Iran: Report about art and censorship in Iran



Report about Iran’s rampant censorship on art

“Artists self-censor in fear of risking harassment, arrest, flogging, or worse still, imprisonment,” states a new report about art and censorship in Iran. Also, a new magazine about human rights in Iran writes: “Censorship and self-censorship in Iran have reached their highest level”

On 27 September 2006 the independent human rights organisation Article 19 launched its new publication ‘Unveiled: Art and Censorship in Iran’ which expresses deep concern about the rampant censorship within Iranian society.

“The culture of censorship has blurred the line between what is imposed by the State and what has become inherent to society itself. This has resulted in the powerful exercise of social censorship, as well as self-censorship of and by the artist,” said Article 19’s Executive Director Dr. Agnes Callamard at a launch event for the publication.

    “Once indoors, veils can be discarded, rap, rock and pop can be blasted from stereos, hips can sway, banned poetry can be recited, prohibited literature read, forbidden films watched and art of any kind, can adorn the walls. But even these private expressions are not immune from the regime’s watchful eye.”

    Quote from the report

The report illustrates the ways in which artistic censorship in Iran both shapes and is shaped, and it demonstrates where the focus of the conflict lies between the Islamic Republic of Iran and individual expression. Insights from first-hand interviews conducted by Article 19 are combined with statements from Iranian artists such as the Trash-metal band Explode, the singer Gissoo Shakeri, and the musician Nassir Mashkouri as well as analyses of an array of secondary-source commentaries.

    “Control of the arts in Iran is a multi-layered affair, with artists facing a long sequence of hurdles, designed to censor and suppress artistic endeavours at every turn, to filter art that is not deemed consistent with ‘Islamic values’.”

    Quote from the report

New magazine

A new bi-monthly online magazine, Gozaar, which aims at providing Iranians with a forum for discussing democracy and human rights, supports this view point:
“Today, censorship and self-censorship have reached their highest level in the post-revolutionary Iran,” Eisa Saharkhiz is quoted as saying in an interview in the first issue of Gozaar about freedom of the press. The article is entitled ‘Unprecedented Levels of Censorship in Iran Today’.

Endure and transcend controls
The Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979 sought to sound the death knell for all forms of artistic expression. Dance was banned outright and other art forms such as music, theatre and cinema were all required to submit to the watchful eyes and firm hand of censorship of the Supreme Cultural Revolution Council.
Even so, states the report, in spite of the mechanisms through which censorship is exercised and the myriad number of difficulties artists face in Iran, the rich artistic and cultural heritages of Iran has managed to endure and transcend these stringent controls.

Read more
Here is an excerpt from Chapter 8 in the report which is about music in Iran:
‘Suffocating musical expression’

About Article 19
Article 19 is an independent human rights organisation that works around the world to protect and promote the right to freedom of expression. It is based in London and takes its name from Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees free speech.

About Gozaar
Gozaar (which means “Transition”) is published by Freedom House – an independent, non-governmental organisation that supports the expansion of freedom in the world. It is funded by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, under its Human Rights and Democracy programs, as well as private sources, and based in USA. The magazine is published in both Persian and English.

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‘Unveiled: Art and Censorship in Iran’

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‘Unveiled: Art and Censorship in Iran’

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By Mr. Noam Ben-Zeev, Israel.
Music Critic & Journalist at Haaretz Daily. Also a Lecturer at Alon School for the Arts & Sciences.

A new wave of the bitter debate, whether the music of Richard Wagner should be performed in Israel, has started again in the past few weeks in Israel. Its beginning was in April, when the Israel Festival — the most prestigious venue of art and culture in the country – declared it was going to give a Wagner performance. This would be the first ever production of a whole act of one of Wagner’s music dramas, “Die Walkuere”; and the performers were to be the hottest names in the field: tenor Placido Domingo, conductor Daniel Barenboim, and the orchestra of Statskapelle Berlin.

However, the opposition to the performance started to get louder and louder, and the Festival backed up and is trying now to find a substitution for the concert, due in July, although it is nearly sold out more than a month ahead.

The “pro and contra Wagner” debate here, going on since 1938, is multifaceted and charged with much emotion. As is known, Richard Wagner was an extremely important figure in propagating modern anti-Semitism; he became an emblem of the “Eternal” Germany and was made a symbol by Nazism — Adolf Hitler being his greatest admirer; and for the survivors of the Holocaust and the next generation after them he stands for the horrors done to the Jewish people. Nevertheless, there are many who favor his music to be played here (Mr. Barenboim the most known of them).

They base their case on several arguments: that the creator should be separated from his creation; that freedom of speech must prevail, and no ban should be put on works of art; that it is a hypocrisy to use German goods like Volkswagen cars, to accept the billions of German Marks as compensation, and yet shut Wagner up; that music, as all works of art, cannot carry immoral Fascist values; that Wagner was not the only anti-Semite of composers, and we cannot single him out; that his music is too important for orchestras and audience alike not to be performed; that playing him in the Jewish homeland is not a submission but a great victory over National Socialism; that the Nazis themselves banned his “Goetter Daemerung” after the Allies broadcast it to them on the radio to demoralize them and hint of their coming downfall; that those who don’t want to listen can refrain from buying tickets; and finally: that this ban is but a tool in the hands of politicians and right-wing reactionaries, who couldn’t identify the simplest phrase of Wagner, have never heard his music, and oppose it cynically in the name of the Holocaust for their own unholy purposes.

On the other hand, the opposition to Wagner says that not every ban is a shame, and not all expression is freedom of speech; and that the issue is very simple. As long as there is genuine suffering in Israel, which is the shelter Jews found after the Holocaust, of this music, it should not be played in public. They point to the authentic horror the survivors feel of this music which has become the great symbol of the mechanism that massacred millions and wiped out a whole civilization: the European Jewish civilization. The opposition to Wagner shows how the roots of the barbaric culture that brought the disaster are evident in the composer’s work. It argues that it is not Wagner the man, nor even his ideas, that are troubling — but the spirit of his creation. That’s why it is irrelevant to compare it to “German goods” — because Wagner is in the spirit, not the matter. The ban is not a ban at all, they say, as it sprung from underneath and was never official nor put from above by laws or regulations: it is the utter refusal of the massacred to adopt his murderer’s cultural values. So this refusal must be honored, as it reflects a genuine feeling of suffering and despair still prevailing among many.

The festival has asked Mr. Barenboim vaguely if he thought a replacement should be found, but Mr. Barenboim answered he was not the one to decide, as it was the festival who approached him in the first place and now its managers are the ones to make the explicit decision whether they want to go on with the original plan or not. So this round of the debate is in stalemate at present. Meanwhile the newspapers are full with articles and letters to the editor discussing every day this painful subject.

By visiting the following websites you can read a lot more about Israel and the Wagner issue:

Jerusalem Post
Haaretz Daily online