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JustHere | November 16, 2017

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Censorship leaves QU English Lit students in the lurch

Censorship leaves QU English Lit students in the lurch

Maimoona Rahman, a Qatar University student, writes about how censorship affects students like her. She says, it’s by accessing university libraries at Education City that QU Lit students manage to complete their research and assignments.

This Fall semester, one ambitious instructor at Qatar University gave her English Literature Capstone students a list of Arab fiction books to read. All of these books are written by women, and most of these books, she told her students, would not be available in the university library. The librarians had told her these books were banned in many Arab countries, and hence, in QU, too.

English Literature students have it tough in QU: the library is a dry source of only a few classics, even fewer contemporary novels, and some books on theories. When the library was relocated to a new state-of-the-art building in early 2012, there was an expectation that English literature books would flow in from around the world. Unfortunately, only a handful did, which surprisingly included Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children.

The presence of Salman Rushdie in the library was not received well by a Biomedical Science student who posted an angry rant on Qatar University’s Facebook page calling Rushdie anti-Islamic and demanding the book be removed. However, few commenters agreed with her. Some said that the book in the library was not The Satanic Verses, and hence didn’t have to be removed, and others argued against censorship. Fortunately for many students, the book is still available.

…the collection of Arabic literature at her home was far richer than the one on a ‘double-sided bookcase’ in the library.

For many English Literature students who cannot access the books they want or need in QU library, the library in Georgetown University-Qatar offers some respite as it houses a large collection of books, and censorship is not an issue. One recent Qatari graduate and a current DFI employee said she did the research required for her Capstone at GU-Q library. “GU brings tonnes of books every week, and they regularly bring recently published novels,” she said. She cited as an example Craig Thompson’s Habibi, a graphic novel, with scathing representations of Arabs and Muslims. Although she did not like the book, she didn’t think it merited being banned.

GU-Q library also has many of the books in the Capstone instructor’s Arab fiction booklist, like Hoda Barakat’s The Stone of Laughter, a novel written from the perspective of an Arab gay man, and several novels by Hanan al-Shaykh that challenge traditional Arab-Muslim notions of female sexuality and gender roles. The library also has I Am You: A novel on female sexuality in the Middle East by Elham Mansour, a book that would never see the light of day streaming in through the aesthetically pleasing floor-length windows of QU’s new library building.

It’s not just English Literature that gets the axe. A second-year Chemical Engineering student says Arabic Literature suffers the same fate. While engineering books are excellent and diverse, Arabic literature books are not as diverse. “The titles are unheard of, and they do not change or challenge anyone’s thinking.” she said. She says the collection of Arabic literature at her home was far richer than the one on a “double-sided bookcase” in the library.

But she assumes this could be because QU is more dedicated to science and research than the arts.

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