16 October 2023

Who bombed Frankfurter Buchmesse?

['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is the 245th article in the new series that began in December 2022. Links to previous articles are given below]

Human beings are frail creatures. Human collectives are no better. And yet, there are people and groups who we hold to above average standards, let’s say. Longevity, the kind of work done and consistent adherence to laudable principles are what generate high expectations. 

Consider an event that is advertised as ‘a meeting place for publishers, authors, literature and culture fans and personalities from politics and culture from all over the world’ where ‘people from over 100 countries come together in a peaceful and secure environment.’ Consider the organiser of that event claiming to ‘stand for diversity,’  and that it ‘thrives on the diversity and internationality of its exhibitors and visitors, as well as the exchange among these in an open dialogue.’

Take note of the fact that the organisers want everyone to obtain from the event ‘a good experience – regardless of their gender and gender identity, sexual orientation and sexual identity, disabilities, ethnic origin, nationality, age, language, religion or world view,’ and that they ‘do not tolerate any harassment, assault or inappropriate comments towards our visitors, exhibitors, partners or team members.’

There’s more. The organization has a self-image and describes it as a forum where people from over 100 countries can meet each other in peace and security - despite the current strained world situation, and reiterates that the event thrives ‘on diversity of opinion and content, as well as on exchange at eye level.’

It is all about books and I will come to that. A book fair, in fact, which is claimed to constitute ‘places of gathering where book people - publishers, authors, readers, as well as political and cultural representatives - can meet in a secure framework, even in difficult times as the one we experience globally at the moment.’

High standards of course but these are almost givens in the arts or so we would like to believe. Freedom of expression, free flow of ideas, clashes of opinion, different schools of thought and art — it’s all cross-fertilisation. Learning. Appreciating others. Respecting differences. As laid out in the ‘manifesto,’ as described in vision-mission statements, as detailed in the code of conduct. All in the public domain. Nothing to hide.

For many reasons, Frankfurter Buchmesse or the Frankfurt Book Fair is a standard bearer for such events. It is the world’s largest trade fair for books, simply going by the number of publishing companies represented.

Then there’s history. It is a tradition that is more than 500 years old. Apparently, before there was printing, the general trade fair in Frankfurt was the place to sell handwritten books. That’s as early as the 12th century.  

It is not just the brag in terms of ideals and purposes (which is not necessarily unwarranted) but the stature that makes me write this note.

Frankfurter Buchmesse has decided to postpone the conferring of an award to Palestinian author Adania Shibli. Shibli was scheduled to accept the LiBeraturpreis of the LitProm association on October 20 for ‘Minor Detail.’ It is an award that honors women writers from the Global South for a work newly published in German. The book’s English translation, by Elisabeth Jaquette, was published in 2020 and was shortlisted for the 2020 National Book Award for Translated Literature, and longlisted for the International Booker Prize the following year.

Those agitating for the postponement claim that the book was ‘antisemetic,’ which of course is silly considering that there are no anti semites as barbaric as Israel (Arabs are Semites, note).
Apparently, Zurich newspaper Tagesanzeiger had asked, ‘In these times, can a novel that depicts Israel as a killing machine be honored with awards?’ That’s better than the antisemite claim, but marginally, for the ‘killing machine’ description certainly fits.

It is heartening to note that the Association for the Promotion of Literature from Africa, Asia and Latin America has insisted that it still wants to award its prize to Adania Shibli's novel, despite the criticism. PEN Berlin’s observation on these developments is certainly valid: ‘No book becomes different, better, worse or more dangerous because the news situation changes.’

Director of Frankfurter Buchmesse, Juergen Boos, has condemned ‘the barbaric terror of Hamas against Israel in the strongest possible terms.’ Who doesn’t? And yet, he goes on to say that Frankfurter Buchmesse stands in ‘full solidarity at Israel's side.’

In other words, Boos condones the firing of white phosphorus, dropping bombs, bulldozing schools, hospitals and homes, and treating each and every Palestinian as a legitimate target.

But that’s not enough.  Boos states that Frankfurter Buchmesse wants to ‘make Jewish and Israeli voices particularly visible.’ The victims of Israel’s operations in Gaza and the West Bank have not been offered the privilege of voice or at least there’s no mention of it.  

Someone has bombed the Frankfurter Buchmesse I feel. Juergen Boos would know the name of the terrorist. 

