupid!
    Abu Khalil reminds me of those Arab intellectuals that end up a mouth piece for Arab regimes ..a propaganda machine. as you pointed he mixes boycott with censorship. So…following Mr. angry arab we should maybe boycott the Quran (because of its jewish content) or even the bible because We cannot let people sympathize with the ‘jews’. this is disgusting, I feel ashamed of being lebanese right now. Abu khalil should be here with us in the front lines to defend the freedom of speech and expression in this country and not run his mouth from the comfort of his home in America. Our government and intellectuals in this country should be ashamed of these anti-semitic policies that does not serve the palestinian cause but at the contrary paints the Arabs as angry assholes.
    Honestly, how do we expect the world to sympathize with our cause when we act like children.
    No one and I mean no one has the right to censor thought. I want to read what ever I please even if it is Israeli propaganda. Fuck anyone who says other wise and thinks he can tell us what we can or can’t do.
    thanks sean for this post.

  8. […] can read A.A.’s obnoxious post here, and Sean’s very lucid response here. […]

  9. I have often laughed at the Lebanese attempts at protecting the various groupings and sects in Lebanon from offense. Its a wonder any movie gets released at all.

    Assad is an academic idealist. His writings have no room whatsoever for realpolitik and bases comments entirely from his angle without much analysis.

    However, and I don’t mean to come across as antagonistic in any way, but you have taken some things at face value without much analysis either. And while I seriously disagree with him that anyone should be banned from criticizing a country they are not from (which is rich from man who suffers such distaste for his own people), I wonder, if in your demands for having any material you desire, while academically admirable, is slightly missing some cultural and social aspects of the Lebanese identity.

    Is there a nation on the planet that has not at some point banned movies or books for one reason another?

    First, lets be clear. I have no idea what your knowledge of Lebanon is as a whole or whether your perceptions of the Lebanese are based mostly on your University students, but this is still a third world nation and many many people don’t have even a rudimentary education. And even amongst those that have had a good education, there can often be a certain, how should I say this, lack of sophistication.

    Therefore, combine that with a nation consistently teetering on some major crisis, along with neighbors that don’t always have our best interests at heart and you have a dry bush ready to ignite at any moment.

    But for some specifics:
    Newman wasn’t banned over one film. He is banned because like Fonda he was considered an active supporter of Zionism.

    The movies you list, like Anne Franks Diary, aren’t banned because they show sympathy for Jews in general but because they are linked to the Holocaust which is often the trump card used by Zionism to promote a nation we are, officially at least, at war with.

    (How that actually has any logic is a good question though)

    Should the state should impose a ban on anything and anyone who may have once been in the same ideological camp as Israel?

    In my opinion, if they have not actively left that camp, then yes. Why should we be sponsoring anyone in the same ideological camp as those that have spent the last 30 years on a wanton rampage in Lebanon?

    And just in case you need to know:

    The Nanny is banned because a lot of episodes are set and filmed in Israel.

    Sinatra in banned and his activities in the Zionist cause are well documented and stretch back to the early 40’s when he helped the Hagannah (theres a reason Jerusalem’s Hebrew University has a Frank Sinatra International Student Center).

    And Mettalica are banned because they are crap.

  10. Sean,

    I like what AA has to say 90% of the time; I was surprised to see him publicly lambaste you on such specious grounds. The crux of his “argument” against you rests on the idea that you are a white American man.

    I really liked your response. Until I got to the final paragraph. Being pilloried for one’s whiteness cannot be compared to being the victim of racism as a person of color (even in a “thought experiment”). Unfortunately, you undermined everything you said up until that point with that suggestion. Similarly, anti-immigration sentiment against white Americans in a foreign country isn’t comparable to anti-Arab (whether immigrant or not) sentiment in America.

    I support your position as a white, American professor at AUB (I was one myself!), but you must recognize that you are speaking from an extraordinarily privileged position. AA might be as well, but it’s not the same.

  11. “Should the state should impose a ban on anything and anyone who may have once been in the same ideological camp as Israel?

    In my opinion, if they have not actively left that camp, then yes. Why should we be sponsoring anyone in the same ideological camp as those that have spent the last 30 years on a wanton rampage in Lebanon?”

