Sunday, November 26, 2006

Iran's censorship of western books belies its own literary heritage, argues Azar Nafisi

While western governments are confused and obsessed with the threat of Iran's WMDs, the Islamic regime is facing up to threats of its own and increasing its repressive measures against workers, women, students, gays, minorities, and now publishers and writers. Western analysts might doubt the subversive influence of books, wondering how William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, Sadegh Hedeyat's The Blind Owl, Iraj Pezeshkzad's My Uncle Napoleon, Tracy Chevalier's Girl With a Pearl Earring or even Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code could influence politics in Iran. But the Iranian regime is well aware of the danger of works of imagination and thought, restricting them in the words of its minister of Islamic guidance and culture, to prevent the publishers from "serving a poisoned dish to the young generation".
But perhaps more dangerous than their enthusiasm for western books is the Iranians' affinity and close sense of identity with their own literature, especially works of Iran's classical poets, who for centuries have offered an alternative viewpoint to that of both absolutist kings and reactionary clerics. Over 700 years ago Omar Khayyam, a scientist, poet and atheist, wrote about the transience and fickleness of life and its remedy through wine and love; Hafez chastised hypocritical clerics who flog citizens in public and drink wine in private; Rumi claimed that for him it matters not where he worships - in a mosque, church or a synagogue.-Azar Nafisi is the author of Reading Lolita in Tehran (Fourth Estate £7.99)-

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