Kinan Azmeh on Historical Taboos

What’s your national taboo? Or, if you prefer, what’s the most striking European taboo?

I am not someone who believes in taboos in the first place, and I feel that it is my duty as an artist to challenge those whenever possible and expose them to the public as much as possible. Also I am not sure there should be a one national taboo for any culture. However, I do acknowledge that many taboos in the Arab world are religious ones or culturally associated with religious practices or understandings.  On the other hand, the most striking European taboo that I see – which is not only European but also American – is the whole discussion that comes together when discussing Israel's present and past. Even though it is a topic that has been discussed over and over among scholars, I do feel from many European friends a hesitation in discussing this in public and criticising Israel policies.

How can this taboo be overcome?

Taboos can be overcome as simply as any other thorny subject: by extensive discussions about the subject matter and about what makes it a taboo in some cultures and not one by others. Also by making a clear distinction between one's culture/associations/past and his/her thoughts as a free human being. Being a German, for example, should never stop an individual from publicly criticising Israel if she/he likes. This should come from a common belief that the freedom of thought should be sacred and protected from all sorts of censorships.  After all, taboos are mostly self-imposed, and act as one of the most terribly efficient forms of censorships.

If we could overcome the national taboo you identified ..... how would that impact the country?

I was once attending a "german cultural hour" presented by few german students from Columbia university. The "cultural" hour began by: As you know, we are not very proud of our past. My initial reaction was an absolute shock, are you not proud of Goethe and Beethoven? is it becoming a taboo for the germans to talk about their past without mentioning the disastrous WWII? I do believe that a healthy society is one able to acknowledge and learn lessons from its mistakes and past while building, improving, and feeling proud of its past achievements. 

What was Europe’s biggest learning moment? What should we do with what was learned?

WWII might be Europe's biggest learning moment, I am not talking about the war itself , but rather about the years that led to the war and what happened afterwards. From an outsider perspective, seeing the football "national" teams of Holland and Germany speaks volume of what Europe have learned and continues to learn.