Friday, April 24, 2009

Contemporary Book-Burnings in Flanders

Our Flemish correspondent VH has compiled a report on the cone of silence that has been placed over Vlaams Belang in Belgium, in this particular case the increasingly blatant censorship of any writers who happen to be members of the Flemish separatist party.

First, this introductory note from VH:

Two books have recently been banned from the shelves of bookshops in Flanders. Not because of their content, certainly not because any of them calls for violence, or is discriminatory or racist. At least one of these books might have been a top bestseller by now, and the other one should definitely have been a top bestseller by now. The only thing these books have in common is that hey have been written by members of… Vlaams Belang!

In an open letter, Koen Dillen (Vlaams Belang) made a point that strikes at the heart of politically correct hypocrisy: “Self-declared Flemish intellectuals speak with full disgust of the book-burnings in National Socialist Germany, but in practice they prove themselves to be good students of that system. In the year 2009 the books of political opponents are not even burnt anymore; they are simply not published.”

Below are three articles that were published in response to the contemporary book-burnings.

1. Benno Barnard (poet and writer): “A few words on behalf of Voltaire
2. Koen Dillen (politician and writer): “Censorship in Flanders” (open letter)
3. It rustles again under the counter…” (open letter by various opponents to these book-burnings, from various political streams)

Translation #1:

A few words on behalf of Voltaire

By Benno Barnard

Politically correct thinking weighs like lead on the nervous system of the Flemish intelligentsia, who should finally get themselves together right now, scrape their throats and expressly take a stand against the actual censorship that Koen Dillen and Filip Dewinter of the Vlaams Belang have to endure in the form of the refusal to sell their books.

Those who declare —while calling upon Voltaire— to defend freedom of the press with a drawn pen in their hands resemble a man who sets his own house on fire. And yet that is exactly what I will do here, however. Defend Dillen and Dewinter. I never would have dreamt that I would find this necessary.

To my knowledge, the only intellectual who at least defends one of the two is Johan Sanctorum. On the blog Visionary Belgium, the philosopher rushes to the aid of Koen Dillen, who under the pseudonym Vincent Gounod, published a biography of [the French Socialist President] François Mitterrand.

“It is a fateful sign on the wall in our democracy that pseudonyms appear again, not as “Spielerei” but out of bitter necessity. It points out that the media, socio-cultural and social dissemination of the cordon sanitaire, originally a party political entente with a strategic purpose, means a loss for the cultural climate in Flanders,” Sanctorum writes.

One of the literary critics who praised Dillen’s work to the sky (“A magnificent story that reads like a novel”) was Claude Blondeel of the radio program “Ramblas”, and probably rightly so, because according to the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad [1], it is an excellent book. Blondeel now stays nicely silent, which he probably would have done anyway if he had known in advance that the son of the founder of the Vlaams Blok was the erudite author of the writing.

When the Gounod’s mask fell off, the bookseller Groene Waterman [2] in Antwerp responded by immediately taking the book from the shelves in a shocking act of Stalinism, which made me deeply disappointed with the bookstore where I have been a regular customer for many years. They do not refrain from selling extreme leftist writings, for the content of which I would not like to be responsible, such as those of the anti-Semite Lucas Cathérine. But that never hindered me from buying at the Groene Waterman, because I defend the right of Cathérine to proclaim lies — it is up to me to rebut them when they disturb me.
- - - - - - - - -
This tolerance may, in the spirit of Karl Popper, not tolerate intolerance, however; in other words: writings that expressly incite to violence should be prohibited. (However, as far as I am concerned, in the case of historical texts, such as Mein Kampf, a scientifically-framed edition should be acceptable.)

It is clear that Dillen’s book does not call for violence. The fact that the author is a member of Vlaams Belang is also completely irrelevant. But I suppose that there is still will be even more brave booksellers who still returned the biography of Mitterrand to the publisher. In any case, with the Standaardketen it is only obtainable by ordering the book.

