Here’s the translation of our proposal to the Torino Bookfair. We collected the support of many experts on Arab literature and history, renowned Italian writers, intellectuals, and journalists
It is with relief that we welcome the announcement that the Turin Book Fair, one of the most prestigious book fairs in Europe and in the world, will withdraw its invitation to Saudi Arabia as its special guest for 2016. The decision was announced in the media and will be formally made by the Foundation’s board of directors on October 6th.
As scholars of Arabic language and cultures, and of the literature, history, and politics of the region, this was for us an unexpected and welcome outcome to a regrettable episode in the history of the most important Italian bookfairs.
This is not a statement against the people of Saudi Arabia or its residents, who we consider the victim of a regime notorious for its systematic and ongoing violations of human rights and for its deplorable foreign policy. Quite the contrary. Since the invitation was first announced in May, we believed that the price for the Fair’s decision would be paid precisely by Saudi writers, as well as their independent colleagues throughout the Arab world.
Censorship forces Saudi writers to publish in other Arab capitals, in Europe, and in the United States, while Riyadh’s policies actively contribute to the severe repression of the ‘Arab Uprisings’, with serious consequences for democratic civil society across the Arab world. In this context, an institutional partnership with Saudi cultural institutions would not have benefited Saudi independent intellectuals and their Arab counterparts more generally, but only the regime.
For these reasons, we welcome the decision of the Turin Book Fair to withdraw its invitation.
Instead, why not invite as special guest Arab Literature as a whole? Literature is a homeland for Arab writers, one that does not bow to regime censorship or to narrowly conceived security-driven politics, the increasingly frequent targets of which are democratic intellectuals and artists.
We live through difficult times, in which the only news from the Arab world that looms large in Western media is news of crisis, war, tragedy, and aching humanity. The Turin Book Fair has the opportunity to place itself at the vanguard of European and Mediterranean culture by shedding light on the valiant struggle of democratic and independent civil society which independent writers represent. Before the horrors of hate and war and stereotypes, we should respond with mutual knowledge, friendship, and hospitality.
Lucia Sorbera and Paola Caridi
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