When is a "Little Bird" not a little bird?

Is sexual innuendo in traditional folk tales too much for Hamas to handle?

Published March 6, 2007 10:39PM (EST)

I know that we live in a country where the word "scrotum," used in a Newbery Medal-winning children's book, can spark national outrage. So let it not seem that I am criticizing other countries without recognizing the same problems in our own.

But still. Today the AP reports that the Hamas-run Education Ministry "has ordered an anthology of Palestinian folktales pulled from school libraries, reportedly over mild sexual innuendo," which the AP claims is "the most direct attempt yet by Islamic militants to impose their beliefs on Palestinian society."

The book is a collection of 45 folk tales narrated by Palestinian women. The story in question is "Little Bird," part of a chapter called "Sexual Awakening and Courtship." Apparently the story contains notes suggesting that the little bird is a "symbol of femininity and that sexual subjects are a principal source of humor in Palestinian folklore."

I'm not so into book censorship to begin with, but come on. We're not talking about Judy Blume's "Forever." In the American book ("The Higher Power of Lucky"), a rattlesnake bites a dog on its balls, and the book's protagonist pontificates on how the word "scrotum" sounds like something you'd cough up when you had a cold. Pretty sexy. And as for the Palestinian version, any kid who's getting her kicks from the folk tale section of the library needs an adult to take her by the hand and teach her how to look up dirty words in the dictionary.

Obviously, these two stories aren't entirely about the same thing -- among Palestinians, it's potentially a step toward Hamas imposing a hard-line interpretation of Islam onto Palestinian society as a whole. In America, it's our national terror that kids might learn that scrotums exist. But both, in my opinion, are still pretty dumb.

By Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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