In a break from normal transmissions, this post involves me sticking my head above the parapet and talking about ethics, loyalty and being part of the (children’s) book community.
Today author Jonathan Emmett and I are launching a social and environmental justice campaign to highlight concerns about the sponsorship of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai. The campaign encourages authors and illustrators who care about free speech, human rights and climate change to think twice about attending the festival.
The annual Emirates Airline Festival of Literature runs this year during early March. It has a particularly strong children’s programme, with around 40 children’s authors and illustrators attending, including many very high profile ones. The festival is sponsored by Emirates Airline which is wholly owned by the Dubai government, part of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The campaign encourages authors and illustrators to decline invitations to the airline’s festival because:
By publicly pledging their support for the campaign, authors and illustrators can send the message that:
There are many more details (including how to pledge support for the campaign), further references, FAQs and additional links at the campaign website http://eafolthinktwice.org.uk/.
If all this difficult politics hasn’t already turned you off and you’re still reading this post – thank you. Maybe you’re wondering why I’m involved with it, given that I’m not an author or illustrator and it’s taking place somewhere several thousand miles away.
It’s simple, really: the issues this campaign focuses on matter a great deal to me.
I want my children and all children to be able to read about people in all their diversity. I want writers and illustrators, whatever their personal background, be be able to create and inspire and tell us stories. I’m not happy playing lip service to, for example, LGBT rights.
All sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage is illegal in the United Arab Emirates and carries a penalty of “confinement for a minimum period of one year” (UAE Penal Code article 356). Penalties for homosexuality include jail terms and fines. Whilst there are no recorded cases of the death penalty being incurred for consensual anal intercouse, the UAE Penal Code is ambiguous as to whether homosexuality is punishable by death. [source].
I have read brilliant books written by people who happen to be gay. I have read amazing, life-changing books which include LGBT characters. Have you? What do you think about a government that punishes people who are gay? What would it be like for you and your kids not to be able to read books featuring a diverse range of characters, including LGBT characters?
I want my children and all children to recognise that we are all equal and worthy of dignity. Books such as Chris Riddell’s new Little Book of Big Freedoms featuring sixteen drawings illustrating the freedoms of the Human Rights Act are great for sharing together as a family, but I also need to show my kids that I walk the walk, and not just talk the talk and by voicing my concerns over the sponsorship of this particular book festival, I’m living by my values.
I want my children and all children to grow up in a world where the natural environment hasn’t been destroyed beyond all recognition by our selfishness. I believe climate change is the single biggest threat to all our lives and I endeavour to do what I can to minimize my impact on the planet.
Following the recent flooding in the UK, widely recognised as a symptom of climate change [source 1 2] many in the UK book community have rallied to support the bookshops who have suffered terribly as a result of flooding. This is wonderful and inspiring, but if we don’t address the root cause of such environmental disasters, don’t we undermine such support? Flying contributes massively to the release of CO2 (and other emissions) into the environment and yet it attempts to limit aviation induced CO2 were left out 2015 Paris Climate agreement. What this means to me is that we have to take individual responsibility, that we can’t rely on our political representatives (hah!), and consequently I have to take personal decisions which limit what I do. Just because I can fly, should I?
As it happens a few years back I was invited to attend and run workshops at a children’s book festival overseas but I turned down the opportunity because it would have meant taking a long haul flight and thereby doubling the amount of CO2 in the environment that year as a result of actions I’m personally responsible for (based on electricity use, gas use and other transport use).
I want my children and all children to be able to voice their opinions, even when they disagree with their grown-ups, their friends or the rules which govern different aspects of their lives. “Freedom of speech” can seem like a high falutin’ ideal which doesn’t really impact everyday life on the ground for many of us, but then think of the Charlie Hebdo events or the case of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi (would I continue blogging if I was threatened with flogging?). So very many in the book community have rallied to support the freedom of expression, and yet it is something denied to many in the UAE. Earlier this month a Palestinian man was sentenced to three years in prison after being found guilty of insulting the UAE on social media. I don’t often get political on twitter or facebook, but I believe we should all be free to do so.
Over the year’s I’ve been active in the children’s book community I’ve seen many examples of authors, illustrators and others in the community thinking of others and taking a stand on ethical grounds. I’ve seen boycotts of book awards because of their sponsorship, awards declined because of their sponsorship, huge fundraising efforts to support people in terrible situations (for example, Authors for the Philippines and Patrick Ness’s Save the Children Syrian Refugee Crisis fundraising), outcry at censorship of books and I believe the Think Twice campaign follows in this tradition. The book community is an empathetic, thoughtful community of which I’m proud to be a tiny part.
I believe the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature helps to give a sheen of respectability to an oppressive government and a company that is actively undermining critical efforts to tackle climate change. This is why I’m calling on authors and illustrators – who I respect, admire and hugely value – to think twice about attending the festival this year or in the future. It may well turn out that having considered the issues (invited) authors and illustrators still feel it appropriate to attend the festival and whilst I would disagree with them I hope that we can all agree that raising and discussing the issues around the festival’s sponsorship is a reasonable thing to do.
@EAFOLThinkTwice #thinktwice #EAFOL