    I found this point in mo’s comment to Sean’s piece very interesting, but I’m not sure that all of the literature or film on the list can be defined in terms of “sponsoring” by a neighbouring enemy state.

    Banning is a tricky business and can escalate on all sides, with only the public losing out. With this in mind, I would be interested to know what forms of censorship apply in Israel. Which books/films/tv series are blocked and for what given reasons. Any ideas?

  12. Thanks for everyone who has left comments. As for Mo’s comment about anyone who hasn’t actively left the Zionist camp being banned, then I suppose that means that The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post should be banned, because they sometimes publish pieces by Michael Oren, Alan Dershowitz and Benny Morris, all of whom are Zionists. And as for things being filmed in Israel, if that’s enough, then films like Divine Intervention should also be banned.

    As for the question about my personal opinion on boycotts, I am for a military embargo on Israel and think that the US should stop giving financial aid to Israel so long as they continue to occupy Palestinian territory. Likewise, I’m for divestment campaigns that target companies that profit from the occupation, just like I’m also for divestment campaigns against businesses who profit from the conflict in Darfur.

    It’s hard to know where to draw the line, though, because there are so many countries where human rights are routinely abused, and it would be difficult if not impossible to divest from them all. For example, logically speaking, if one were to divest from Sudan and Israel, why not China?

    Unfortunately, this is a problem that I will only have to face in theory, as I don’t have any funds to invest, much less divest…

  13. David: Thanks for leaving your comments. I don’t know what the specific restrictions are in Israel, although I do know that the media is subject to military censorship, and there have also been problems importing Arabic books published in Syria and Lebanon.

    This, though, shouldn’t have much bearing on fighting censorship in Lebanon. Just like Israelis like to pat themselves on the back for having a better human rights record than Sudan (who are you going to brag to about that?), many people somehow think that if Israel has censorship that makes it ok for Lebanon to have it as well, which makes absolutely no sense to me.

  14. Bob: Thanks for your comment. So just to clarify something, it’s acceptable to make someone’s race or skin color an issue in a debate so long as that person is white?

    You write that “being pilloried for one’s whiteness cannot be compared to being the victim of racism as a person of color.” But as a matter of fact, they can be compared: attacking someone for his or her race, regardless of what that race is, is an ad hominem attack. As such, both instances, as incomparable as you may think they are, are unacceptable in academic discourse.

  15. Sean,

    Yes, if they were applying the rules logically all the things you say should be banned, well should be. But logic is difficult to sustain in this area.

    You say you are for divestment campaigns that target companies that profit from the occupation. So of one considers all of Israel as occupied as many Lebanese and Arabs do, then a company filming in Israel is contributing to that occupation.

    As you say, it is difficult for an individual to know where to draw the line, then how much more difficult is it for a govt.?

    Please note, I am not specifically challenging your belief on censorship or even censorship in Lebanon.

    But like I said above, Lebanon is a fragile nation. Trying to fix it from a high minded top to bottom approach is not going to work.

  16. sean,
    A (white) american critiquing someone on the basis of their brown skin is a racist attack, since it rests on an assumption of genetically mental inferiority of the non-white.

    An (angry) arab critiquing someone on the basis of their white skin is a political attack, not a racist one. You are not being accused of being inferior of giving an argument, but that you are (ab)using a position of political power (as a white man in the arab world) to preach to the natives.

    You are not being attacked for being white skinned per se (or rosey or whatever) but for belonging to a group that has historically justified their conquests, their domination, and their judgement of others, on racial grounds.

    That is why Angry Arab can link to you last week, and criticize you this week, and maybe even quote you again next week. He doesn’t care that you are, genetically, a white man. He criticizes a specific action you made, on the basis (of what he perceived as) of your political/social context as a white man in Lebanon.

    You make a valid point about the distinction between
    a boycott and censorship. And the whole issue is a worthy debate. But I wonder if Angry Arab flew off the handle because he saw you automatically agitating and preaching, and not first engaging in a debate with the locales to understand their perceptions and opinions about the matter.

    Disclaimer: I don’t know what emails Abu Khalil saw, and I don’t know that you didn’t discuss this at length with your fellow AUB professors. I’m just trying to listen to both sides.

  17. Maybe one difference between a boycott and censorship is the question of choice. Any authority that sets itself up as arbiter in this area is disenfranchising its public from the right of making an informed decision.

    There’s also the question of motivation. Bans rarely work as a method of censorship – except to generate publicity. Most of the films/books etc can be readily found, particularly online, assuming access to an adequate connection. If the aim is to prevent a particular group (publisher, author, company etc) from profiting then come out and call it an embargo, albeit a selective one.

  18. Sean,

    For the most part As’ad and I have similar political leanings. Which is probably the most disappointing part of all this. The guy is an arrogant idiot. He accuses you of preaching when that’s about the extent of his entire political project (if one could even dare say he has a project). Honestly, I think you deserve no less than an apology on his website for him having slandered you by name.

    Anyway, your response will show him to be the idiot that he is. And again, I must stress that I am saying this from the perspective of having similar views as As’ad on politics which makes it worse. His attack of you is counterproductive and destructive to the whole boycott movement, cultural and otherwise…and I am a strong supporter of both.

  19. Mo wrote: “In my opinion, if they have not actively left that camp, then yes. Why should we be sponsoring anyone in the same ideological camp as those that have spent the last 30 years on a wanton rampage in Lebanon?”

    First of all, Mo, there’s a difference between boycotting and banning. And Anne Frank can’t actively leave any camp (no pun intended.) Making excuses for Holocaust denial because Israel wields the club of Jewish victimhood to justify her suppression of the Palestinians, betrays something that I find far more pervasive than the “lack of sophistication” you attribute to our countrymen—justifying our denial of the Holocaust. We have not been served well by the willful denial and deliberate withholding of information about this period in history. Its not simply an issue of free speech to ban or not to ban books, but symptomatic of Arab deafness and deliberate mis- and under-education. What ever happened to understanding your enemies? That the only books widely available relating to this period is Finkelstein’s Holocaust Industry (and the conspiratorial anti-Semitic Elders of Zion, which is unrelated to the Holocaust but widely read) has only contributed to our ignorance and given credit to the Zionist conflation of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. Too many well-educated people in this country know nothing of the systematic mass murder of the European Jews. Reading Anne Frank’s diary and feeling sympathy for a girl and her family who were killed on another continent before the state of Israel existed is not handing Zionism a “trump card.” What do we have to lose from learning about this period? Can we learn only about how the Holocaust is used by the Israeli government without learning about the events themselves? In my opinion, self-pity and conspiratorial thinking has not helped us in our fight with Israel.

  20. RedLeb said:

    You are not being attacked for being white skinned per se (or rosey or whatever) but for belonging to a group that has historically justified their conquests, their domination, and their judgement of others, on racial grounds.

    Sure, it doesn’t sound as bad as racism, but how exactly does your characterization of AA’s position exonerate him?

    What you’re saying is that AA attacked Sean for “belonging to a group, etc. etc.” What group is that? The group with the white skin. Oh yeah, that group.

    Attacking someone for belonging to a group defined by the color of its skin, without knowing anything about that individual person’s motives or character is ignorant as well, RedLeb, wouldn’t you say?

  21. Both you and Abu Khalil are ridiculous fools.

  22. C’mon, Mo. If we can’t talk about the Holocaust because it is “used” as an excuse for the settlement of Palestine by European Jews, then we can’t well discuss *any* of the Jewish experience in Europe, and we’re left much poorer as a result.

    Has anyone ever read Niall Ferguson’s magisterial two-part history of the Rothschild family? It starts in the Judenstrasse of Frankfurt. You cannot explain 19th Century finance without explaining the Rothschild family, and you cannot explain the rise of that family without understanding the conditions from which they rose in a central Europe consumed by institutional anti-Semitism.

    My point here is that the Jewish historical experience is an integral part of the human experience, and we can’t well undertake an honest examination of history if we’re going to leave out any and all events considered related — even tangentially — to the events of 1947/1948.

    And Metallica rules.

  23. “An (angry) arab critiquing someone on the basis of their white skin is a political attack, not a racist one. You are not being accused of being inferior of giving an argument, but that you are (ab)using a position of political power (as a white man in the arab world) to preach to the natives.”

