Last Updated: Tue Nov 02, 2010 18:57 pm (KSA) 15:57 pm (GMT)

Dubai stages censorship debate after book row

The row started after reports said a "ban" had been imposed on a Geraldine Bedell novel
The row started after reports said a "ban" had been imposed on a Geraldine Bedell novel

The organizers of the first-ever international Dubai literary festival announced on Saturday they will host a debate on censorship, after a row last week over censorship and freedom of speech.

The Emirates Airline International Festival of Literature (EAIFL) faced an international literary storm last week after news that The Gulf Between Us, a romantic novel by Britain's Geraldine Bedell, was rejected by the festival.

Canadian Booker-prize winner Margaret Atwood as a result pulled out of the festival, but said on Saturday she regretted her decision, which she took based on the belief Bedell's book had been banned.

"Having leapt into this dog's breakfast, I have it all over my face," Atwood wrote in Saturday's Guardian newspaper.

 Having leapt into this dog's breakfast, I have it all over my face 
Margaret Atwood, author

She is now contemplating the idea of appearing at the event next Saturday through a video conference.

"I am delighted that Margaret Atwood has reconfirmed her support for ... the EAIFL at which authors from more than 20 countries will be present," festival director Isobel Abulhoul said in a statement posted on EAIFL's website.

The debate next Saturday will include a panel of international writers who will discuss the issues of censorship and cultural misconceptions about the acceptable limits of freedom of expression.

 It's not our policy to ban any book, unless it's crude pornography or its contemptuous of religion 
Head of the NMC Ibrahim al-Abed

It is a joint venture between EAIFL and PEN, the literary anti-censorship organization, of which Atwood is vice-president.

According to English-language daily The National, the decision to stage the debate followed pressures on the festival's organizers for excluding Bedell's book. A decision on which the government body, the National Media Council (NMC) had not been consulted.

The dispute started last Monday, after media reports said a "ban" had been imposed on Bedell's novel because it features a homosexual sheikh as one of the minor characters.

Head of the NMC Ibrahim al-Abed said the book had never been banned.

"It's not our policy to ban any book, unless it's crude pornography or its contemptuous of religion," he told Friday's edition of The National.

“Our country is known to be open. More than 70 per cent of the population are non-Emiratis. They are living freely and openly,” he added.

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