Censorship has existed since the first book was created. Governments and officials all over the world have worked for centuries to suppress the minds of creative and influential people.
It is with great audacity that these creative and influential minds persist, for oftentimes writing as a profession can prove to be fatal in the Middle East. A recent Vice article provides several examples of writers who were persecuted for their craft, some of which included: The blind Iraqi-Persian poet Bashar Ibn Bourd who was thrown into the Tigris river for his promiscuous poetry in 784. Also, the British author Salman Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses caused Ayatollah Khomeini to issue a fatwa calling for his murder. Following fatwa summon, the book’s Japanese translator was stabbed to death. As the Arab uprisings came about, censorship of literature continued—the Bahraini poet Ayat al-Qormezi was imprisoned and tortured for reading a poem she wrote mocking the Bahraini regime during protests in 2011. More recently, author Karem Saber was sentenced to five years in prison for his collection of short stories in an Egyptian court this past June.
It is important to note that there is not necessarily any rhyme or reason for censorship. Sex, religion and politics create a loose trifecta of topics that provoke censorship. Nonetheless, there is no formula, and censorship varies from country to country. Frequently, leaders operate in such a way that their censoring seems enigmatic and unsensical. For example, over 400 books were pulled from Saudi Arabia’s Riyadh International Book festival in March, and officials still have not provided the public with any form of reasoning.
Be that as it may, some regimes are campaigning on the back of liberal review and freedom of speech. Iran’s minister of culture, Ali Jannati promised relax book censorship in line with the country’s reformist new regime. According to The Guardian, bookshops in Iran could soon be allowed to stock a wider range of titles after Jannati stated, “books subjected to censorship or denied permission to be published in the past will be reviewed again”. Similarly Jannati’s comments seem to echo president Rouhani’s remarks in an interview with CNN last month, “All my efforts are geared to ensure that the people of Iran will comfortable be able to access all information globally and to use it. There are large social networks at a global level around today. And I believe that all human beings have a right, and all nations have a right, to use them.”
In a similar spirit to Iran, readers and publishers are fighting back as well. Websites such as Kotobi.com and Jamalon are popping up all over the Internet where readers can find and download books that are banned in their country. Vice plays tribute to Banned Books Week and to the brave authors who challenge and continue to challenge censorship—to see the list click here.