    I am so very tired of this silly reason for the hypersensitivity of the angryarabs of the world. He and those like him are becoming a cliche in the worst way.

  24. Sean: thanks for responding to my comment. First, let me reiterate that I think AA’s attack on you was misguided, mean-spirited, and counter-productive, precisely because it rests on the notion that your identity somehow makes your thoughts and actions illegitimate (and, as you pointed out, because he confused boycotts with censorship). Also, please let me reiterate that I really like your response other than the final paragraph and I appreciate your work more generally.

    Second, you are right that white-on-brown racism (for lack of a better shorthand) is comparable to brown-on-white racism in that both are ad hominem attacks and as such, are unacceptable in academic discourse. But they are comparable only if we divorce them from their historical, political, and social context. That is, individual acts of racism and reverse racism are comparable only if we separate them from the history and institutionalized reality of racism. Quite simply, white racism is far more powerful and profuse than any sort of reverse racism (deplorable as it may be).

    Finally, it is always “acceptable to make someone’s race or skin color an issue in a debate” when that person fails to acknowledge her/his white privilege.

    Putting all that aside, though, keep up the good work, Sean. And remember, Abu Khalil has chosen to work in a country where his tax dollars go directly toward the purchase of Israeli cluster bombs, fighter jets, and all sorts of other killing machines. But hey, at least he’s not watching any Paul Newman films.

  25. Regarding censorship in Israel: as Sean points out, importing books published in “enemy nations” can be difficult, but there are no restrictions on what can be distributed internally. There are plenty of Israeli media outlets that carry content that promotes sympathy towards Arabs, including some which is quite anti-Israeli (Jenin, Jenin comes to mind – it was briefly banned, screened anyway, and the ban was overturned by the Supreme Court).

  26. Great post Sean.

  27. QN,
    AA attacked Sean for belonging to a group that justified their actions (such as the subjugation of subject peoples) by the colour of their skin. According to them, they were right because they were white. The label ‘white man’ comes from this self-description, not a racial determination.

    Sean was not identified with this group simply because of his skin colour. Sean is a western educator in the Middle East who finds ‘ridiculous’ and ‘absurd’ certain actions of the locales based on his own political beliefs. That fits an all too familiar historical experience. While I may personally have the patience to inquire as to the person’s motivations, I fully understand (and respect) someone being automatically suspicious of same, especially in so incendiary a topic as Israel.

  28. have read your post and Asad Abu Khalil’s and i must say I have to side with Asad because he has stated repeatedly in his blog against censorship of any kind but for some reason or another you keep mixing apple with oranges, and that make your argument weak and unconvincing.

  29. Dear Redleb

    You claim “AA attacked Sean for belonging to a group that justified their actions (such as the subjugation of subject peoples) by the colour of their skin.”

    This is not true… that would be the case he had attacked Sean as a white supremacist.. or a euro centrist.. or an imperialist…. or even simply a racist.

    Instead, AA attacked Sean as a “White Man”.

    Your comment should read “AA attacked Sean for belonging to a group of people defined by the colour of their skin, and their gender.”

    Thankfully, AA didn’t do go after Sean as a racist… and if he had tried he just would have looked even sillier than he does… because Sean, unlike AA, is not a racist at all and so doesn’t “belong to a group that justified….”

    Unless that group is all white men, in which case, go fuck yourself with a burnt stick.

    Why even expect me to listen to you when you think my race and gender are fair points to attack me on?

    You don’t know me. Don’t tell me I’m part of some “group” called white men.

    I never joined.

    That’s racism, and sexism too- unless AA wants to retrospectively include all white women in this oppressive “group” he’s apparently talking about..

    There are Arab bloggers here in Australia. If some one wrote a vitriolic article about them that referred to them repeatedly as The Arab, it would be rightly labelled racist. What’s more, no one would come out and say it wasn’t racist because “the Arabs” are a group that’s committed horrific terrorism and misogyny.

    According to your logic this should be acceptable.

    *spits*

    I’m done.

    Peace.