That brings me to Filip Dewinter, whose book Inch’Allah, published by the controversial publishing house Egmont (which dares to publish books written by VB members and is therefore “controversial”), has been refused by almost all Flemish booksellers, including all those of the Standaardketen. The result is that a damp basement smell came to spread over it: this has become an “underground” book, something of a an out-of-place samizdat, a samizdat under liberal state rule… I therefore have up to now been unable to read it. But a kind friend of mine, an old Dutch social democrat who is absolutely without even the tiniest little stain, has managed to obtain one in some dark alley. After having read it he sent me an email in which he expressed his astonishment about the alleged “radicalism” of Dewinter. There was absolutely nothing improper in his work, in which the volkstribuun obviously quoted from all kinds of sources, nothing that might infringe against any legislation, let alone that it would contain calls to violence. For Dewinter would never do that.

Naturally it does contain views that to the ears of many politically-correct thinking person are indecent. But such is the game of democracy. A boycott — de facto censorship — opposes everything we should hold dear. I am an opponent of the Vlaams Belang. I have studied the old and the new party program. I do not believe in state corporatism. I do not believe in a two-state solution to Belgium. I do believe in multiculturalism, however, when it is between Flemish and French speakers.

I further believe that Islam is only compatible with liberal democracy when it is, so to speak, prepared to add water to its wine. Dewinter probably proclaims the same position in his book, and therefore we will objectively agree on that, even though many emotionally-correct souls will faint at such idea. But I will never vote for him.

Let me quote Sanctorum again: “It does says a lot about the mental condition of the Flemish booksellers world (controlled via boek.be [335 booksellers] by the green Stalinist Jos Geysels [3], one of the masterminds of the cordon sanitaire against the VB) and it most of all shows how deep the mechanisms of censorship and self-censorship actually are doing their work in our so called democracy. (…) I want the VB on the tribunes, without being taken for a VB’er.”

Calling Jos Geysels a Stalinist might be a sizable blunder, as well as the claim by Sanctorum that the cordon sanitaire emerged from a Belgicistic reflex. I have yet to observe the first Belgicistic reflex in the nervous system of Jos Geysels. But for the rest, Sanctorum is right.

Les alliances se renversent.

Translation #2:

Censorship in Flanders

By Koen Dillen

Open letter to “De Groene Waterman” bookstore

Dear —,

In the [magazine] Knack recently — I assume that it was not an April Fools’ joke — I read that you have taken my book on the French President François Mitterrand from your shelves because the undersigned was behind the pseudonym Vincent Gounod and Maarten van der Roest. In the “Standard Bookstores” the book is available, however, but only when ordered. In the Netherlands the book is in all bookshop windows. Please allow me to make a few observations herein.

