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Book censorship, relic of past.

By Mike Derderian, Star Staff Writer Some fail to perceive that a book is far more dangerous than a loaded gun for it not only helps in altering ideologies, beliefs and minds but also deeply influences the lives of the people reading it. 50 years ago publishing a book would have been a strenuous task without the proper authorization of the Publications and Publishing Department (PPD), but a week ago the Minister of Culture Asma Khader announced that Jordan no longer has any kind of censorship on books and publications.As a result, the aforementioned department's responsibility was no longer restricted to giving the thumbs up or down for a book as much as it was about giving the go ahead for publishing it regardless of its content according to Mohammad Al Qdhah, PPD's acting general manager. "Unless it was offensive to religion and to our country's reputation and image then we have no problem in issuing a permit for it. The uproar regarding the recently confiscated books is not new," commenced Qdhah, "some of these books were prohibited years ago and the department did not confiscate them by any means. The department had not confiscated a single book for the last four months."Under the recent directives of the government, according to Qdhah, the PPD's role is no longer that of a censor. "We now are part of the standard mechanism and abide by the old publication laws in Jordan until new laws are implemented," added Qdhah, "We are here now to assist a person who wants to publish books. It is all now a routine procedure, we register information related to the book before we send it to the National Library, and issue a publishing permit for it because a publishing house wouldn't print it without a paper from us."Qdhah says that no one is against progress and freedom, however, one has to take into consideration of his society. Referring to a book published in the year 2000 by a poet, who addresses God and accuses him of being blind, Qdhah said that PPD asked if the poet could reduce the harshness of the image he created but he refused. "We discovered that he published it without the requested alterations. A religious person read the poem and during a sermon he accused the poet of being blasphemous and demanded legal action against the poet," explained Qdhah, "we took no action against him; however, he ended up facing legal action by concerned parties." One book that belongs to Muthaffar Al Nawwab, according to Qdhah, was prohibited years ago because in his poems he explicitly swears and uses improper names to describe some Arab leaders. He further adds that some book dealers still smuggle his books and sell it in Jordan under the counter. A bookstore owner in Amman, who preferred anonymity, stated that anyone could find what he wants whether it was a sensitive book about religion, political poems or sexual material. "There is a poetry book written by Ahmad Matar that was recently removed from our shelves even though it had the National Library seal," stated the man, who added that it wasn't PPD that conducted the search and confiscation. Qdhah insisted that they no longer search libraries even if word came out that some kiosks and bookshops were selling smuggled books. "By law we don't have the authority to search libraries or send people out to the market to do so," Qdhah reiterated, "If there are any orders to confiscate books at the moment they are strictly related to intellectual property and copy rights and it is out of our jurisdiction. A person may file a complaint against another, and sometimes such complaints are motivated by envy and commercial rivalry among bookstores and kiosks owners.""Take for example the Da Vinci Code book that has caused a lot of controversy for the past six months. When we first received a list of book titles that included this book we gave permission for its circulation on the grounds that it is a literary book," said Qdhah, "In early 2005, we received a letter from a Jordanian bishop stating that this book offends Christianity and even Islam and that it should be banned. We did not stop its circulation in the Jordanian market but additional copies of this book were not allowed to enter the country.""Not everything written in books is necessarily true or accurate," added Fatenah Al Heyari, head of the book follow-up at PPD, "There was a request by a foreign institution in Jordan to import a book. After consulting with the proper authorities we came to the conclusion that it was offensive to religion; nevertheless, we allowed in 50 copies for the institution's own use only and not for sale."Heyari further added that she read an article that accused most "censors" of being biased and that they enforce their own culture, belief and religion on the reader by choosing books that suit their convictions. "This is incorrect and not realistic because we have a multitude of people working at the department belonging to different religions and cultures. For example: When I am reviewing a book by Nawal Al Saadawi, who is known for her extreme feminist ideas, I sometimes agree with her principles but I wouldn't allow that to influence my decision regarding her book," explained Heyari, "I work in accordance to our laws."The potent anger of some writers and publishers against the department--that was established in the 1920s--is probably attributed to its infamous reputation that dates back to the fifties and sixties. But according to Hassan Abu Ali, the owner of the Culture Kiosk in Downtown Amman, the practice of confiscating books in Jordan no longer exists. "At the time being, we don't have what you call confiscation of books; yet there were some harassments in the past. Books, magazines and newspapers no longer go through a tiring customs process but are directly shipped to the market," commenced Abu Ali, who was recently involved in a controversial story regarding the confiscation of books in Jordan.Abu Ali said that what happened was unintentional, "a workforce from the public security directorate arrived to my kiosk with a list of books they said are to be confiscated. I told them that the books they've requested have been available in bookstores and some kiosks for more than seven years."The books that were confiscated were by Ahmad Matar and Muthaffar Al Nawwab, in addition to the Da Vinci Code and a book about Profit Abraham; however, when the issue was resolved Abu Ali said that he was given a sum of money covering the cost of the books that were confiscated."During a patrol in Downtown Amman, a policeman noticed a suspicious book title, so he contacted PPD, which in turn informed us that three of the four books were prohibited," commented Major Bashir Al Da'ajah, the head of the information office at the Public Security Directorate (PSD), "As for the fourth book, it wasn't prohibited but they asked us if we could provide them with a copy of it for analysis in order to make sure that it would be channeled into the market properly."Da'ajah added that what the officers did falls under their lawful obligation to act in accordance to certain laws like the Jordan Penal Code, Rehabilitation Center laws, labor permits and the Publications law."The officers confiscated the books; however, when the director of the PSD intervened the whole issue was clarified." As goodwill gesture, the director, according to Da'ajah, visited Abu Ali and commended his efforts to spread culture over a period of 47 years and handed him a sum of money that covered his costs."PPD had nothing to do with the confiscation of the books and never tried to harass us," added Abu Ali, "Books should never be confiscated, but if you want my opinion anything that offends religion should be confiscated."Book censorship, relic of past

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Publication:The Star (Amman, Jordan)
Date:May 29, 2005
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