The Arab world should “use culture rather than guns” to achieve its ends, guests were told at the opening ceremony of the 35th Sharjah International Book Fair, held at the emirate’s exhibition centre this morning (2nd November).
Academic Dr Ghassan Salameh, a former culture minister in Lebanon, who now teaches at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques (Sciences Po) in Paris, was presented with the cultural personality of the year award at the ceremony, held in the presence of the Sharjah ruler, Dr Sultan bin Mohammed al Qasimi.
In his acceptance speech, Dr Salameh called Sharjah “a lighthouse of culture between the East and West”, telling the ruler, “You have transformed Sharjah into a sustainable capital of culture, revived the Arab culture throughout the emirate and corrected the stereotype of us around the world.”
But, speaking in Arabic with English interpretation supplied, Dr Salameh went on to address, “the current painful situation where many of our brothers and sisters throughout the Arab world suffer from painful events which cause pain physically and mentally.”
He said: “We see pain on our [TV] screens and try to forget it, but we should reflect what each of us can do to raise the voice of peace and moderation, and call with all our voices for peace and prosperity for them and use culture rather than guns.
“I have tried throughout my career to be an intellectual not in an isolated way but actively involved in all matters of my society. I have to be the voice of the injured, hungry, suffering and displaced, and of the ones who have lost everything in life.”
Awarding the honour to Dr Salameh was considered by some informed onlookers a significant move, in the light of the UAE’s recent involvement in the Saudi Arabia-led military intervention in neighbouring Yemen. Sharjah is one of seven emirates that make up the UAE, with its overall political direction led not by Sharjah but by Abu Dhabi.
Dr Salameh is known as “a distinguished elder statesman who has stood for progressive, non-sectarian culture”, according to Helena Cobbold, founder and c.e.o. of US independent Justworld Books, who is attending this year’s Fair.
The 35th edition of the fair is being attended by 1,681 publishing houses from multiple different countries, Ahmed Al Ameri, chairman of the Sharjah Book Authority, told the opening ceremony. He said this represented a gathering of different nationalities “to celebrate peace, love, science and the written word.”
Dr Sultan bin Mohammed al Qasimi signed copies of his own latest book, a work of history, at the ceremony.