The Booksellers of Tehran

Every book fair exhibits bestsellers. But anti-Semitic bestsellers? And in Germany, of all places?

By Matthias Küntzel

The Wall Street Journal Online, October 28, 2005

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Last week at the Frankfurt Book Fair, I happened to find myself in the International Publishers section and was simply astonished. At the stand of the Iranian publishers, in plain view, was the text that influenced Hitler’s Holocaust fantasies like no other: “The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion,” published in English by the Islamic Propagation Organization of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The first page of the tract makes clear that Israel is the target of this new edition. It shows a snake made of triangles, enclosing an area labeled “Greater Israel” that includes large areas of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, parts of Turkey and northern Saudi Arabia. Each triangle, according to the annotation, symbolizes the “Freemason’s Eye,” supposedly a “symbol of Jewry.”

A few steps farther on, the second most important classic of modern anti-Semitism was on display: Henry Ford’s “The International Jew,” in a 200-page abbreviated version, published by the Iranian “Department of Translation and Publication, Islamic Culture and Relations Organization.” It was interesting to read the numerous footnotes that the Iranian publisher had added. For example, Salman Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses” is presented as the latest example of the viciousness of Jewish slanders.

A third anti-Semitic screed caught my attention for its gaudy cover: A red Star of David over a gray skull and a yellow map of the world. Its title was “Tale of the ‘Chosen People’ and the Legend of ‘Historical Right,’” written by Mohammad Taqi Taqipour. In his foreword, the author is certain of another “final solution”: Given the “global Islamic movement,” Israel will soon be destroyed.

The distribution of such texts is prohibited in Germany. The failure of those responsible for the Frankfurt Book Fair is doubly serious because only last year the exhibition made headlines for presenting anti-Semitic texts. Then as now, the fair’s directors informed the prosecutor’s office only after visitors complained. Perhaps the director of the fair, Jürgen Boos, will be more careful next time. But does more careful supervision address the real problem?

At the heart of the real problem is an Iranian policy that could hardly be more authentically represented than through the “Protocols.” “We present this book,” reads the Iranian foreword, “to expose the real visage of this satanic enemy,” to “burn and wholly destroy…this deadly, cancerous tumor.” In Iran this pamphlet provides legitimacy to the longed-for destruction of Israel. Iranian state TV instills a delusional hatred of Jews into millions of viewers with anti-Semitic movie series. And it’s not just all talk. Billions are spent to advance nuclear programs and the Shahab 3 missile, which could deliver a nuclear payload to Israel. In the meantime, the secret services escalate the terror against Israel by supporting Hamas and Hezbollah.

Of course, you wouldn’t hear a word about this at the Book Fair. Instead, Germany and Iran continue what is so erroneously called a “critical dialogue.” They sit together and chat politely about Islam and culture, even as the Germans are well aware that the people they are talking so nicely with want to destroy Israel. It is an essential characteristic of this “critical dialogue” that no one talks precisely about this.

No wonder, then, that German exports to Iran rose in 2004 by a record 33%; no wonder then that both countries are so interested in presenting a positive image of Iran. In Frankurt, there was supposed to be no sign—really none—of the hate propaganda that the regime exports around the world. It could have worked beautifully had an Iranian publisher not packed a few too many books onto the shelves, and had I not made it public. It was pure chance that the attempted deception failed this time.

The most shocking part is not that something was found on the shelves in Frankfurt that shouldn’t have been there. What is shocking is that just as Hitler’s utopia of “German peace” was conditioned on the extermination of the Jews, today the mullahs’ idea of “Islamic peace” is conditioned on the elimination of Israel. Just on Wednesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, speaking at a Tehran conference called “The World without Zionism,” said Israel should be “wiped off the map.”

So the real scandal is the fact that Germany—instead of leading the fight against anti-Semitism, which should be its historical duty!—is promoting and supporting the mullah’s camouflage—politically and culturally.

It is not enough to remove compromising materials from the Iranian shelves; that only perfects the disguise. A different conclusion seems necessary to me: I mean the exclusion of “official” Iran from the fair as long as its policies are oriented around the “Protocols.” Instead, the Persian section of the Frankfurt Book Fair should become a safe forum for exile Iranians. As long as literature is bound by an ethos of truth, is there any other way?

Mr. Küntzel is a political scientist in Hamburg and author of “Djihad und Judenhass” (Jihad and Jew-hatred), published in 2002 by Ça Ira Publishers. Belinda Cooper translated this article from the German.

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