There has been a controversy this week around a little bookstore on Manchester’s Oxford Road.
On May 24, we will launch a biography of Leila Khaled, the young woman who hijacked a passenger jet in 1969.
Leila Khaled: Icon of Palestinian Liberation by Sarah Irving is a compelling account of Khaled’s turbulent life. At the book launch, Sarah will explore Leila Khaled’s involvement with a radical element of the PLO, the rise of Hamas, the role of women in a largely male movement and Khaled’s activism today.
Harry’s Place covered this story yesterday, commenting: ‘Sounds like a perfectly peace-loving, liberal girl from whom the Left and pacifists can enjoy and learn.’
Today, the Blackwell’s site says that ‘Our launch of the Leila Khaled biography on May 24th has been cancelled due to unforseen circumstances.’
On her blog, Irving expands on this:
I’m very sad to say that the Manchester launch of my Leila Khaled biography, which was due to take place a week on Thursday, has been cancelled. A very shaken staff member called me earlier to say that the shop had been subjected to a deluge of phone harassment since opening this morning, and that they simply could not cope… This is, of course, immensely disappointing, but I absolutely do not blame Blackwell’s for taking this decision, and they have been incredibly kind about it (I feel rather guilty about not foreseeing this and for putting their very sweet but rather literary staff through this!). It is, of course, a measure of the desperate rearguard action which apologists for the actions of the State of Israel are currently fighting that they feel the need to close down all debate and discussion of issues around Palestinian history, politics and culture. It’s also worth noting that some of the callers hadn’t even bothered to properly find out what the event was – they thought that Leila Khaled herself was planning to appear, something which is currently impossible because she is denied visas by the UK government. But it is revealing that Zionist campaigners are happy to close something down when they don’t even know what it is.
I know many of the people involved with Manchester Blackwell’s. It’s an amazing shop, just opposite a great cluster of Oxford Road bars, and its staff have done a hell of a lot for the litscene in this city. I remember Fat Roland telling me at the Manchester Blog Awards that ‘I employ half of Manchester’s blogging community.’ As Irving says, these are sweet and literary and decent people, good and imaginative writers, who have a sensible preference for fiction and creativity over politics.
Irving’s book may well be a sympathetic whitewash. From the blog, it seems that way. There are many people on the far left who declare non violent principles, but at the same time get a vicarious thrill from violent iconoclasts and terrorist movements – Che Guevara in the 1970s, the Islamist suicide bombers today. Like the man said: ‘All in all it is difficult not to feel that pacifism, as it appears among a section of the intelligentsia, is secretly inspired by an admiration for power and successful cruelty.’
My first reaction was that it was a bad decision for Blackwell’s to organise anything with the PSC, which represents some of the nastiest, most vicious people on the anti-Zionist left. Irving’s assertion about ‘Zionist campaigners’ trying to close down debate feeds into widespread, sometimes very dodgy assumptions about Israeli and Jewish power in this country. The whole concept of the night seemed to me kind of distasteful.
I argued this on Facebook and people said that it was against free speech to criticise the premise of the launch. But the principle of free speech does not oblige you to give a platform to every nut who walks through the door. As a commenter said on the Blackwell’s thread: ‘Is it helpful to hang debates on accounts that glorify the actions of violent extremists on one or other side? How does that clarify the I/P conflict for anybody?’
However, it is their bookshop, and they should be able to put on any night they want. Harassing bookshop staff for a decision they haven’t made is a tactic of Islamists and whacko BDSers. It is not acceptable for Manchester Blackwell’s booksellers (who are hardworking, literate, and not on high incomes) to be subject to threatening calls and emails.
Alec says on the thread that ‘the campaign against this event was conducted in precisely the wrong way.’
That Blackwell’s disinvited this group after such a short time shows they weren’t particularly involved in the politics Khalid represents.
A booking was made by promoters of a book they were stocking. The local store obliged. That’s all.
The event likely will go ahead at another location. All that’s happened is a bunch of grunts on the shop-floor have had a thoroughly rotten day.
It’s easy to see why smart people prefer literature to politics.
Update: The Manchester Evening News has the story.
Fat Roland from the bookshop says in the comments:
Today has been much calmer, although we are expecting much more publicity about the cancellation than we are about the event itself! Such is the way with these things.
(I should point out for factual accuracy that we never at any point organised anything with the PSC.)
(Image: National Poetry Month)