Other articles in this series: 

The truly besieged 

Love's austere and lonely offices

The mysteriously enjoined in the middle of nowhere

Serendipity now!

Reflections on the unimaginable 

Jackson Anthony is a book and will be read 

A village called Narberth Bookshop

Gateway drugs to A-B-C

'Irvin' and other one-word poems

Earth pieces Kerala and Sri Lanka

Obligation as bomb and ocean

In the land of insomnial poets

In and out of shadows

Over to Eve

When you don't need an invitation, it's home

When the Canadian House of Commons applauded a Nazi...

Touching the touch-me-nots

The importance of not skipping steps

No free passes to the Land of Integrity

Hector Kobbekaduwa is not a building, statue, street or stamp

Rajagala and the Parable of the Panner

Let's show love to Starbucks employees!

You've got mail?

Octavio Paz and Arthur C Clarke in the stratosphere 

Enduring solidarities 

Coco 'Quotes' Gauff!

9/11 and the calm metal instrument of Salvador Allende's voice 

What a memory-keeper foregoes 

Whitman, Neruda and things that wait in all things

Thilina Kaluthotage's eyes keep watch

Those made of love will fly

Profit: the peragamankaru of major wars

Helplessness and innocence

The parameters of entirety

In loving memory of Carrie Lee (1956-2020)

Mobsters on and off the screen

Transfixing and freeing dawns

We're here because we're here because we're here

Life signatures

Sha'Carri Richardson versus and with Sha'Carri Richardson  

A canvas for a mind-brush

Sybil Wettasinghe's shoes

Love is...

A stroll with Pragg and Arjun along a boulevard in Baku

Meditation on tree-art

Daya Sahabandu ran out of partners but must have smiled to the end

Gentle intrusions 

Sleeping well

The unleashing of inspiration

Write, for Pete's sake

Autumn Leaves Safeness

 Sapan and voices that erase borders

Problem elephants and problem humans

Songs from the vaekanda

The 'inhuman' elephant in a human zoo

Ivan Art: Ivanthi Fernando's efforts to align meaning

Arwa Turra, heart-stitcher

Let's help Jagana Krishnakumar rebuild our ancestral home

True national anthems

Do you have a friend in Pennsylvania (or anywhere?)

A gateway to illumination in West Virginia

Through strange fissures into magical orchards

There's sea glass love few will see 

Re-residencing Lakdasa Wikkramasinha

Poisoning poets and shredding books of verse

The responsible will not be broken

Home worlds

Ownership and tenuriality of the Wissahickon

Did you notice the 'tiny, tiny wayside flowers'?

Gifts, gifting and their rubbishing

History is new(s)

Journalism inadvertently learned

Reflections on the young poetic heart

Wordaholic, trynasty and other portmanteaus

The 'Loku Aiya' of all 'Paththara Mallis'

Subverting the indecency of the mind

Character theft and the perennial question 'who am I?'


A degree in people

Faces dripping with time

Saji Coomaraswamy and rewards that matter

Revolutionary unburdening

Seeing, unseeing and seeing again

Alex Carey and the (small) matter of legacy

The Edelweiss of Mirissa 

The insomnial dreams of Kapila Kumara Kalinga 

The clothes we wear and the clothes that wear us (down) 

Every mountain, every rock, is sacred 

Manufacturing passivity and obedience 

Precept and practice 

Sanjeew Lonliyes: rawness unplugged, unlimited 

In praise of courage, determination and insanity 

The relative values of life and death 

Feet that walk 

Sarinda's eyes 

Poetry and poets will not be buried 

Sunny Dayananda 

Reunion Peradeniya (1980-1990) 

What makes Oxygen breathable?  

Sorrowing and delighting the world 

The greatest fallacy  

Encounters with Liyanage Amarakeerthi 

Beyond praise and blame 

Letters that cut and heal the heart 

Vanished and vanishing trails 


A forgotten dawn song from Embilipitiya 

The soft rain of neighbourliness  

The Gold Medals of being 

Jaya Sri Ratna Sri 

All those we've loved before 

Reflections on waves and markings 

A chorus of National Anthems 

Saying what and how 

'Say when' 

Respond to insults in line with the Akkosa Sutra 

The loves of our lives 

The right time, the right person 

The silent equivalent of a thousand words 

Crazy cousins are besties for life 

Unities, free and endearing 

Free verse and the return key

"Sorry, Earth!" 

