Guess what? The Israeli police shut down the Palestinian Literature Festival again. This time, armed police showed up at the closing event, which was due to take place in the National Theater in Jerusalem. Fortunately, the director of the British Council stepped in and offered an auditorium for the panelists and audience. An Israeli friend tells me that this story has been under-reported in his country. Unsurprisingly, it’s been under-reported here, too.
The Telegraph reports that Major General Antonio Taguba, who authored the infamous report that exposed the abuse in Abu Ghraib and other prisons in 2004, has now revealed that there are photos of U.S. soldiers allegedly raping Iraqi prisoners. These photos were part of the initial set that became widely known a few years ago, but have never been released.
“The mere description of these pictures is horrendous enough, take my word for it,” [Taguba said.]
In April, Mr Obama’s administration said the photographs would be released and it would be “pointless to appeal” against a court judgment in favour of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
But after lobbying from senior military figures, Mr Obama changed his mind saying they could put the safety of troops at risk.
Earlier this month, he said: “The most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to inflame anti-American public opinion and to put our troops in greater danger.”
I think these photographs will come out eventually, whether with the permission of the Obama administration or without it. (Remember: the Taguba report and the abuse it documented became widely known thanks to the reporting of Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker and the people at Sixty Minutes.) This set of photographs will probably come to light, too. Yes, public sentiment will be inflamed. And it should be. But the truth always comes out in the end. And then people will direct some of their anger at Obama, the man who tried to stop the release of the photographs.
The second annual Palestine Festival of Literature is taking place this week, with stops in Jerusalem, Ramallah, Jenin, al-Khalil, and Bethlehem. But the festival had a rough start: armed Israeli police shut down the opening night event, which was due to take place at the Palestinian National Theater in Jerusalem. The novelist and essayist Ahdaf Soueif, who started the festival last year, is quoted in this article:
“We stood in the early evening light, by the tables laden with books and food and flowers, nibbled at kofta and borek and laughed and chatted and introduced new friends to old. . . . Then we started moving towards the auditorium and I heard someone say quietly, ‘They’ve come.’
“Looking around – and there they were, the men in the dark blue fatigues, with pack-type things strapped to their backs and machine-guns cradled in their arms. I had a moment of unbelief. Surely, even if they were coming to note everything we said and to make a show of strength they still wouldn’t come with their weapons at the ready like this? But then there were more of them, and more.”
Undeterred, Soueif and the other writers walked over to the French Cultural Center, where the panel was able to proceed without incident. You can watch some video footage here. The festival features panels, readings, and workshops by many different writers and artists, including Abdulrazak Gurnah, Claire Messud, Jamal Mahjoub, Michael Palin, Suheir Hammad, Raja Shehadeh, and Henning Mankel. You can watch Suheir Hammad read one of her poems in Ramallah.
I’ve been back for a few days now, but it seems all I’ve been doing is trying to catch up on all the work I had set aside before leaving, hence the lack of posting. The interview I did for KQED is now archived online. Recent reviews of Secret Son include pieces by Lara Killian in Popmatters and James Gibbons in Bookforum. An excerpt of my novel also appears in the Spring issue of the London-based Banipal magazine.
I write a fair amount of non-fiction, much of which is criticism, so you would think that I’d feel comfortable critiquing, interpreting, or at least explaining my own work. Ever since my new novel was published I’ve been asked to do just that, in fact. But I confess I find it incredibly hard and also emotionally taxing to act as self-critic, which is why I had to smile in recognition when I was reading this essay by Salman Rushdie in Outlook India last weekend.
The trouble begins with having to explain oneself. When I publish a book, my strong instinct is to absent myself completely, because at the moment of publication, the writer’s time with the book is at an end, and the reader’s time begins. You offer up your tale and then you want to hear from other people; the least interesting voice, at that moment, is your own. However—for such is the nature of the publishing industry—at the very moment when the author wishes to be invisible, he is required to be most visible. Every writer comes to dread the sound of his own voice repeating answers over and over again.
The effect, if the process goes on long enough (and it does, it does), is to alienate one from one’s own work.Publication comes to seem like the process by which the author is persuaded to detest his book, so that he has to begin writing another story to obliterate the one he can no longer bear to discuss.
And before you hit “Compose” on that email software: I do realize how fortunate I am to have a publisher, to be sent on tour around the country, to be translated, to be asked to talk about my work, and, most of all, to be read. My point is about the process of self-interpretation; that is what makes the essay so interesting to me.
I had another great reading for Secret Son earlier tonight. Great audience, great questions. One elderly Moroccan woman, who had come out with her entire family, said that she had wanted to let out joy-cries when I started to speak. But her family told her that it wasn’t such a great idea, and that perhaps the bookstore customers might get alarmed. (!) It was also great to see some friends and readers I hadn’t seen since I toured for Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, four years ago.
In other news, the interview I did with Voice of America when I was in DC is now available online. And at NPR, Maud Newton recommends the late Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North, a novel that is now part of the New York Review of Books Classics series, and for which I wrote an introduction.
My final stop on the Secret Son tour will be in the Bay Area today. Here are the details:
Monday, May 18, 2009
Reading and signing
Barnes & Noble
6050 El Cerrito Plaza
El Cerrito, CA 94530
Please come by and say hello!