Censorship in Qatar: Still One Book at a Time

At the beginning of this month, the first Qatari writers’ symposium at Katara discussed challenges being faced by Qatari writers. The blander topics of a “lack of support” and high cost of publication received the bulk of coverage, but the problem of censorship was also (briefly) noted:

One of my photos from the 2010 Doha International Book Fair.
One of my photos from the 2010 Doha International Book Fair.

In one sense, it’s hardly an under-the-carpet sort of problem: Muhammad al-Ajami, imprisoned for 15 years for his poetry, is internationally known. And the censorship department’s tedious book-by-book approach is well-documented, for instance here  and here. Even if a book has been approved for sale in Qatari Bookstore X, that doesn’t mean it can be sold at Qatari Bookstore Y, until the censorship office has (again) given its high-five.

Yet, in the most important sense, censorship — in Qatar as most elsewhere — is a no-comment zone. As Doha News noted in a recent report: “the majority of requests for comment [about censorship] from Doha News to publishing houses, libraries, academics and book retailers over the past week have so far gone unanswered.”

And when Maimoona Rahman, a Qatar University student, wrote about how literature censorship affected students during the debate over literary censorship at QU, she didn’t — for instance — mention the names of censored titles. QU’s administration responded to the flap by promising tighter censorship of university-library titles.

If Qatar aims to become one of the new capitals of Arabic culture, as they apparently do — with details of a new $200K lit prize forthcoming in March — then there (obviously) needs to be more than the promised “streamlining” of the censorship process.