Monday, May 09, 2005

Suicide Bombers Mingle with Mr. Tickle at Teheran Book Fair

AFP, Khaleej Times Online:
Scooby Doo, where are you? If you're at Tehran's book fair and looking for something for the kids, you'll find the stand right next to Islamic Jihad's and around the corner from those other surprising pillars of the publishing world, Hezbollah and Hamas. Iran's massive annual literary fest, it seems, has pretty much something for everyone: Thomas the Tank Engine, interior decorating, Microsoft Windows programming, "How to Kill an Israeli" and Jean-Paul Sartre.

"We have a stand here every year," explained a young man at the Hamas booth, which featured T-shirts blazened with the portrait of their late spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, replica suicide bomber headbands and posters featuring mug shots of Palestinians who "blew themselves to bits". READ MORE

The literary message, explained the young Hamas rep, was that "they blow themselves up so others can have a better life".

Hamas, he said, also has an office in the Islamic republic, "and a bank account number for donations".

The man at the Islamic Jihad booth appeared to a bit bore, perhaps slightly frustrated given that most visitors seemed to prefer books about Big Bird next door. He is offering a history of Palestine pamphlet and a rather bloody CD-Rom on "Martyrdom-Seeking Operators".

Publishers from the United States were also represented at the packed book fair at Tehran's sprawling international exhibition centre, albeit by their Iranian import agents, and drawing large crowds.

There are also other big names: MacMillan, Routledge, Oxford and Cambridge University Press, Penguin and Taschen to name but a few.

A unique experience

They offer an array of books on architecture, academia and pretty much everything else that made it past the censors. Left out would be books deemed politically incorrect, any atlas that features Israel or any book, artistic or otherwise, that shows any female skin that isn't on the hands or face.

The event, which features books at heavily discounted and state subsidised prices, is hugely popular among young Iranians, who rarely have the chance or the finances to peruse what the international literary world has to offer.

Also represented are the cultural sections of most foreign embassies in Tehran, eager to promote books on anything and everything to do with their countries that made it through Iranian customs.

One stand had a real assault rifle on display. That was the Hezbollah booth -- more of a multimedia experience, which was quite unique.

"Captured from the Zionists in Southern Lebanon," explained the Lebanese Shiite movement's rep as he showed off the rusty rifle. "We've had a lot of people coming by, and nearly all our books have sold out after just two days."

They may have a hard time competing with the more entertaining books in the foreign publisher section -- especially with Britain's Mr. Tickle and the other much-loved Mr. Men stories.

But Hezbollah even had something for kids: "Resistance Boy: The Boy from Quds (Jerusalem)" is the name of the PC CD-ROM.

"It's a game for children. They have to shoot down Israeli aircraft and shoot at other things," explained the Hezbollah salesman.

For adults he recommended 'Special Force', a 3D shoot-em-up in which nifty programmers have managed to turn aliens into Israelis, and where the object of the game is to die.

Tehran's international book fair, which is open to all the family and has free entry, wraps up on May 14.