Boycott Dubai: Literature, Censorship and Homophobia in the Gulf

Several news outlets this morning carry the story of British author Geraldine Bedell being banned from the Emirates Airline International Festival of Literature in Dubai because of the depiction of a homosexual relationship in her novel The Gulf Between Us, and possible queries about its stance on Islam.

[Multiple updates with response from the festival and partners, and some authors pulling out (appended below).]

The Telegraph quotes festival director Isobel Abulhoul saying that “I do not want our festival remembered for the launch of a controversial book. If we launched the book and a journalist happened to read it, then you could imagine the political fallout that would follow. This could be a minefield.”

MSNBC reports that festival organizers complained that “it talks about Islam and queries what is said.”

The New York Times quotes Bedell’s publisher, Juliet Annan, saying: ”It’s all very unfortunate. In effect the censor has said they will ban it, which means no book chain can buy it.”

The Dubai Festival calls itself “the first true literary Festival in the Middle East celebrating the world of books in all its infinite variety” – a shocking claim to be making when it in fact singles out and censors books whose variety it finds it impossible to confront. There is no place for censorship in literature, or at any “true” literary festival.

The festival claims as attendees the writers Anthony Horowitz, Kate Adie, Chimamanda Adichie, Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Lauren Child, Terry Brooks, Alexander Maitland, Kate Mosse, Brian Aldiss, Robert Irwin, Rachel Billington, Frank McCourt, Sir Mark Tully, Wilbur Smith, Anita Nair, Victoria Hislop, Philippa Gregory, Margaret Atwood, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Karin Slaughter, Louis de Bernières and a host of others. It is sponsored by Emirates Airlines, and partners include Time Out and the British Council.

I urge you to contact these individuals and organisations and express your dismay at the actions of the festival, and urge them to either boycott the festival, or engage with the organisers and insist that work invited to the festival is not censored in this way.

Let’s be entirely clear about this: the suppression of literature leads to the suppression of people. Article 177 of the Penal Code of Dubai imposes imprisonment of up to 10 years on consensual homosexual relations, which is regularly enforced (see Wikipedia article). Oppression is a result of ignorance, and literature can be one of the great forces to bring understanding and the ending of such oppression. Authors, journalists and all lovers of literature should see it as something to be supported, argued over, but never suppressed.

After the jump, I’ve provided contact details for those listed above. Please consider contacting them.

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Posted February 17, 2009 | Comments (3).
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