  30. Hi Sean et al,
    I really enjoyed the debate, it touches on fundamental issues in our inter-connected world.
    I think the main point here is how “Othering” is being perceived and enacted. This is a huge issue, but let me just note here that “Othering” is an effective form of racism, based on the ability to APPLY that racism, not verbally, but in practice!

    For example, face controls and body searchs at the Western airports when encountering an Arab name is not fiction, its pretty real. Thats why the “thought experiment” was an unlucky idea, since a Western citizen will rarely be subjected to such humiliating ordeals in order to enter a non-Western country (with the exception of Iran or Venezuela maybe). Experiments are useful when applicable, not as impossible dialectics.

    It is amazing that while we are talking about whether and how “things” such as DVDs, CDs and PCs are banned from crossing borders, we take for granted that “human beings” like Palestinians, Mexicans or Somalis are permitted to do so! Well, unfortunately they are not and this is a part of the picture too! One cannot address the one without taking into consideration the sensibilities produced by the other, thats one way of tackling Othering, to my understanding! This is why one cannot have the luxury of being AS liberal AS one would love too, sometimes!

    Last but not least, I was not aware that you were supportive of the military embargo on Israel, I still remember that most of you people disapproved of the idea of “Disarming Zionism” back in the days of the Gaza slaughter… Rather you opted for sending letters to the American lawmakers.
    “Home” is a familiar category, not only emotionally, but also and mainly in mental terms. This is again where Othering is at its best!

  31. Hi Sean et al,
    I really enjoyed the debate, it touches on fundamental issues in our inter-connected world.
    I think the main point here is how “Othering” is being perceived and enacted. This is a huge issue, but let me just note here that “Othering” is an effective form of racism, based on the ability to APPLY that racism, not verbally, but in practice!

    For example, face controls and body searchs at the Western airports when encountering an Arab name is not fiction, its pretty real. Thats why the “thought experiment” was an unlucky idea, since a Western citizen will rarely be subjected to such humiliating ordeals in order to enter a non-Western country (with the exception of Iran or Venezuela maybe). Experiments are useful when applicable, not as impossible dialectics.

    It is amazing that while we are talking about whether and how “things” such as DVDs, CDs and PCs are banned from crossing borders, we take for granted that “human beings” like Palestinians, Mexicans or Somalis are permitted to do so! Well, unfortunately they are not and this is a part of the picture too! One cannot address the one without taking into consideration the sensibilities produced by the other, thats one way of tackling Othering, to my understanding! This is why one cannot have the luxury of being AS liberal AS one would love too, sometimes!

    Last but not least, I was not aware that you were supportive of the military embargo on Israel, I still remember that most of you people disapproved of the idea of “Disarming Zionism” back in the days of the Gaza slaughter… Rather you opted for sending letters to the American lawmakers.
    “Home” is a familiar category, not only emotionally, but also and mainly in mental terms. This is again where Othering is at its best!

  32. I live in Beirut, since 2007. I am german, I know what censorship means, I know what that tone of the smear article can do. It is what we call ‘hold the thief!’ in my country, and it leaves the accused person no defense at all. The ‘article’ on the blogspot ‘angry arab man’ does not give any citation, it deliberately deforms content of the initiated discussion, and the intent of the accused. It is the more evil since in this country, people can still be harmed for lesser doing …

    To the accusations:

    1) It IS true that ‘Anne Frank’ is banned. That in itself is outrageous. In this country a large number of people believe that the holocaust did not take place, or lead to a number of deaths much less than 6 Million, despite the overwhelming evidence. This is due to a massive propaganda, which involves banning of books as the above. It is also due to the fact that books are expensive in Lebanon, and a high percentage of citizens (including highschool and university students and alumni) rarely read any books, except the ones they need for their class work and/or their profession.

    2) The author who was ruthlessly attacked for just adressing an issue that needs to be discussed in Lebanese public:
    There is the justified condemnation of Israel’s politics , and an unjustified ban on any information about jewish life and culture (judaism is not identical with zionism). The fruits of such information politics is clear. There are many Lebanese citizens who believe that all jews in the world are bad persons, and that all jews should be thrown out of Palestine.

  33. […] this specific issue, I agree mostly with this comment from Ibn Rushd on the professor’s post (I haven’t gone through all the comments since yesterday, so there may be other things I […]

  34. Nikola:

    You might have known that I was for a military embargo of Israel had you actually asked me about it. As for the discussion you’re referencing, in a civil society meeting about what to do about Gaza, I said that a European movement to “disarm Israel” wasn’t likely to do anything to help anyone anytime soon. (Incidentally, disarming Israel and imposing a military embargo so long as Israel is occupying Palestinian land are two different things.)

    My suggestion during that meeting, if you’ll recall, was to use various Church organizations to put pressure on their American counterparts and thus on American lawmakers to call for an immediate cease-fire and a lifting of the blockade. Because whether or not we like it, Church organizations have clout in both Lebanon and the US, and in a situation where dozens of people are being killed every day, I think it’s best to pragmatically use what tools are available, rather than talking about how cool it would be to “disarm Israel.”

    I’m sorry, habibi, but “disarm Israel” was not an available solution to the deaths of over a thousand people. The meeting was about what civil society could do now, and a small, but perhaps effective, step that could have been taken at that point was lobbying through religious groups here in Lebanon. So unless you knew how to snap your fingers and turn all the Israeli swords to plowshares (or more concretely, disrupt the delivery of cluster munitions and white phosphorous) but just weren’t telling us, I don’t think that “disarming Israel” was a very useful idea for a meeting on what civil society could do to help stop the killing in Gaza.

    I think that all American aid to Israel should stop, because it is a rich country that it grossly abusing human rights and unlawfully occupying Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian territories. That doesn’t mean that I also don’t understand how American politics work, and I know that Church groups can apply pressure on governments (here and in the US). Knowing that, it seems silly to leave such a tool untapped while shrugging my shoulders and saying “we should just have a military embargo.” Being pragmatic may not be very romantic, but it often yields much more concrete results on the ground.

  35. “It is amazing that while we are talking about whether and how “things” such as DVDs, CDs and PCs are banned from crossing borders, we take for granted that “human beings” like Palestinians, Mexicans or Somalis are permitted to do so”

    Nicola, why can’t we see both issues at the same time. I get so frustrated when we as Arabs speak about western racism, but at the same time we are bloody racist when it comes to foreign “blacker” workers. Sorry but the whole argument is reactionary. A progressive argument would be that any form of state control on the freedom of thought, speech and movement is not acceptable (be it in the third world or in America or anywhere else). The arab regimes have been using the issue of western imperialism and fighting zionism to cut more and more freedom and liberty in my country under the pretext of fighting ‘zionist infilteration’ and fighting the ‘enemy’. This has meant less and less freedom and expression in the Arab world. This has also meant more backwardness, bitterness and more ignorance in this part of the world. Nicola, do we have to curse the ‘white man’, imperialism, and America before starting any discussion about anything in the Arab world, including fixing the hole in the street next to your apartment?

    Sorry, Abu Khalil, but let him fight his own battle with the “white man” from where ever he is. I have many white men and women friends whom I share a vision towards the world where race, religion and economic interests do not stop us from understanding and working towards a more just society. attacking sean just because he’s a white man or because he somehow represents the “white man” is racist and rediculous and fails to see the complexities of our world.
    second, a progressive argument would not accept the racism of the ‘weak’ because it is justified by the racism of the ‘strong’.
    Has abu Khalil asked sean about his views on zionism, Israel, or american role in the world? No, just like an idiot he ran his mouth smearing sean’s name, while at the same time slipping into a racist discourse. He has done damage to the just Arab and palestinian cause and just made us look like assholes.
    If anything, everyone should be standing with freedom of speech in this country including knowing more about jews, Israel and zionism. This is essential in fighting zionism. As for Red Leb and Mo…go fuck yourselves, you make lebanese look like idiots. As for Abu-khalil, if this is the image of the public intellectual in Lebanon, I am ashamed…

  36. Another thing, when the issue with the book happened, sean actually consulted with his fellow lebanese, including me. I called 4 ministries that day to find out why these books were banned, with no luck. Sean acted in good faith and was trying from his position as an educator to enhance this coutnry. My question is to Lebanese activists, so we needed an American to tell us that what was happening in Lebanon is wrong?
    Instead of cursing the ‘westerner’ maybe we should get our shit together and fight for our country, but we prefer to travel to the gulf for easy money. If we should be angry about anything in this country, we should be angry at ourselves. Instead of yelling at sean “how can you talk like this about our country” maybe you should move your ass and do something about it.