  • “De Groene Waterman” [bookstore in Antwerp] does not censor me because of the contents of my book, otherwise you would not have put it on display those many months ago and sold it for all that time. No, you do not censor on the content, as you state yourself, but on identity. Vlaams Belangers are not allowed in, period. Not that what is written in a book disturbs the censor, but the one who writes it. I can not imagine a more infallible example of essentialistic thinking.
  • In the Netherlands, the leftist VPRO radio in its Sunday book program on March 29, after an undoubtedly much too positive review of my book, responded, intrigued by the fact that a Flemish Vlaams Belanger has to publish a book in Flanders under a pseudonym. “We actually should talk with that man,” the presiding journalist said at the end of the discussion. But Flanders is not the Netherlands. In Flanders today an omertà applies to the publications of Vlaams Belang members, even if it is about writings that have nothing to do with “party politics”.
  • Aspect Publishers is a publishing house that does not commit the sin of thinking inside the box. The CIDI (Center for Information and Documentation Israel) publishes with them, just like [Dutch PM] Jan Peter Balkenende who published his book Different and Better there. They published Leon Trotsky’s biography of Stalin in a reissue; the Dutch Socialist Party leader Jan Marijnissen had his book New Optimism and Ronald van Raak his The Rich and Red Life, with a foreword by the same Marijnissen, published there. The left-wing Flemish writer Piet de Moor published a smoothly written anti-Vlaams Belang pamphlet under the title “Letters to my postman”. Will Tura and Peter Vandermeersch [but also the experts on leftist politics Carel Brendel and leftist terrorism Peter Siebelt] are on its list of writers. Both leftist and rightist authors are welcome.
  • When a few years ago, the Stalinist hagiography Another View of Stalin by the Maoist Ludo Martens was offered for sale and triggered many pages of reviews in the Flemish press, you made no objection, and that is the way it should be. The book by my colleague Karim van Overmeire on the battle of the golden spurs, could not be sold anywhere, because he is a Vlaams Belang member. That is the way things are in Flanders today.
  • The Netherlands evolved since the Fortuyn revolt [2002]. But the leftists’ church in Flanders today still has a problem with intellectual diversity. In this I am not lumping all leftist intellectuals together. Whoever opens the book François Mitterrand, will see that I have dedicated my book to the late Georges Adé (1936-1992), who after his death in October 1992 was honored in an obituary on the front page of De Morgen [leftist newspaper]. He also belonged to that Flemish leftists’ church and even wrote — under the pseudonym Laurent Veydt — “Nouveaux Romans”, a flaming pamphlet against the “New Right”. But he was also an inspiring professor on French literature at the Katholieke Vlaamse Hogeschool [Catholic Flemish University] who taught generations of students, including myself, a love for French language and literature. Open-minded and certainly not someone who would censor books because of the identity of the author. He was also in those days a wildly enthusiastic promoter of my dissertation on the French writer and collaborator Robert Brasillach.
  • And then Mitterrand. Does “De Groene Waterman” bookstore know that the Socialist President idolized the writer Drieu la Rochelle, a Don Juan just like himself, fascist, anti-Semite, collaborator, friend of Aragon and Malraux, and during the German occupation head of the Nouvelle Revue Française of Gallimard? Or that he idolized Jacques Chardonne [pseudonym for Jacques Boutelleau], who was from his native region, “wrong” during the war and visited Goebbels in 1942? [All writers whose books are available in “De Groene Waterman”, and quite a few of those books, as well as many others of the publishing house Gallimard, are on the shelves]

The self-declared Flemish intellectuals speak with full disgust of the book-burnings in National Socialist Germany, but in practice they prove themselves to be the good students of that system. In the year 2009 the books of political opponents are not even burnt anymore, they are simply not published.

I would like to call on the real free intellectuals in Flanders: please take this opportunity to denounce the foolish censorship and contemporary book-burnings.

Translation #3:

It rustles again under the counter…

Open letter

Introduction

Note: This open letter on political correct censorship in Flanders was published in the newspaper “De Standard”. The fact that 36 Flemish “opinion makers” (now renamed the dirty three dozen, thanks to querulous Piet De Moor [a writer and leftist appeaser]) signed the letter, including heavyweights such as Etienne Vermeersch (philosopher) and Hugo Coveliers (former VLD [Flemish Liberals] senator and founder of the party VLOTT that cooperates with Vlaams Belang in Antwerp), did not prevent this “quality” newspaper from censoring themselves and deleting a few lines [here in red, and in the text below stripped out] without any consultation with the initiators. The URL to Dewinter’s blog that the “opinion makers” had added to the text also mysteriously disappeared.

Open letter

The “Gounod/Dillen affair” shows that we find ourselves in an actual state of censorship.

The story may be known: an outstanding biography on Mitterrand, hailed by many, including “Klara” [radio program] and NRC Handelsblad [1], and signed by Vincent Gounod, was actually written by the VB politician Koen Dillen. Whereupon sensible-minded Flanders completely went out of its mind and made sure that the book can hardly be obtained anymore in the normal outlets. In the Netherlands, however, the book is displayed in the open in the shop windows. Are we back in the days of the Adult Merchandise?

The incident unveils the deeper malaise within the exposed cultural and academic universe in our region. The famous “cordon” around a particular party, which name we will leave you to guess here for strategic reasons, has apparently ensured that books no longer need to be read to form an opinion on their content. We do not want to lose ourselves in a yes-no debate about whether the Antwerp “leftist bookstore with a clear profile,” removed the book from its shelves or not (there are different views on this). The fact remains that the biography of Mitterrand, as written by Koen Dillen, is not a racist nor xenophobic or negationist book, but simply caused a lot of fuss because the author walks around with the label “wrong” stuck to his forehead, because of which he felt forced to use a pseudonym.

