Hanin Ghaddar

Beyond Amin Maalouf and the BDS

Freedom of Expression is Freedom of Communication

French-Lebanese novelist Amin Maalouf (Image via Al-arabiya)

The recent attack against Lebanese and French author Amin Maalouf by the Lebanese BDS was not surprising or unexpected. These self-proclaimed intellectuals/resistance activists do not miss a single opportunity to launch vicious attacks against anyone who communicates directly or indirectly with an Israeli entity or individual. For this angry bunch, it doesn’t matter who committed this “felony” or what the subject of this communication was about. According to their ruling, any kind of interaction with an Israeli is a sin beyond all sins—a crime that should be severely punished by law.

But the disturbing outcome of the debate that started in Lebanese and regional media – and social media – was that the defenders of Amin Maalouf were too cautious to address the real issue at hand: that freedom of expression also entails freedom of communication and interaction. Most of the articles and posts aimed at defending Maalouf and criticizing the BDS initiative failed at their defense, and did more harm than good to Maalouf and anyone that does not enjoy certain privileges like Maalouf.

This debate – aimed at defending freedom of speech– gave Maalouf justifications and blamed him for making a mistake that should be forgiven. Also, it gave Maalouf an exclusive right to interact with an “enemy,” leaving the main question on the margins of the debate.

Some said that Maalouf is entitled to freely communicate with an Israeli entity because he’s more French than he is Lebanese. According to others, Maalouf has won enough honors, such as becoming a “an immortal" in 2012 by being the first Lebanese to join the elite ranks of the French ¬Academy, therefore he is above the law! Others defended him based on the content of the interview, and that it was about culture not politics. Some even went to the extent of saying that what he did was a big mistake, but they are generous enough to forgive him, because he is the “pride of the Lebanese.”

Seriously?! What about the rest of us? These arguments contain nothing but an entitlement for both Maalouf and the writers themselves. The pretexts given to Maalouf highlight nothing but the fact that those who are not privileged with Maalouf’s French nationality, prestigious status, or the luxury to live in the West, do not have the same freedom. A true debate cannot be based on exclusive rights or entitlements. A true debate should revisit the taboo itself, and challenge the law, because no law is sacred, and no cause is sacred, including the Palestinian cause.

With crimes against humanity committed by regimes and factions in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere in the region, the “enemy” is no longer verifiable or obvious. When Palestine becomes a fig leaf for those who do not want to acknowledge the killing, siege and rape committed by their friends and allies in the region, they no longer have the right to judge others. When the law allows oppression, censorship and killing under Hezbollah’s imposed “resistance-people-army” formula, one has no choice but to question the law, and challenge it.

If no harm is done to one’s country or people, or to others anywhere in the world, and if any form or content of interaction aims at knowledge, understanding, and openness, is it really a crime or offense? If anything, this is a personal choice, and should not be exclusive to Maalouf. The defenders of Maalouf – by missing the main issue at hand – turned this debate against all of us.

Like Maalouf, many of us believe that there is no one fixed, monolithic identity, but a series of what Maalouf calls ‘allegiances.’ The individual, therefore, is the sum of all their surroundings, society and acts of free will and quirks of personality. In his book In the Name of Identity, Maalouf writes: “In every age there have been people who considered that an individual had one overriding affiliation so much more important in every circumstance to all others that it might legitimately be called his “identity.” For some it was the nation, for others religion or class. But one has only to look at the various conflicts being fought out all over the world today to realize that no one allegiance has absolute superiority.”

And this resonates today more than ever. Looking at the various conflicts being fought around us today, can we not see how senseless it is to stick to one allegiance? To one ideology? To one affiliation? To one enemy? Or to hold anything sacred?

What the Lebanese BDS movement and their allies want is to keep us all isolated from and incapable of understanding our surroundings and the nuances beyond the sacredness of the “cause” and the “resistance.” This keeps them powerful and capable of controlling our instincts and reactions. However, the defenders of freedom and of Maalouf’s right to give an interview to an Israeli TV failed at attempting to break our isolation. They denied themselves and all of us this same right.

But isolation and ignorance are no longer acceptable in a world moving from the right to knowledge to the right and means of communicating this knowledge. We – in this part of the world – still deny ourselves the right to knowledge and understanding, and we only allow communication violence and cheap propaganda. And this exactly why we will always fail as people, individuals and states.


Hanin Ghaddar is Managing Editor of NOW. She tweets @haningdr

French-Lebanese novelist Amin Maalouf (Image via Al-arabiya)

What the Lebanese BDS movement and their allies want is to keep us all isolated from and incapable of understanding our surroundings and the nuances beyond the sacredness of the “cause” and the “resistance.”

  • kalpal

    Islamic clerics and secular leaders resist any attempt at public enlightenment. If the public becomes aware that it is being exploited and manipulated it may resist and ignore those who hold on to power by exploitation and manipulation. That is deemed an absolute necessity no matter how much it damages the citizenry. National poverty and ignorance aid in supporting the power being abused abused by clerics and secular leaders.

    June 24, 2016

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    The vast majority of Arab and Lebanese intellectuals are ignorant. We rarely hear from the few enlightened ones. We only hear - thanks to the submissive, self-censored, sold out media - about those sycophant mercenary pseudo-intellectuals who are paraded everywhere when licking the boots of political and religious bosses needs an extra buff. In fact, like so many Amal Alamudines, Amin Maaloufs, and thousands of others we brag about, it is precisely because they escape the Arab and Lebanese mind Gulags of ultra-religiosity, backwardness and abject ignorance of the world, that otherwise ordinary Arabs and Lebanese like these shine and outgrow the fetid putrid marshes of our intellectual milieu.

    June 21, 2016