UAE book award rejected by prominent German academic

Sheikh Zayed Book Award board of trustees expresses regret after Juergen Habermas’s decision to not accept the award.

Internationally renowned German philosopher Juergen Habermas speaks to journalists at the Philosophical School of Athens in 2013 [File: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP]

Prominent German philosopher Juergen Habermas said he will not accept a high-priced literary award from the United Arab Emirates, reversing an earlier decision.

The 91-year-old, who is considered Germany’s preeminent contemporary philosopher, told the German news site Spiegel Online: “I declared my willingness to accept this year’s Sheikh Zayed Book Award. That was a wrong decision, which I correct hereby.”

In the statement, which his publisher Suhrkamp Verlag shared with Spiegel Online, Habermas added, “I didn’t sufficiently make clear to myself the very close connection of the institution, which awards these prizes in Abu Dhabi, with the existing political system there.”

The homepage of the Zayed Book Award said Habermas had been named “Cultural Personality of the Year 2021 in recognition of a long career that extends for more than half a century”.

It said the winners in each of the award’s eight categories are granted a prize of 750,000 UAE dirhams ($204,200).

The award is named after Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the first president of the UAE when the federation of seven emirates became a country in 1971.

‘Independent’ initiative

The award board of trustees expressed its regret over Habermas’s decision in a statement on Monday.

“The award embodies the values of tolerance, knowledge and creativity while building bridges between cultures, and will continue to fulfill this mission.”

While describing itself as an “independent” initiative, the prize is administered by the Abu Dhabi culture and tourism authorities.

Habermas’ influential writings on human rights, morality and democracy, among other topics, have stirred debate in Germany and beyond.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies