Can Books Serve as Cultural Ambassadors?

That’s what Publishing Perspectives asked yesterday: Can books change the reputation of a nation? Can their “soft power” shift international perceptions of a nation?

PP is writing here about LéaLA, a Spanish-language book fair that aims to change (stereotypical) perceptions of Mexico. But the same has been said of book fairs in Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, and Dubai, and of the four-year-old International Prize for Arabic Fiction, all sponsored by Emirati money.

Of course, Arabs have long been aware of this sort of “soft power.” Having al-Mutanabbi on your side was, after all, a good thing.  And, on a grand scale, mass cultural production surely equals power. But, on a smaller scale, who controls these poets and novelists? Who’s to say that they won’t shame your country, open closets, dig up skeletons?

I doubt this is the sort of ambassador Bashar al-Assad wants:


Partial translation of “Statement No. 1” from an LA Times blog.

Commentary from Mideast Youth.