The question of censorship and its impact on the arts was raised at the Doha Debates, broadcasted live on BBC World News, where 58 per cent of the audience carried the motion “This House believes that censorship makes a mockery of the arts.”
State censorship of the arts is still strongly enforced in the Gulf and the wider Middle East. The rare display of frustration with the practice surfaced in a lively session as participants discussed a range of issues, including the frequent cuts made in foreign films shown here and the blacking out of bare female flesh in Western magazines.
A show of hands indicated that around a third of the mainly Arab audience still supported state censorship.
The debate was particularly topical as Qatar and other countries in the region focus on developing and investing in art, yet continue to practise censorship in a variety of forms.
In his introduction to the discussion, Doha Debates chairman Tim Sebastian mentioned the use of pens to black out images and films being cut in cinemas here, raising the question of whether these undermine artistic integrity and the expansion of art in the Middle East.
Speaking against the motion, Iraqi American Nada Shabout said “local context and cultural sensitivity” had to be respected, especially in Gulf universities which had recently introduced classes in modern art.
“It reflects the needs of the audience,” added Shabout, director of the Contemporary Arab and Muslim Cultural Studies Institute at the University of North Texas.
Meanwhile, Peter Florence, British founder and director of the Hay Festival which showcases writers from around the world, argued that censorship does not work: “You can kill the artist,” he said. “But you cannot kill the art. It survives in the public imagination.” (…) “Censorship does not make a mockery of the arts. It brutalises the arts… and worst of all, it is murderous!”
Arguing for the motion, Syrian American Malek Jandali, who received the 2011 Freedom of Expression Award said “art is about life.” Anyone banning it, he said, was hindering progress. He strongly rejected the argument that censorship protected people from inappropriate images. “Nature knows no indecencies,” he said. “Indecencies are only in the mind of people. We invented them.”
The Doha Debates – 21 May 2012:
Arabs reject censorship of the arts
Jordan Times by Rafiq A. Tschannen – 22 May 2012:
Doha Debates audience reject Arab censorship of art
Gulf Times by Peter Townson – 22 May 2012:
Censorship ‘a threat to the arts’