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Sweden’s Arab Book Fair: Criticism Beyond An Anti-Semitic Writer

Daraj
December 7, 2020
An Arab book fair in Sweden sparked widespread criticism after displaying a book that presented anti-Semitic ideas.

Malmö Municipality withdrew from Arab Book Fair in Sweden (ABFS) on October 28 due to its offering a book it said is anti-Semitic, and it is on its way to ask the organizers to pay back SEK 150,000 (USD 17,240) that it granted to them. The Municipality encouraged the Swedish Arts Council (SAC) that granted ABFS with SEK 150,000 to withdraw too.

The book is entitled The Synagogue of Satan The Secret History of Jewish World Domination by English writer Andrew Carrington Hitchcock.

In response, ABFS board member, May Al-Samhouri threatened that “any kind of protest or suspension” of ABFS “encourages violence”.

“There is latent violence that exists, and internal latent conflicts in society, in any society,” She went on saying in a video interview. “Sweden is one of the best countries in this respect, but in the end it is not a utopia.”

The fourth edition of ABFS took place between October 23 and November 7. However, it announced on October 30 that it suspended physical activities in Malmö but went on with the digital cultural activities. The decision, it said, was based on the recommendations of the Department of Public Health in Sweden, which had been issued days earlier taking a stricter approach on Covid-19. The health recommendations have taken a more stringent approach, such as encouraging people to avoid public transport and closed places such as stores, shopping centers and big celebrations.

With regard to selling anti-Semitic books, Samhouri blamed Corona virus crisis, volunteers at ABFS, and poor censorship over the content they present online.

Samhouri minimised the problem by saying, “There was a mistake that we admit, but that is like someone who breaks a cup. You do not bring a tank and destroy his home.”

Samhouri attacked Malmö Municipality by saying: “I am surprised and I blame Malmö Municipality for not contacting us before they took action. Ibn Rushd Study Association contacted us and the mannar was more friendly. Safahat [Publishing House] issued a statement to clarify their position and they were positive when we contacted them and they removed the book from their platform.”

Safahat explained that the book does not represent its opinion and that “the aim of publishing books is to spread science and knowledge and not to beautify or deny”. The company accused ABFS administration of “submitting to the false defamation campaign” and promised that it would “continue to defend itself, democracy and freedom of expression in Sweden.”

ABFS was launched in Malmö in 2017 with the support of Ibn Rushd Study Association, which was established in 2001 as an adult education association affiliated with the Islamic Association in Sweden (Islamiska förbundet i Sverige, IFiS). Founded in 1987, IFiS is a founding member of the Federation of Islamic Organisations in Europe, the European wing of the global Muslim Brotherhood movement. “Ibn Rushd” denies its relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood and considers the accusations in this regard “based on conspiracy theories”.

Is It One book?

ABFS became subject to criticism over offering for sale a book that presents anti-Semitic ideas. In protest, Rabbi of Malmö Jewish Community, Moshe-David HaCohen, retracted his participation in ABFS “until I am sure that proper action has been taken to make sure that this does not recur” as he announced.

But the problem with ABFS is not in this edition nor in one book. By visiting ABFS website on October 28, it was clear that the book fair offered tens of books written by authors who are described in Sweden as “promoters of conspiracy theories, anti-Semites and homophobes”.

For example, ABFS offered books by Kuwaiti Sheikh Tariq Al-Suwaidan, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Kuwait, Syrian Sheikh Mohammed Rateb Al-Nabulsi and Egyptian Sheikh Omar Abd al-Kafi.

Belgium banned Sheikh Suwaidan from entering its territory in 2014 due to his anti-Semitism according to media outlets. The same year, Sweden objected to Sheikh Nabulsi’s visit to Malmo after his previous statements that are offensive to gays and Jews. Sheikh Abd al-Kafi’s “anti-Semitic lectures are famous in the Arab World”.

All books were removed from the ABFS website on October 29.

Assad, “Hitlerism” and “Homogeneous Society”

Samhouri said ABFS works for “a homogeneous society” in Sweden; a concept that is consistent with what Syrian President Bashar al-Assad presented in 2017

Assad had said: “We lost the best of our youth and infrastructure … but in return we won a healthier and more homogeneous society.” Palestinian public intellectual and author Azmi Bishara described the phrase as “explicit Hitlerism that proclaims genocide and displacement as an official doctrine of the Assad regime.”

Samhouri arrived in Sweden with her family escaping the Assad regime and later they obtained the Swedish citizenship.

