Speech by André Gaspard, co-founder of Saqi Books (Dar al Saqi), introducing Unspeakable Love in Beirut, 5 April 2006.
If I may start by saying that if there was any doubt about the necessity of a book such as the one we are celebrating tonight, your presence in such a vast number is enough proof of that. Thank you all for coming.
Brian Whitaker’s new book is indeed necessary; it is the first of its kind in any language; but it is also important by its content; it provides accurate, undistorted information about how it is to be gay or lesbian in the Middle East today; it also puts in perspective the backwardness and hypocrisy of our societies by offering numerous comparisons with other times and other places. But what impresses me most is Brian’s optimism and humanism, which shine through every page of the book.
We obviously hope that Unspeakable Love will be a great success. However, at the last Frankfurt book fair, we had decided to make a big splash about the book, giving it a high exposure. We had meetings with distributors and wholesalers from many countries including Turkey, India, Pakistan and Malaysia.
As they were going through our catalogue, and once they realised what the book was about, most of these people would quickly flip the page and move to something else. Although I knew what was going on, I made a point to say: “Sorry, you skipped a page”, and they would go “No, no, no, no ...”, in a very awkward way. So it seems that Unspeakable Love will not be doing that well in these countries, not because there is no demand for such a book, but because the people who are responsible for promoting the book and selling it there are personally uncomfortable with handling a book about homosexuality.
Nevertheless, the book will be read in Europe and North America. And no doubt that many Arabs living or visiting there will want to read it. This is very good. But what is much more important to us is that people residing in Lebanon and the rest of the Arab world itself have access to the book. To this effect, I am pleased to announce that Dar al Saqi will be publishing an Arabic version of the book, hopefully before the end of this year.
We hope that the book brings added resilience to gay and lesbian people, especially those who are experiencing loneliness, or are facing up to their government, their media or members of their own family. Equally, we hope that non-gay people who read the book, if they are prejudiced, that they might become less prejudiced as a result, and in all cases, that they are helped in fighting the prejudices of others.
I, like many of you, I’m sure, believe that the time to speak up is now. And we need to speak up louder and louder until we break this huge wall of silence that is suffocating us all. I take this opportunity to salute Helem and their magazine, Barra, for the excellent work they are doing, for their vision and their courage. Long may they continue. But it is only the beginning. More books need to be published, more magazines, more associations, more newspaper articles, more internet sites ... until such time when our sexuality is no longer ruled by law, by religion or by twisted morality.
I would like to end by saying that every so often a book comes to a publisher that makes our job truly worthwhile. This is such a book.