Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Ban in Egypt in the Western Media

As you may be aware the issue over the the heritage series recently published in Egypt and a call from some prominent and conservative lawyers to not only ban the book but have the publishers arrested has resulted in worldwide media attention.  The media (especially in the West) loves a chance to talk about banning (especially in the Middle East) of anything. 

The reality of the situation anywhere in the Middle East is of course less black and white than is popularly imagined.  So-called "Islamists" are often generally painted as rabidly censorious men trying to ban everything, and while there certainly are some minor elements like this, there are like-minded conservative men (and women) with power in every religion and political background imaginable (consider how many books and other things (the ban on Ulysses by James Joyce for one, Lenny Bruce's jail time for another) have been banned or censored in the USA for example, where "free speech" is considered a sacred right). 

Any censorship (especially based on general abstractions like "immorality") is a serious matter to be sure but I would caution against blindly jumping on the anti-Islamist bandwagon too.  My own Arabic tutor in Damascus Syria who read the Nights in Arabic with me in the summer of 2008 was also an Islamic scholar, Quran teacher and Muslim.  He not only laughed at the relevant laughable parts of the Nights but also never glossed over any passages or censored anything (and openly did not think much of the Nights as a piece of literature or anything too).

(for more about the ban in Egypt on this blog click the 'censorship' label below on the right)

When The 1001 Nights is involved then the fireworks begin because the story collection is so well known around the world and so ingrained in cultures everywhere, especially in Egypt where one of the earliest Arabic printed editions hails from (Bulaq).

It's also a good opportunity for journalists to "creatively" use the number "1001" in their headlines.

("1001 Opinions over Arabian Nights," "1,001 arguments over 'The Arabian Nights'").

An aside:  it's curious and interesting how this group of lawyers is called something different in nearly every article (lawyers without 'restrictions,' 'shackles,' and 'borders' are three I've seen).


Here is the latest Western news with clips and links mainly from the UK, RFP and Canada:

BBC:  May 6, 2010:  "Egyptian lawyers call for Arabian Nights ban" - (radio interview with Egyptian author Alla Al Aswany who says:  "I believe that the culture in Egypt is too strong to be influenced by some fanatics like these people."

BBC:  May 5, 2010:  "Egyptian anger at Islamist call to ban Arabian Nights."

"Egyptian writers have condemned a call by a group of Islamic lawyers for the classic book Arabian Nights to be banned because it is "obscene".

The group, Lawyers Without Shackles, filed a complaint with Egypt's prosecutor general after the collection of folk tales was republished.

They called for the new edition to be pulped and the stories to be banned."


"But Writers' Union spokesman said the lawyers were behaving "like the Taliban".

"Those who want to destroy our heritage are taking the same path as the Taliban when they destroyed Buddha's statues," Mohammed Salmawy told the news agency AFP, referring to the destruction of the giant sculptures of Buddha in Bamiyan.

The book's publishers, the state-run General Organisation Cultures Palaces, said the republishing had been very popular and the print run had sold out.

"Egyptians are avid readers and they will not be influenced by a bunch of people who take advantage of Islam in order to suppress freedom," Ahmed Megahed, Chairman of the GOCP was quoted by Al Arabiya.

Arabian Nights, also known as The 1,001 Nights, is a centuries-old collection of Arabic and south Asian folk tales.

It includes the stories Sinbad the Sailor and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves."


from the Telegraph UK (May 7, 2010)

"Lawyers in Egypt call for Arabian Nights to be banned"


Times Online (UK) (May 7, 2010)

"Ban for indecency is new twist in tale of One Thousand and One Nights"

"The epic tale of One Thousand and One Nights may soon be banned in Egypt if a group of concerned citizens gets its way. A little-known organisation calling itself Lawyers without Restrictions recently filed a lawsuit calling for the iconic story collection to be confiscated and its publishers imprisoned.

The publishers, in this case, would be the Egyptian Government’s own General Authority of Culture. Efforts to contact Lawyers without Restrictions for comment were unsuccessful.

According to local press reports, the group’s lawsuit cites Article 178 of the Egyptian criminal code, which bans publication of material deemed “offensive to public decency”. Violations of that code bring a jail sentence of up to two years.

If successful, the action will deprive Egyptian readers of one of the most enduring cornerstones of ancient Middle Eastern literature. A hodge-podge collection of stories dating back as far as the 10th century and drawn from Arab, Persian and even Indian folktales, One Thousand and One Nights has no single author and no one definitive version. The tales are framed as a series of bedtime stories told to the King Shahrayar by his new wife Scheherazade. The bloodthirsty king was in the habit of marrying a new woman every night, then executing her in the morning.

But the crafty Scheherazade avoids this fate by telling her husband a series of stories. The nights usually end with a cliffhanger, leaving Shahrayar unable to carry out the death sentence if he wants to hear the ending. She is able to string out her storytelling for more than three years.

Many of the tales certainly do contain aspects that would be objectionable to readers with delicate sensibilities. These include plenty of Canterbury Tales-style bawdiness, including premarital and extramarital sex.

“There’s lots of sex and some of it is quite descriptive depending on what version you get,” said a Cairo-based professional translator."


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