Tuesday, May 3, 2016

What Are Books By Arab Muslims (Including One About the Idyllic Times In Jerusalem Pre-"Nakba") Doing in the Toronto Public Library's "Asian Heritage Month" Booklet?

So I happened to be at the library earlier today, where I happened to pick up a booklet about Asian Heritage Month. The booklet, created by the Toronto Public Library, is a guide to programs being offered in conjunction with this "city-wide celebration of Asian culture"--things like a "Korean Traditional Dance and Drum Workshop" and a "Japanese Swordsmanship Demonstration" (which, I have to say, sounds pretty cool).

And, this being a library booklet, there's a section devoted to "Asian Heritage" books which the TPL has selected especially for adults, teens and kids.

Imagine my surprise when, turning to the books section, I found these two titles topping the adults' list:
Mazigh, Monia.
An intricate story follows the lives of three immigrant mothers who are guardians of traditions and their daughters who have the freedom to make their own choices.

Boullata, Issa J., 1929-, author.
A memoir of growing up in 1930s and 1940s Palestine and a love letter to the Jerusalem of his boyhood. 
Now, I'm no librarian--nor am I Asian--but it seems to me that Monia Mazigh, a Syrian-born Arab Muslim, qualifies as "Asian" only if you consider Syria to be part of Asia.

Similarly, Issa J. Boullate qualifies as "Asian" if you think "Palestine" is in Asia and not in the Middle East.

So why, pray tell, has the TPL selected these books for Asian Heritage Month?

Damned if I know.

One thing I do know, however: the blurbs about these books don't exactly capture their essence.

Here's a smidge more about Mazigh's book, from the TPL site:
In the spirit of Amy Tan's international bestselling novel The Joy Luck Club, Mirrors and Mirages is an intricately woven, deftly told story that follows the lives of women and their daughters. 
In Mirrors and Mirages, Monia Mazigh lets us into the lives of six women. They are immigrant mothers -- Emma, Samia, and Fauzia -- guardians of tradition who want their daughters to enjoy freedom in Western society. They are daughters -- Lama, Sally, and Louise, a young woman who converted to Islam for love -- university students who are clever and computer savvy. They decide for themselves whether or not to wear a veil, or niqab. Gradually, these women cross paths, and, without losing their authenticity, they become friends and rivals, mirrors and mirages of each other.
M'kay. But tell me what that's got to with Asia, Asians or Asian culture and we'll both know.

Here's some more about idyllic Palestinian boyhood book, also from the TPL site:
The distinguished Arabic scholar, author, and translator Issa J. Boullata grew up in a Palestinian family in the Jerusalem of the 1930s and 1940s, when Palestine was under the British Mandate. His memoir, The Bells of Memory, is delightful in its reflections on an idyllic youth and detailed in its recollections of family members, classmates and teachers, remembered scents and foods, the pleasures of reading, and his early experience of the working world. This is a love letter to a Jerusalem that was changed immeasurably by Al-Nakba, the Palestinian Catastrophe of 1948 that dispossessed the Palestinians of their homeland and dislocated many as refugees when Israel was established.
Oy vey! Not only is that not the least bit "Asian," it sounds like a bunch of anti-Israel propaganda. (Notice how there's nothing in the lengthier blurb about, when the Jews declared statehood following the UN vote, the combined armies of the Arab world launched an all-out war gainst the Israel. Meaning that Israel wasn't merely "established," it was forged in the fire of a bitter war--which the Arabs lost--and at the cost of many Jewish lives. There's also nothing about how the Arabs living in a newly-declared Israel were told by Arab leaders to leave until the Jews had been duly dispatched, at which point the Arabs could all return. But I suppose if you're pushing the Nakba narrative of eternal suffering and victimhood, that sort of stuff--a.k.a the truth--is, you should pardon the expression, a no-go zone.)

Turning to the titles recommended for kids, this one leapt out at me:
Sharafeddine, Fatima, author.
Join Ibn Battuta as he embarks on his journey to Mecca in 1325, where he travels through the Middle East, Africa, Europe and Asia.
Okay, at least he traveled to Asia. But the man himself was an Arab. From Morocco.

You know, the country in Africa?

Far be it from me to accuse anyone at the Toronto Public Library of having some sort of agenda. That said, though, the fact that these books made it into a TPL booklet for Asian Heritage Month seems more than a little odd--and way too "inclusive"--to me.


Marvin Wiseman said...

CUPE has a long history of "anti-Israel" activities and they like to infuse its union/political agenda into its workplace work products whenever they can.

This is a complaint you should officially file with the Board of the Toronto Public Library so there might be some chance it won't be repeated. It would be even better if you can get multiple people (with their own letters, NOT form letters) filing such complaints, the more the better, but spread them out so they don't all arrive on the same day.

You might even want to inform any sympathetic press to this issue.

Yaacov Ben Moshe said...

They’s everywhere! They’s everywhere!

jpnzpmz said...

Middle East is in Asia.

scaramouche said...

In that case, so is Israel, but there are no Israeli books on the reading list.