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LETTER | Malaysia errs by boycotting German book fair

LETTER | A book fair is about the gathering and spreading of knowledge, beliefs, culture, and values. Books bring understanding and promote acceptance of others. It is about giving a bigger place and louder voice to those less heard, visible, or known.

The organisers of the Frankfurt International Book Fair (Frankfurter Buchmesse) appear to have deviated from using books to promote and build bridges between different people, religions, and cultures. They should have been above politics and war.

The Germans know very well that if books are not widely circulated and read by the masses, dictatorship and tyranny could emerge and prevail. Hitler first burned books, and then humans.

Such outright support of the Jewish state and people by the organisers is not surprising for a nation which had undergone a deep soul-searching for resolution and closure to the atrocities done by the Nazis.

Apart from many Jewish monuments depicting and honouring those murdered and massacred in ghettos and concentration camps, there are numerous small brass plaques cast into the pavements of cities and towns around Germany about individual Jews or families who have lived in a particular building along that street during the Nazi era and who were evicted and taken away to a ghetto or concentration.

Cause for disdain

Jewish ghettos had existed since the Middle Ages and the Jews were massacred by the thousands when the Black Death or bubonic plague broke out as the Jews were blamed for the outbreak by poisoning wells.

Another cause of disdain for the Jews was moneylending and allegations of usury. As the church did not allow interest to be charged, the Jews functioned as moneylenders to the Gentiles.

Borrowers who could not pay back would allege usury, blasphemy, or witchcraft or resort to fouler means of seizing the Jews' property by force and even murder.

Over time, Jews were more openly and widely accepted into European society, but with the emergence of Nazism and Fascism, they were once again blamed for all the ills and depravations of society.

The Western world did little or nothing and the Holocaust happened.

Now, perhaps out of guilt, many in the Western world have come to the defence and support of the Jewish people without considering the consequences of their actions to all stakeholders. The book fair should not be used as a kind of atonement for the previous wrongs or sins committed against the Jewish people.

Great disservice

By their open support of Israel, the organisers of the book fair have done a great disservice to global peace and tolerance. They may believe they have atoned for a past misdeed, but they have actually perpetuated and worsened it.

Sadly, our Education Ministry, too, has erred in boycotting the fair. The ministry should have used this fair to highlight our multi-racial, religious, and cultural society living in peace and harmony together.

The ministry has lost a golden opportunity to showcase that people of different races, religions, and cultures can live cheek by jowl, sharing and forging a nation together and this can be replicated elsewhere.

Our ministry could use the book fair to present another narrative to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Now this voice is silent and the shrill sound of war and suffering continues.

Perhaps, it is not too late for our ministry to change its mind and participate in the fair to promote understanding, tolerance, and peace.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.