“America. Jesus. Freedom.” Those are the opening words in the comedy The Campaign. In Egypt, however, the translation of these words, along with other references to Jesus or anything related to religion, was removed.
Those viewing the film in Egypt who do not speak English, are told the opening line of the film is simply “America. Freedom.” Jesus is somehow left out.
Again, later in the film, when Will Ferrell’s character attempts to tell the Lord’s Prayer at a debate – and butchers it completely – the translation is gone, absent and not found.
This is normal, said one Coptic Christian filmmaker in Cairo.
“They censor all of this regularly because they believe it will offend and is an attack on religion, no matter what the context,” he told Bikyamasr.com.
In X-Men, when there is a discussion of “evolution” to mutants, the screen was void again of any translation.
“This is not necessarily the government. It could be the translation company censoring themselves ahead of time,” the documentary and feature-length filmmaker added. He asked that his name not be revealed due to contracts he has underway with the government.
What is a simple comedy film – the scene where Ferrell attempts to deliver the Lord’s Prayer is a riot, and should not be viewed as insulting Christianity.
Granted, in light of the recent unrest across the Islamic world over insulting faith, it is no surprise Egypt’s government would want to avoid any semblance of anti-Christian sentiments. But unfortunately this is nothing new.
Think back to V for Vendetta. That film had numerous segments of dialogue simply removed from translation for obvious reasons. The then-Mubarak government did not want anyone getting the wrong idea about how to overthrow a corrupt and violent dictator.
Not that it did any good.
What is sad about the failure to translate “Jesus” or scenes that have religious connotations are two-fold.
First, without the translation, Egyptians and other Arabic speakers will not see how Americans can make fun of their own faith. After the anger and frustration that the anti-Islam film – and yes, this is massively over the line into insulting and defaming – it would be a great way to show how Americans can also play off religion in a positive, albeit stupid and humorous manner.
And second, it sets a negative precedent that anything religious related could get the knife in the region. For cultural artists or filmmakers, this could lead to widespread censorship and lawsuits filed over any little jab at faith or religion.
Egyptians are smarter than the government and the censors give them credit. If they don’t want to watch a film such as The Campaign, they don’t have to, as a few people in the cinema didn’t, walking out mid-way through.
Let’s have the jabs at religion, as long as it is harmless and does not attempt to talk history or tenets.
(Joseph Mayton is Editor-in-chief of Bikyamasr.com, where this article was first published Sept. 30, 2012)