Jordanian Bookshop: We Specialize in Censored Books

The LA Times has a piece today about Sami Abu Hossein’s small bookstore in Amman, Jordan, dedicated to censored titles. And yet Abu Hossein is not at odds with his nation’s government, the Times notes, which has announced that it’s given up the business of censoring books.

The piece makes Abu Hossein seem like a bit of a prankster, although I prefer to give him the benefit of the doubt: If a father of five is trying to make his living by selling books, I have to assume that he loves the dusty things.

The L.A. Times article notes that the nation’s censor, Abdullah Abu Roman, occasionally stops by Abu Hossein’s bookstore, and that the censor recently announced in a newspaper article that: “stopping books from reaching the people is a page we’ve turned.”

However, what may be the case for books is not necessarily the case for all literature or information. Jordanian web magazine 7iber.Com still felt censorship sufficiently problematic to have started a discussion last month about “expression, censorship, and art.”

A recent academic survey of ninety-one bloggers in Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan found that 80 percent practiced some form of self-censorship. Nine out of twenty bloggers cited “political reasons and fear of state repression” as the reasons why they censored their own writings on politics. (More from 7iber.Com about Jordan’s online censorship. )

So, fine, that’s bloggers. But in 2008, a survey by Jordan-based Center for Defending Freedom of Journalists of the country’s media found:

94% of the surveyed journalists exercise self-censorship; 80% of the surveyed journalists said that they avoid criticizing the security services; 75% avoid criticizing leaders of Arab and foreign countries; 57% believe that criticizing the government is a red line; 56% do not tackle sexual issues in their writings.”

Also, any writer can still be brought in on charges of “lese majeste,” or insults to King Abdullah.

This “lese majeste” can be interpreted broadly, as Awen Al-Meshagbeh notes in MidEast Youth:

The Jordanian authorities have dictated that in order for Mr. [Salah] Momani to be removed from its blacklisted individual database, he has to stop his online critique of Jordanian political issues. which alas, he has done (, stop writing negatively and disparagingly about Jordan and its ruling elite – especially its corrupt and sycophantic politicians – and not engage in any activities that could be perceived as hostile (however defined) to his “majesty’s government”?

How does all this apply to literature? Whether or not books are still officially censored (and the LA Times piece would indicate that they are, in some ways, restricted) one imagines that a climate of censoriousness also impacts the freedom a literary author feels when she or he sits down in front of a blank computer screen, or a piece of paper.

In other censorship news, Egyptian satirist Bilal Fadl has been fined for “slandering” Islamic historian Sayyed al-Qemni.