Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Not Reading Lolita in Tehran

In a January 6 piece for The Observer, Iranian literary critic Saeed Kamali Dehghan reveals the disastrous impact that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Islamic Cultural Revolution is having on Iran's publishing industry:

There was a time when great Persian poets such as Hafez, Rumi or Khayyam were present in people's daily lives, permeating their speech even in the very rural regions, but now books scarcely figure in a country once recognised by its literature. Today, you are unlikely to see signs of literary life in Iran. Writers face immense challenges in getting their works read. Crackdowns imposed by Ahmadinejad's government have plunged publishing into crisis.

'They [the governmental authorities] have not only made the publishers stop working, but also have put writers in a situation in which they have no inclination to write,' says Mahmoud Dowlatabadi, author of the Persian 10-volume bestseller Kelydar, who refuses to give his next book to a publisher as a protest against the government's clampdown.

After the 1979 Islamic revolution, the government imposed strict rules on book publishing. Since then, the Ministry of Culture has been charged to vet all books before publication, mainly for erotic and religious transgressions. All books, including fiction, are required to conform to Islamic law.

Iranian literature showed brief signs of resurgence during the cultural thaw that took place when Mohammad Khatami became President in 1997. Khatami created a more open cultural atmosphere by allowing a huge number of books to be published. But the literary spring of Khatami's era was fleeting.

A new regime of censorship began when Ahmadinejad took office. The cultural ministry imposed rules requiring renewed permits for previously published books. As a result, many books have been deemed unsuitable for publication or reprinting.

A November 26 article from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty confirms the growing wave of book banning in Iran since Ahmadinejad became president and offers a more detailed look at the censorship process:

From the moment that Islamic Culture and Guidance Minister Mohammad Hossein Saffar-Harandi took office in 2005, the list of prohibited books in Iran started growing.

A quick look at the books on the list confirms that there has been an increase in the intensity and recklessness of censorship in all areas.

The wide range of the banned literature includes Persian classical literature and gnosticism, a wide array of academic university books, some of the best-known world literature, and books illustrating a number of famous people from the Islamic world.

In the two years since Harrandi took office, more than 70 percent of previously published books have been banned from being republished, even though each and every one of those books had initially been given permission from the pre-Harrandi Culture Ministry to be published the first time.

The Culture Ministry's "special examiners" have made decisions on the legitimacy of books based on the country's current political atmosphere and their own political, ideological, or personal interests. But their decisions have no basis in the law.

Because of this, prohibiting the publication of officially authorized books has also become a common phenomenon.

Both articles confirm that censorship and book banning are crucial elements of Ahmadinejad's project to transform Iranian society in accord with the totalitarian Islamist vision of Ayatollah Khomeini.


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