  37. “Being pragmatic may not be very romantic, but it often yields much more concrete results on the ground.” This is what I mean by being pedantic and preachy, Sean. I don’t disagree with your argument, but at times your tone — here and on other blogs– unfortunately gives the impression that you are speaking as a representative of the civilized world to the barbaric hordes.

    And Nizar, we have at least two excellent explanations in the comments section here of what “the white man” means (bob and redleb); read them before you start waxing poetic about your friends of all races and creeds joining hands for a better world.

    One more thing: “free speech” issues generally invite the most idiotic people to say the most idiotic things. Banning Anne Frank is not the most egregious affront to human dignity. The justification might be repulsive, but more importantly banning this book or others is counterproductive. I for one wonder why one would read Anne Frank in a college class or as literature. Its literary merits are weak. While I find it grotesque that AA would attack you on his blog and further post anonymous letters from your colleagues, your sense of oblivion towards your privileged role at AUB– yes, white privilege– isn’t helpful either. Your proposed thought experiement where AIPAC calls someone a “brown man” only lends credence to AA’s attacks. Otherwise, am really enjoying this discussion.

  38. Sean,

    How about posting the list of censored items?

  39. I apologize for those whose comments weren’t approved for a full day. Whenever someone comments for the first time, it has to be accepted manually, and I haven’t had internet access every day. In any case, thanks for the comments, which I’ll try to address more fully tomorrow.

    Amer: I should have access to a scanner, so I’ll upload the (incomplete) list that I’ve got then…

  40. Hey guys take it easy,
    one is still preaching the “silly” ones out there, the other is “fucking” the ones who make the Arabs look like “idiots”…
    About the ways to express anger and their implications, I completely agree with Amer, and i leave it there.

    Now, I do believe that the linkages one makes with things that one deems relevant to the debate or to the case is the crucial point here. For AA the censorship is linked to the boycott and thus it has to be preserved albeit without its anti-Jewish tendencies, for the liberals out there it is primarily connected to democracy, human rights, freedom of speech etc.
    To put it bluntly, either one chooses to connect the censorship issue to the fight against colonialism or to the struggle for more enlightment, this is the case.
    For many, the first brings about the second, for others these two are irrelevant and pretty much unconnected.
    At this point, only Fanon would fix things back to their place.

  41. I think the basic questions were not answered and were not discussed. The discussion was that we are enraged about the “white man”.
    Are we okay with censorship or not? Does boycotting Israel mean prohibiting books about the holocoast? What are the benefits of this censorship? Where is the line between censorship and boycott and are they linked?
    If we are okay with cencorship, then we need to set the criteria, which is the reponsibility of the ministry of internal affairs. They have to explain the reasons of this censorship.
    I don’t think that the state should tell me what I can read or not! This is partly because I believe that I am sophisticated enough to understand and analyze arguments without someone telling me what I can read.
    Also, I feel that everytime we try to push for reforms it is hindered by the argument of fighting Israel. I get really frustrated about that. The Arab regimes used it to supress freedom of thought and expression, and I think that this at the roots of our problem in the Arab world.
    It seems that some people were offended that an American brought the subject to the table, but this does not absolve them from dealing with the problem. AA decided to direct his rage against the “white man”, but I would have loved if he also admitted the existence of the problem and gave credit where credit is due. Yes, Nico for me this issue touches the heart of what is left of the Lebanese pluralist atmosphere and I think that fighting Israel goes through the ministry of interior and changing the totalitarian regimes in this region. The fight against zionism is essentialy a humanist battle against fascism and colonialism and has to be built by understanding the suffering of the jews in Europe and anti-semetism which we as Arabs paid a huge price for.
    Anti-semitism should be taught in schools. Zionism was born in a context of European racism and anti-semitism and as Arabs we have to understand everything we can about that historical period. Without that, we cannot understand our current reality and how we can deal with Europe and United States.
    In my opinion it is the duty of every intellectual, artist, or citizen to take up the cause of freedom of speech. This is essential for our future.
    As for Fanon, you know I am a fan of that guy, but at the same time I think that getting stuck in this historical period and this psychological atmosphere perpetuates our inferiority to the “white man”. I think that a mature society can accept criticism without this violent uproar against what? An AUB professor who wondered -rightfully- why a book was banned. Emancipation is not through restrictions and defensiveness, but rather it is built by the liberation of the mind.
    I am equal to the “white man” and I don’t need a government to defend me from his cultural imperialism.

  42. […] Nikola Cosmi correctly notes in the comments of my last post, this can be chalked up to a question of whether one links censorship to opposing Israel or to […]

  43. A point that I’ve heard made both in private and here in the comments section is that Sean displays misplaced priorities in pursuing this issue of censorship. And indeed, it is probably still possible to obtain copies of Anne Frank’s diary here, regardless of the ban. From what you’ve written, Sean, it would seem that the ban is arbitrarily applied to certain books and films (banning Paul Newman’s films doesn’t exactly strike me as dangerous, if exposure to specific narratives or information is desired. If his films are banned because he has promoted Zionist propaganda, then I don’t take great issue with his films not being distributed for profit. They are, of course, available on pirated DVD and screened on television. Big fucking deal.)

    Anne Frank’s diary and the banning of “Jew content” and “sympathy to Jew” material is a different issue. I’d be interested to know if scholarly or historical accounts of the Third Reich and the Holocaust are also banned. Is there a topical ban on all books relating to the Holocaust or “Jew content”? As far as I recall, I haven’t seen classics such as Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich at Antoine’s or other bookstores around the city, but that doesn’t mean they are banned.

    Perhaps this is some sort of imperfect list of whatever came to mind. You try assembling a list of all “Jew content.”

    But some people seem to have taken explicit offense at Sean’s inquiry, as if this necessarily precluded his concern for greater injustices. This strikes me as unfair, and a facetious attempt to sideline the issue. Certainly the existence of race-based censorship does not strike me as too trivial to be of interest. If you agree in a vacuum that the reasoning behind the ban is reprehensible, who cares if there are bigger fish to fry and greater struggles to pursue?

    At the end of the day, taking issue with a race-based ban on eight-grade reading material (sorry AUB students; try Judy Blume for a teenager’s reading load) isn’t comparable to the misplaced sympathy some Americans displayed after the July War for abandoned pets over the 1,500 human lives devastated by American-made bombs. While censorship is often a misguided cause celebre, particularly afflicting many a white-privileged liberals, it isn’t necessarily so. At the heart of this, it is important to distinguish by all means necessary between Zionism and Jewishness, not only because Israel’s actions aren’t inherently Jewish, but because Israel unjustly claims to represent all Jews and only benefits from lumping the two together. It is anti-Semitic, in my view, to lump the two together—both for Zionists and its opponents. Is anti-Semitism the greatest evil we face today? Of course not. Is discrimination against Arabs far more serious than the threat faced by Jews today? I would certainly argue yes.

    And finally, free speech issues are particularly distorted in this day and age, precisely because banned items are still widely available. The flipside of this development is that—irrespective of bans—many ideas and materials in so-called “free societies” aren’t given any publicity or consideration. While they might be theoretically available, they aren’t reviewed by the right publications or carried in certain stores, thereby rendering them obsolete. The issue of banning something isn’t what it once was. As an author, it probably even helps you sell books (e.g. Rushdie.)

  44. […] what do I know? I’m just a white man, […]

  45. I agree with Bob – I was with you, Sean, until your last paragraph, in which you display your inability to contextualize the place of privilege you speak from. If you are interested in critically engaging with your white privilege, rather than getting defensive about it, I highly recommend you read this essay, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh. It’s short and a little dated, but the fundamental principle you fail to grasp–that there is a system of privilege and power behind your words, not AbuKhalil’s–is there.

    By the way, I am here via your post on women and nationality in the Middle East, by way of the link from AbuKhalil’s blog.

  46. […] in Lebanon, of course, is unfortunately nothing new. I’m not sure what the movie looks like without the “mousterpieces” created […]


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