Absurdity v. Absurdity, or: How to Fight the Lebanese Censorship Bureau

MARCH continues to troll Lebanon’s censorship bureau with frustrating and funny results:

BANCENSORSHIPAuthors have long turned censorship into absurd or absurdist art: Nihad Sirees’s Silence and the Roar, Sonallah Ibrahim’s The Committee, George Orwell’s 1984, and many more. Lebanon’s anti-censorship “MARCH” organization has taken it to a new level of performance art, ingeniously trolling the country’s censorship committee with Lucien Bourjeily’s play about the activities of the censorship committee (censored), followed by a play about the censorship committee’s censorship of Bourjeily’s play (permitted!).

But MARCH didn’t stop with this small victory. About a week ago, they announced:

MARCH NGO submitted a series of play scripts to the Censorship Bureau at General Security. These scripts were based on articles, blog posts, and TV shows that dealt with “controversial” topics in Lebanon – ‪#‎sex‬, the civil‪#‎war‬, ‪#‎religion‬, ‪#‎homosexuality‬, ‪#‎child‬ ‪#‎abuse‬, ‪#‎politics‬, ‪#‎Zionism‬, and more.

Articles by feminist journalist Joumana Haddad, satirist Anthony al-Ghossain, and blogger Sadika Kebbi provided inspiration for MARCH’s plays on sex and politics. Al-Jadeed’s show Chi.N.N formed the basis for our scripts on politicians and Lebanon’s civil war. This content continues to be readily available online and has not been subject to censorship.

Yet MARCH’s scripts – based on the exact same content – were banned. As a response to the Censorship Bureau’s decision, MARCH has begun the appeal process.

You can read the full press release on MARCH’s website.

One of the hallmarks of censorship in Lebanon — as across the region — is that it’s not transparent. It’s difficult to know what’s been censored and why, and this unpredictablility is part of the censors’ power. (Why did Egyptian censors confiscate The Mabrouma, by Rabee Jaber, which is basically an excerpt of Jaber’s “Arabic Booker”-longlisted The Birds of Holiday Inn, already circulating freely around Cairo? Why did Kuwait’s book fair put Ibrahim Aslan’s beautiful domestic drama, Two Bedroom Apartment, on its banned list?)

So — if we believe MARCH, and there’s no reason to think we shouldn’t — Lebanon’s censorship board was able to ban the scripts and then claim that MARCH was lying about it. MARCH activist Gino Raidy wrote over on his blog:

However, the bureau has stooped to unusual lows this time after our most recent experiment. We got together a bunch of scripts and op-eds from popular TV shows and websites and newspapers in Lebanon, and put them in play-format and submitted them to the bureau, to see if they’ll ban something that’s already public. They did, completely. And after 90 minutes of back-and-forth, the bureau chief said it was fully banned.

When we started mounting our campaign to demonstrate how absurd censorship is, the higher-up in the GS’s censorship bureau called us liars, saying that they didn’t ban it, that they just wanted a few words removed. How was it possible to do that? They never give you a paper to prove anything, they just inform you “orally”. The same thing happened when they refused to renew one of our members’ passports to punish him for writing our first banned play, which after the intervention of the Ministry of Interior, was rectified and this absurd “ikhda3″ (submission) tactics made a thing of the past, hopefully!

Lebanese security clearly take MARCH seriously, as they went so far as having their own “literary critics” dismiss Bourjeily’s earlier play. But MARCH aren’t going to be dismissed so easily.

Yesterday, MARCH announced on Facebook:

MARCH and SK_Eyes are ready to appoint legal representation and cover all the expenses if you are ever targeted for something you said, wrote, filmed, recorded or published online. We can’t be expected to tell the Lebanese people to speak freely and unabated, without making sure if the government or those controlling it for their special interests, you are fully protected and represented by some of the country’s foremost legal minds.

So, ma tkhafo min el 7orriye, khafo 3laya!