Thursday, January 8, 2015

Israel? That’s a Country? Really?

There's something not quite right about that map...
Harper Collins, one of the goliath publishing firms, is in big PR trouble of late. For months, they had marketed an English-language atlas to schools in the Middle East: an atlas that completely omitted the state of Israel. To make things worse, a spokesperson for Collins Bartholomew, the map-making arm of the corporate giant, told the UK-based Catholic weekly The Tablet that including Israel on the map would have been “unacceptable” to Gulf states; the edit merely reflected “local preferences.”

SAY WHAT??? Local preferences? It would be Curmie’s local preference to have someone other than Louie Gohmert as his Congresscritter, to have had the Rangers win the Stanley Cup last year, and to have major publishing companies demonstrate more ethical sensibility than Nag the cobra in “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi.” Alas, none of those things actually happened. And living in the real world sort of requires that fantasies, however charming or how deeply desired, cannot be allowed to override what actually happens.

Reading the news caused Friend of Curmie Jack Marshall’s head to explode, and for good reason. Sort of. The outrage is certainly justified, but I wonder whether any of us ought to have been caught by surprise.

After all, this isn’t the first time a publisher has pulled a stunt like this. Scholastic, another major publisher of children’s books (the Harry Potter series, for example), got busted in 2013 for the same thing, leaving Israel out of the map in a book called Thea Stilton and the Blue Scarab Hunt. But if you read the entire article in the Times of Israel, you’ll find a link to this piece, which describes the results of a study initiated by the Council of Religious Institutions in the Holy Land and funded by the U.S. State Department:
Ninety-six percent of the maps examined in Palestinian textbooks either did not indicate the Green Line (the armistice line created following Israel’s 1948 War of Independence) or indicated it but still referred to the entire area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea as “Palestine.”

Among the Israeli textbooks, 76% did not indicate any line between Israel and the Palestinian Territories, 11% depicted a line but did not acknowledge the Palestinian Territories by name, and only 13% acknowledged areas belonging to the Palestinian Authority under the Oslo agreements.
La la, how the life goes on.

Both Scholastic and Harper Collins, having made what money they could by pandering to the delusions of Arab states, apologized profusely when their chicanery was brought to light. Harper Collins, having already pretty much admitted that they were interested in making a buck irrespective of what distortions of lived reality they’d have to perpetrate to do so, trotted out their best Claude Rains impersonator to declare that they were shocked, shocked!, to learn they were profiting from a large-scale and absolutely intentional deception. Their Facebook page apology on December 31 might have been a little persuasive if we didn’t already know the strategy was completely intentional:
HarperCollins regrets the omission of the name Israel from their Collins Middle East Atlas. This product has now been removed from sale in all territories and all remaining stock will be pulped. HarperCollins sincerely apologises for this omission and for any offence caused.
But what’s with “the name Israel”? It sounds like they’re admitting to an error in locution, not the pre-meditated re-writing of geopolitical fact. But that’s what weasels like the folks at HarperCollins (one word? OK.) do.

More to the point, the combination of ideological intransigence, technological advances in the publishing industry, and corporate greed provide us with a host of examples much closer to home. As you probably know, Gentle Reader, the Texas Board of Education, a collection of mostly Religious Right wingnuts, must approve all textbooks used in the state. And since Texas is the largest single purchaser of those books, the publishers have traditionally fallen over themselves to suggest that “intelligent design” is a legitimate scientific explanation of the origins of human life, that the evidence for climate change is in serious doubt, that global organizations seek to undermine U.S. sovereignty, that the separation of Church and state was never intended by the founding fathers, that the trans-Atlantic slave trade ought to be identified only as triangular trade, and indeed every crackpot idea, conspiracy theory and theological pseudo-scientific proclamation imaginable. It’s only a matter of time before Dr. Oz becomes a science advisor, and the magical powers of green coffee beans are written into biology curricula across the state.

The good news is that new processes allow for a much easier means of giving the Texas Taliban what they want but still providing real textbooks to school districts actually interested in an educated citizenry. The bad news is that the same technology allows Middle Eastern countries who’d rather forget the existence of Israel to demand the editing out of the offending national boundaries, so Jordan and Syria get to share a little more space. Curmie confidently asserts that unscrupulous idiots like the editors and publishers at HarperCollins will lie low for a while, then pick up another bullshit scheme to make a couple bucks. It will work, of course, if only for a few months. And then we’ll go around again… and again… and again.

But the real problem isn’t that venal and amoral corporations are willing to ignore reality to line their pocketbooks. The greater harm is, as articulated by Bishop Declan Lang, chairman of the Bishops’ Conference Department of International Affairs:
The publication of this atlas will confirm Israel’s belief that there exists a hostility towards their country from parts of the Arab world. It will not help to build up a spirit of trust leading to peaceful co-existence.
Prostitution is sometimes described as a victimless crime. Whether that’s true or not, intellectual prostitution, which is precisely what HarperCollins engaged in, is the exact opposite of victimless. The path to a long-term solution to the problems of the Middle East is already sufficiently fraught with peril without a gaggle of prevaricating demagogues either too stupid or too arrogant to comprehend the harm they do. Yes, we should be angry. But really, we shouldn’t be surprised.

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