Margaret Atwood is protesting the censorship of a book by Geraldine Bedell by the Emirates and will not attend the Emirates Airline International Festival of Literature (26th February to 1st March 2009). The book in question: Geraldine Bedell’s The Gulf Between Us has been turned down for potential offence to “cultural sensitivities” due to its Gulf setting, its discussion of Islam and its focus on the Iraq war, as well as the fact that a minor character is a gay sheikh with an English boyfriend.
Bedell said on the Guardian’s books blog that the “blacklisting” of the book didn’t reflect public opinion in the Gulf states. “I’ve worked as a journalist in the Gulf, and I recognise what’s happening here: it’s a kind of self-censorship that’s terrified someone else – other people – might be offended, regardless of whether the material in question is really offensive at all,” she wrote. “Gulf Arabs are far more tolerant and accepting, diverse and argumentative than we in Britain (and their protectors in Ministries of Information) are inclined to give them credit for.” Guardian 18 Feb 2009
I often wonder about that. There is so much diversity here in Europe or in the US, and yet there are some rock-solid basic values that people come back to in times of stress. How big is the gulf between us and the Gulf really?
UPDATE: Rachel Billington, Vice-President of English PEN, has clarified that the book was not banned but was turned down when it was first submitted, and that she will attend. She writes: “The Air Emirates Dubai Literary Festival is the first literary festival ever held in an Arab country. It is a surprising breakthrough in an area better known for restrictions than openness. Probably for that reason, many distinguished writers agreed to attend. (…) After my initial concerns (about the book being turned down), I eventually decided that staying away was to close the door on an important engagement with writers and readers not usually available to the West, and I determined to go. My decision was helped by the news that the Festival is to stage an open East West Writers’ Forum which will have censorship as its theme.” (English Pen)