Flanders seems to be divided in a politically-correct half with access to the media, that quickly finds a publisher, that is manning the obligatory BV bevy; and on the other side a shadowy continent of undiscussable, forbidden, banned from the public sphere politisch-unfähige people, as it was called under Nazi rule. That the book sector here is showing its most cowardly side is also clear. In most bookstores and large booksellers the famous Mitterrand biography is, since Gounod’s identity has been revealed as Koen Dillen, only available “on request”. This is a de facto state of censorship, under which even the sacred cow of commerce is slaughtered (Dillen’s book would have been a blockbuster by now) to safeguard our souls from slurs. It is well-known that boek.be, the organizer of the Antwerp Book Fair, still makes use of a list of undesirable authors and forbidden publishers.

“The leftists’ church in Flanders today still has a problem with intellectual diversity,” Dillen rightly concludes. Indeed. The term “controversy”, that is absolutely necessary in a mature democracy, complete evaporates here. And even if his book were not consistent with politically sensible thinking, even if it were as “wrong” as possible, even then, and precisely then, the book world should embrace it, because it would call for counter-arguments and provoke responses. This is know “polemic”, a hazardous enterprise in Flanders.

For this reason we wish to stand up for the free sale of Filip Dewinter’s pamphlet Inch’Allah. This does not mean a position on the book, the author, or his party. But as long as a publication does not call for violence — as the book by Filip Dewinter certainly does not do — any factual censorship is a ridiculous display of political immaturity.

We, from the left to right, want to distance ourselves formally from that censorship. It is about time that Flanders woke up from its politically correct snooze to finally get acquainted with the art of the dialectic.

Ludo Abicht, lecturer philosophy
Vital Baeken (“Vitalski”), writer
Benno Barnard, writer
Geert Beullens, writer-performer
Gerard Bodifee, author
Mimount Bousakla, politician
Hugo Coveliers, lawyer
Thierry Debels, author-publicist
Saskia De Coster, writer
Eric Defoort, historian
Leo de Haes, publisher
Gust De Meyer, professor KUL
Peter De Roover, publicist
Willem Elias, professor VUB
Derk Jan Eppink, publicist-politician
Valerie Lempereur, publisher
Bart Maddens, politicoloog
Marc Platel, journalist
André Posman, artistic director “De Rode Pomp”, Gent
Godfried-Willem Raes, music maker — philosopher
Jean-Pierre Rondas, producer VRT Radio Klara
Johan Sanctorum, philosopher-author
Matthias Storme, attorney
Johan Swinnen, professor VUB & Artesis Hogeschool
Frank Thevissen, communication-expert
Jef Turf, ex-journalist, publicist
Luc Van Braekel, blogger
Jan Van de Casteele, chief editor “Doorbraak”
Gie van den Berghe, ethic
Luc van Doorslaer, academic-journalist
Marc Vanfraechem, blogger
Geert van Istendael, writer
Wim van Rooy, publicist
Jan Verheyen, filmmaker
Jos Verhulst, publicist
Etienne Vermeersch, moral philosopher
Jurgen Verstrepen, politician
Julien Weverbergh, publisher

Notes:

[1] NRC Handelsblad, once a conservative “quality newspaper (nowadays unfortunately politically correct and controversial) which has had for decades a still highly respected — and very critical — book review section, judged [few quotes]: “Vincent Gounod’s interpretation [of the facts in Miterrand’s life] is critical but in balance. […] Gounod convinces because the analysis is very precise, with much feeling for the historic context and political environment […] Intrigues, betrayal, revenge and — incidentally —, mercy in Mitterrand’s dance for political power exchange with each other in a breathtaking speed in the two sections ‘ambition’ and ‘power’ of which the book is made. […] A biography that exceeds the common political portrait of a president. This is therefore also a “handbook on politics” because of the stunning insight it offers in the kitchen of the phenomenon of power-politics.”

The NRC Handelsblad has selected the book to be offered in their online bookstore.
 
