By MOHAMMED DARAGHMEH and DALIA NAMMARI, Associated Press Writers Mon Mar 5, 12:50 PM ET
The book ban angered and worried many Palestinians, who have feared that Hamas would use last year's election victory to remake the Palestinian territories according to its hard-line interpretation of Islam.
The 400-page anthology of 45 folk tales narrated by Palestinian women was first published in English in 1989 by the University of California at Berkeley. It was put together by Sharif Kanaana, a novelist and anthropology professor at the's Bir Zeit University, and by Ibrahim Muhawi, a teacher of Arabic literature and the theory of translation.
Kanaana said Monday he believes "The Little Bird," a story in a chapter titled "Sexual Awakening and Courtship," was among reasons the book was banned because it mentions private parts. In their notes, the authors say the bird in the story is a symbol of femininity and that sexual subjects are a principal source of humor in Palestinian folklore.
West Bank novelist Zakariya Mohammed said he feared Hamas' decision to ban the book "Speak Bird, Speak Again" was only the beginning and urged intellectuals to act. "If we don't stand up to the Islamists now, they won't stop confiscating books, songs and folklore," he said.
Education Minister Nasser Shaer confirmed to The Associated Press that the ministry ordered the book pulled from the school libraries, saying it is "full of clear sexual expressions." However, Shaer denied the books were destroyed.
A senior ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to discuss the issue with reporters, said 1,500 copies of the book had been pulled from school libraries and destroyed.
Hanan Ashrawi, an independent lawmaker and former Cabinet minister, said the decision to pull the book was "outrageous."
"If this is what is to come, it is extremely alarming," she said.
With Hamas slated to retain the Education Ministry under a power-sharing agreement with the more secularParty, Ashrawi called for creation of an independent body to deal with arts and education.
"Education and culture and social issues should not be handled by anybody that has a closed, ideological, doctrinal attitude," she said. "It should be in the hands of professionals."
Since taking office last year, Hamas, which advocates an Islamic Palestinian state, has largely shied away from trying to force its mores on Palestinian society. Some analysts speculated the group was too busy trying to deal with international sanctions and keep its government from collapsing to focus on banning alcohol or other similar measures.
However, in recent months Hamas-controlled ministries have begun forcing women to put on head scarves to enter. And two years ago, Hamas officials in the West Bank town of Qalqiliya sparked fears of a culture crackdown by banning a local music festival, saying the mingling of men and women at such an event was forbidden by Islam.
In a letter sent to the Nablus school district last month, the Education Ministry said "Speak Bird, Speak Again" must be removed within a week. The letter did not explain why the book was considered objectionable.
Excerpts of the letter were read to the AP by a Nablus school official who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.
The book was first published in English. A French version, published by, followed in 1997, and an Arabic edition in 2001, said Kanaana, who lives in Ramallah. After the Arabic edition was published, the Palestinian Culture Ministry requested 3,000 copies and had them distributed in schools, Kanaana said.
Kanaana said another of the 45 tales also contained what some might consider vague sexual innuendo, referring to body parts in colloquial Arabic. "This is our heritage, this is our life," he said of the stories.
One of Kanaana's neighbors, pharmacist Nabil Nahas, 60, said the book was a treasure, and he was upset by what he said was a Hamas attempt to silence other opinions.
Kanaana said the stories shouldn't be altered, because this was how they were transmitted from generation to generation. He didn't mind having a revised version for young children, but said the original should be freely available.
"It's not their right to judge this book," Kanaana said.
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