This week in my neighborhood on the Upper West Side there was a bit of a brouhaha. A new "children's" book has been published by someone named Golbarg Bashi, called P is for Palestine.
Even if in reality there has been no place called Palestine since the British ceased to occupy it in 1948, the book title still sounds innocent enough.
Themed alphabet books for toddlers are always popular and sweet. So many cultures transmit basic values and concepts of their way of life to the next generation in this way. Say, in Italy, for example, 'p' is for pasta; that type of thing.
Just one more ironic caveat I couldn't help but notice: Arabic has no letter 'p' equivalent or even a letter 'p' sound. In fact, Arab Palestinians pronounce the word Palestine as "Filastin," and the word Palestinians as "Filastiniyn." For Israelis, it's "Falastin" and "Falestina'im." It's just something you pick up when you live in Israel. I noticed that many Arabs say "bizza" instead of "pizza."
As an educator and someone who has loved children's literacy for so long, it truly bothers me to criticize a children's book.
But this is not such an innocent book. And I don't refer to the title, which many people might simply be uncomfortable with.
I am talking about out and out incitement to violence, and a sick and twisted Palestinian "value," in this book.
The children will learn that the letter 'I' stands for Intifada. You read that right, 'I' is for intifada. It's like publishing a children's book and writing, "T is for terrorist."
The book says: "I is for Intifada, intifada is Arabic for what is Right . . . if you are a kid or a grownup."
I'm sorry, but in today's parlance, by the Palestinians' own definition, intifada means one thing and one thing only, and the author knows this perfectly well. Intifada is a call to violence against Israel. Intifada in today's parlance, and for 30 years now, means murder. It means bloodbaths of exploding to smithereens innocent civilian Jews in cafés, buses and pizzerias.
I have no doubt that the original meaning of the word intifada is, as the author writes, "to do what is right." However, in today's world, that is irrelevant. Words change over time. Their meaning evolves. Same words, but over the course of time their meaning comes to be different.
For example, the word "awful." We think of it as a negative adjective. In fact, the word originally meant "full of awe" and denoted wonder. Gay, once a word that meant joyousness, is no longer used in that context.
The same can be true of symbols. The white and red swirl sign present at every barber shop didn't always carry a neutral association with a place to get a haircut, but rather a place for bloodletting, too. Probably the most famous example would be the swastika, an ancient religious symbol used in the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia and East Asia. Then it was commandeered by the Third Reich. Its meaning — in countries directly affected byNazism — has been altered forever.
Of course, in mock incredulity, the author of P is for Palestine has painted the negative reaction to her children's book by moms in a Facebook group, in the spirit of overreactive, sensitive, lunatic Jews — at best.
Considering the author's husband is a known Columbia professor, Hamid Dabashi, who is on record for statements that paint images of Jews as subhuman vermin, this is not all that shocking.
But Book Culture, an Upper West Side book franchise, ought to have been more responsible.
Clearly, I am done supporting this book shop. What a shame, it truly is a charming shop.
Based on the known and accepted definition of intifada in today's society, based on two periods of years-long explosions of Palestinian violence against Israeli civilians (1987-1991, 2000-2005), it only makes sense to deduce from this "children's book" that Golbarg Bashi was highlighting, out in the open, something else. Via a toddler's alphabet, in a book in which key concepts are reduced to one- or two-word definitions and ideas ("P is for Palestine"), an essential cultural idea that the book deems important to transmit — indeed to indoctrinate the young in a foundational way — is murder.
Personally, I would have written I is for Iftar.
To me, that's what an Arab Palestinian children's book would look like based on the Palestinian friend I had.
She taught me what iftar means and it was she from whom I received an iftar dinner invitation. I is for Iftar — the meal eaten after sunset during Ramadan.