Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Few Nations Declare War on Books

Throughout the Ages, governments feared the written word not under their control. Today, Books still disappear and reappear as if by Custom's magic. Others have supreme court proclamations stating a book fair is a violation of human rights and causes pollution. Putting words together in a provocative manner has inspired and challenged authors from scribing in antiquity on precious papyrus to this current version of modernity where one reads on super cool electronic devices.

The Book of Laughter and Forgetting or The Unbearable Lightness of Being seems to have displeased critics in Egyptian officialdom. Seems literature geared toward women of the Gulf is what is making the hummus stick in the craw. Anything being confiscated from a government entity called the State Information Services is rich with irony.

Egypt is having the largest book fair, 40th Cairo International Book Fair in the Arab region. Egyptian customs agents took books hostage first, but later relented with a wide variety of books from Lebanese, Czech and Saudi Arabian writers arriving fashionably late for the opening of the book fair. The content of the books seem to be the issue as many of the authors do not shy away from tough subjects or strict rules that some would like to govern the publishing trade. Censorship and the tyranny of bungled bureaucracy plaguing weary writers rears its ugly head.
Germany's Al-Jamal publishers said the authorities had returned copies of Moroccan author Mohamed Choukri's "For Bread Alone," which contains references to teenage sex and drug use and is banned in several Arab countries.

Other publishers also said their books had been released from customs at Cairo airport.
Malaysia's Internal Security Ministry just outright decreed, then banned almost a dozen published books for misrepresenting Islam. The Quran Publications Control and Text Division made their findings in accordance to a 1984 law. Eight of the books came from the US publishers with the remainder published locally in the Malay language. Just under two thirds of Malaysia is Muslim. In Indonesia, the government or Administration of Central Jakarta is forcibly moving Senen's Kwitang book market that as resided in a slapdash manner since the 1960's to a more modern venue so they can tax the 300 vendors rather than unregulated the spirited bargaining and low prices for books that happens now.

In India, the venue for the 33rd Kolkata Book Fair was taken away by order of the Calcutta High Court for potential human rights violations and pollution after seven year court battle. Publishers from all over the world had shipped thousands of books, now with no certain place to display them for sale after the legal ruling. The Indian Army raised the biggest objections based on environmental concerns. The pseudo replacement fair was to be held in an urban setting amidst hospital and nearby university on the Park Circus Grounds called the Kolkata Maidan. The army is demanding the holes dug for structures be filled in - now.

With the fair this year cancelled at Park Circus ground, a symbolic fair was inaugurated by aggrieved intellectuals as city's literary patriarch Sunil Gangopadhyay hammered a gong and kicked start the event at the Maidan Wednesday, without any permission of the army.

Meanwhile, West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, an avid book lover, and Transport Minister Subhas Chakraborty are making last-ditch efforts in finding an alternative site for the book fair.

"It is totally unauthorised and acceptable. No permission was taken from us for holding the symbolic fair on the Maidan," defence spokesman Group Captain R.K Das said told IANS.

"We have sent a letter to the police and Booksellers and Publishers' Guild, the organisers of the Kolkata Book Fair, not to hold the fair on the Maidan," Das said.

Books that upset various Bureaucratic Powers that be enough to be hidden, found and scorned. From some of the affected authors, Milan Kundera and Mohamed Choukri.

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