[2] Groene Waterman booksellers: A search on the author name Dewinter produces only two books by Filip Dewinter. But none of them as it shows are in the shop, and seemingly the publisher is “out of stock”. Also a search on “Gounod” shows that his book on Mitterrand in not in the shop and gives no information on the availability with the publisher. They do have books by Abu Jahjah on the shelves, however, the Lebanese/Belgian anti-Semite Hizbollah terrorist and founder of the AEL who only recently threatened to invade the Jewish neighborhood in Antwerp, to which threat only Filip Dewinter responded furiously.
 
[3] Jos Geysels is chairman aft 11.11.11, a Belgian anti-Semite “development aid” organization. In 2008 Geysels was given a tour in Gaza by the UNRWA in connection with his campaign “60 years homeless”. In 2006 the 11.11.11 organization demanded on behalf of the “Action Platform Palestine” a conviction of Israel (embargos, scrapping treaties, the works) for “violating the rule of war” (in their defense against the rocket attacks by Hamas, by arresting Hamas leaders and destroying a number of rocket launch sites).

Only recently, Diophantes reported in a review in the Belgian magazine “Joods Actueel” [“Jewish Actuality”] on the book How Good is the Good Purpose, a critical book on development aid, that out of every 100 euros in donations to 11.11.11, only 1 euro was spent on aid.

3 comments:

heroyalwhyness said...

Perhaps it's time to invest in our futures and over-ride censorship efforts utilizing available technologies:

A novel idea: The machine that can print off any book for you in minutesIt promises to bring the world of literature to the ordinary book-buyer at the touch of a button.

In the time it takes to brew a cappuccino, this machine can print off any book that is not in stock from a vast computer database.

The innovation, launched by book chain Blackwell yesterday, removes the need to order a hard-to-find novel, or the wait to buy one that has sold out. Even out-of-print works can be printed off in minutes.

The Espresso Book Machine will also benefit aspiring novelists who can walk in to a shop with a CD of their work and have their book professionally printed in minutes.

The cost of buying a book will be generally the same as if it were in stock.

Currently there are 400,000 books ready to be be downloaded. Blackwell hopes that by summer, one million will be available.

It has bought one of the machines for its store on Charing Cross Road in Central London, but if it is a success then more could appear at shops across the country.
The machine, which resembles an industrial photocopier and printer, prints 105 pages a minute, or one book every five minutes or so.

Blackwell's aim is that the customer will be able to browse a catalogue in a kiosk next to the machine then press 'Make Book' and watch as their novel is created.

First the cover is run off, then the pages are printed and collated.

The pages are then clamped and glue applied to the spine. In the final stage, the pages are stuck to the cover before being trimmed to size from A4. The completed book then pops out of a slot in the side of the machine.

Blackwell believes the EBM will allow it to exact revenge on the supermarkets and online retailers.
Tesco, for example, offers aggressive discounting while Amazon has teamed up with second-hand shops and independent sellers to provide an enormous variety of books at knock-down prices.

Five years ago, only 7 per cent of books were bought online. By last year, that was 14 per cent.

In December, the value of books sold on the high street was down 12.7 per cent year on year.

Andrew Hutchings, of Blackwell, said: 'Companies such as Amazon have been offering a very competitive service but you still have one or two days to wait from ordering the book until it arrives.

'With the Espresso Book Machine you can order it and have it in your hand within a few minutes. Having books printed on-demand also reduces the carbon footprint and cuts down on the number that are pulped or sent back.'

Out-of-copyright books will be sold at 10p a page, meaning a 300-page book would be £30, although Mr Hutchings hopes the cost will come down.

All other books will cost the same as if they were bought off the shelf.
Print books at will . . .

"The Downfall of the Netherlands Land of the Naive Fools" by Mohammed RasoelSex, Sharia and Women in the History of Islam By Mariwan HalabjaeeAlms for Jihad: Charity and Terrorism in the Islamic World, by J. Millard Burr and Robert O. Collins"Those who burn books, will soon burn people." - Author Unknown...1871

Simon de Montfort said...

It probably won't matter in the Long Run ( or short ) , but Flanders needs to be a nation--at least physically rid of Brussels. Brugge should be the capital.

It would still be in the EU, but it might help somehow

Benno Hansen said...

Fascists always had plenty of free speech: Greatest hits of brave Danish Freedom of Speech fighting newspaper Jyllands-Posten.

Nice try with the Popper name drop - pretty far off the mark though.