The lost lyrics of Premakeerthi de Alwis 

The revolution is the song 

Consolation prizes in competitions no one ever wins 

The day I won a Pulitzer 


Ella Deloria's silences 

Blackness, whiteness and black-whiteness 

Inscriptions: stubborn and erasable  


Deveni: a priceless one-word koan 

Enlightening geometries 

Let's meet at 'The Commons' 

It all begins with a dot 

Recovering run-on lines and lost punctuation 

'Wetness' is not the preserve of the Dry Zone 

On sweeping close to one's feet 

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California

To be an island like the Roberts... 

Debts that can never be repaid in full

An island which no flood can overwhelm 

Who really wrote 'Mother'? 

A melody faint and yet not beyond hearing 

Heart dances that cannot be choreographed 

Remembering to forget and forgetting to remember 

On loving, always 

Authors are assassinated, readers are immortal 

When you turn 80... 

It is good to be conscious of nudities  

Saturday slides in after Monday and Sunday somersaults into Friday  

There's a one in a million and a one in ten 

Gunadasa Kapuge is calling 

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California 

Hemantha Gunawardena's signature 

Pathways missed 

Architectures of the demolished 

The exotic lunacy of parting gifts 

Who the heck do you think I am? 

Those fascinating 'Chitra Katha' 

The Mangala Sabhava 

So how are things in Sri Lanka? 

The most beautiful father 

Palmam qui meruit ferat 

The sweetest three-letter poem 

Buddhangala Kamatahan 

An Irish and Sri Lankan Hello 

Teams, team-thinking, team-spirit and leadership 

The songs we could sing in lifeboats when we are shipwrecked 

Pure-Rathna, a class act 

Jekhan Aruliah set a ball rolling in Jaffna 

Awaiting arrivals unlike any other 

Teachers and students sometimes reverse roles 

Matters of honor and dignity 

Yet another Mother's Day 

A cockroach named 'Don't' 

Colombo, Colombo, Colombo and so forth 

The slowest road to Kumarigama, Ampara 

Sweeping the clutter away 

Some play music, others listen 

Completing unfinished texts 

Mind and hearts, loquacious and taciturn 

I am at Jaga Food, where are you? 

On separating the missing from the disappeared 

Moments without tenses 

And intangible republics will save the day (as they always have) 

The world is made of waves 


The circuitous logic of Tony Muller 

Rohana Kalyanaratne, an unforgettable 'Loku Aiya' 

Mowgli, the Greatest Archaeologist 

Figures and disfigurement, rocks and roses 

Sujith Rathnayake and incarcerations imposed and embraced 

Some stories are written on the covers themselves 

A poetic enclave in the Republic of Literature 

Landcapes of gone-time and going-time  

The best insurance against the loud and repeated lie 

So what if the best flutes will not go to the best flautists? 

There's dust and words awaiting us at crossroads and crosswords 

The books of disquiet 

A song of terraced paddy fields 

Of ants, bridges and possibilities 

From A through Aardvark to Zyzzyva  

World's End 

Words, their potency, appropriation and abuse 

Street corner stories 

Who did not listen, who's not listening still? 

The book of layering 

If you remember Kobe, visit GOAT Mountain 

The world is made for re-colouring 

The gift and yoke of bastardy 

The 'English Smile' 

No 27, Dickman's Road, Colombo 5 

Visual cartographers and cartography 

Ithaca from a long ago and right now 

Lessons written in invisible ink 

The amazing quality of 'equal-kindness' 

A tea-maker story seldom told 

On academic activism 

The interchangeability of light and darkness 

Back to TRADITIONAL rice 

Sisterhood: moments, just moments 

Chess is my life and perhaps your too

Reflections on ownership and belonging 

The integrity of Nadeesha Rajapaksha 

Signatures in the seasons of love

To Maceo Martinet as he flies over rainbows 

Sirith, like pirith, persist 

Fragrances that will not be bottled  

Colours and textures of living heritage 

Countries of the past, present and future 

A degree in creative excuses

Books launched and not-yet-launched 

The sunrise as viewed from sacred mountains 

The ways of the lotus 

Isaiah 58: 12-16 and the true meaning of grace 

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville 

Live and tell the tale as you will 

Between struggle and cooperation 

Of love and other intangibles 

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions 

The universe of smallness 

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers 

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills 

Serendipitous amber rules the world 

Continents of the heart
The allegory of the slow road