But Samhouri’s past shows support for Assad. In 2005, she appeared in a pro-Assad rally in Damascus next to the far-right American white supremacist David Duke. At that time, Duke’s visit came a few months after Assad was accused of assassinating the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri. Duke said that the Zionists occupy many cities such as New York, London and Washington the same way they occupy the Syrian Golan Heights.

Duke was former grand wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, an American white movement of a supremacist fraternal hate groups, that believes in racism, anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism and incites hatred against homosexuals, and embraces neo-Nazism. These organizations use violence, terror and torture against their opponents.

Accusations

ABFS is directed by Hazem Abo Youness, Samhouri’s husband. Abo Youness is keen not to appear in the media since the beginning of the anti-Semitic book crisis, since there have been for years accusations of corruption against him and “Ibn Rushd”.

Abo Youness worked as a member of directors for Alseeraj for Health Care Development (AHCD) that was working in Syria. In 2018, AHCD issued a statement about corruption in donations sent to the Ghouta area. Executive Director of AHCD, Fuad Abo Hatab, accused the board of directors of “corruption and running the organization like a family business”.

Hazem Abo Youness, a study advisor at Ibn Rushd

Swedish media regularly criticize “Ibn Rushd” which is keen to portray its work as merely educational. Last September, a joint article published in Expressen newspaper accused “Ibn Rushd” and its affiliated Islamic Swedish associations affiliated to it of defrauding the People’s Education Council (Folkbildningsråde), which is responsible for distributing governmental aid on cultural associations in exchange for organizing cultural and educational courses and activities. In article published in “Expressen” newspaper last September, the writers reported that “Ibn Rushd” defrauded Folkbildningsråde in order to collect money for fake activities, in addition to organizing anti-Semitic activities and events.

The article was written by Professor Magnus Ranstorp and analyst Beder Heelingren, both at the Swedish National Defense College, and Professor Aji Karlbaum from Malmö University. The writers asked, “Should we continue to spend millions on fraud cases, Islam and anti-Semitism?”

The article continued that the People’s Education Council “detected large cases of systematic fraud in most associations that provide educational services, and that cheating is a known reality”. The article added that “The Peopl’s Education Council failed in its mission to ensure the promotion of democracy in the projects run by Ibn Rushd” because “the association invites imams who are famous for their anti-Semitic statements and their calls for the slaughter of Jews”.

The article stated that Göteborg Municipality recently stopped its support for “Ibn Rushd” after it discovered that a Salafi mosque was one of its members and partners, and that one of its associations is also anti-Semitic. The article also indicated that a second association had hosted a preacher who urges the implementation of the death penalty for those who left Islam, and that a third association called for derogations to women’s rights. The article accused the Islamist organisationen Göteborg, Diyanet camii, to be a member of “Ibn Rushd”, and its mosque of being “arms of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan”.

“Ask him what have you achieved for Muslims [in Sweden]? Nothing! His belly and his money has increased. He changed his car, house and everything. Muslims only have not changed.”

Last September, Swedish media reported that several municipalities, including Göteborg, had stopped funding “Ibn Rushd”. And media outlets said that the association  “invited foreign representative figures who are anti-Semitic and incite hatred of women and homosexuals” and that two organizations affiliated with “Ibn Rushd” have “activities that do not comply with democratic values”.

“Ibn Rushd” receives most of its income from public funds. It received SEK 35 million (USD 4,022,567) in 2016. In 2015, it received SEK 17 million (USD 1,953,818) and the same amount in 2014. In 2013 and 2012, “Ibn Rushd” received a total amount estimated to be more than SEK 20 million (USD 2,298,610).

Criticism was not limited to the media but extended to Swedish mosque pulpits. Protesting against what he called corruption at “Ibn Rushd”, and in a video posted on YouTube on October 23, 2020, Sheikh Basem Dweikat, the imam of the Malmö-based AL-Sahaba Moské, said in the Friday prayer sermon in Arabic: “Go to Malmö Municipality and ask about each mosque… Look what its name is at the municipality. This [mosque] is called aktivitetslokal (rooms for activities), and this is called [for] activities, and this is called the association of so-and-so (…). And all of them sit under one umbrella called Ibn Rushd [Study Association], a charlatan and bluff who steals from the Swedish state in the name of Muslims, and after that he says I have many associations; and [in fact] they are mostly fake.”

Dweikat harshly criticised those who collect aid to orphans, needy ones and Syrian refugees calling them “scam and fraud”. “Have you met the poor people and they told you that you are our [legitimate] representative? Who are you to collect for the Syrians?” He asked. “Ask him what have you achieved for Muslims [in Sweden]? Nothing!,” Dweikat exclaimed. “[The size of] his belly and his money has increased. He changed his car, house and everything. Muslims only have not changed.”

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