[UPDATE] Stifling a nascent literary scene: Permission denied for sale of a novel set in Qatar
Loves Comes Later, a novel set in Qatar and the UK, has been denied permission to distribute locally by the publications department of the Ministry of Arts and Culture.
Speaking to JustHere Oussama Hamad of Family Bookshop, a distributor who was trying to acquire permission to distribute the book, said there was no communication in writing, and they were told verbally that the book was ‘banned’.
The novel, first launched as an e-book, was subsequently published in the US. However, a permit is required for distributing it locally. The plot is a love triangle between two Qatari cousins who are engaged to each other, and the friend of the fiancee. It also gives some interesting insights into the lives of Qatari families, but has little by way of controversial revelations.
The author of the book, Doha-based Dr. Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar, in a note to media persons says she has been pursuing officials at the Ministry for a few weeks now, trying to get clarity on the process. “I was told ‘this book is about Qatari culture and so will take extra time’ by the screening officer. I also explained during this conversation that I would like the opportunity to review what changes they might like and would consider issuing a Doha edition if there was anything deemed unsuitable in the book.”
The paperback edition of the book, printed in the US, requires a separate distribution licence for Qatar.
The publications division does not issue a communication while barring or cancelling licences, an issue faced by JustHere when the print licence was withdrawn without giving a reason, in writing or otherwise.
Another distributor confirms this. He told JustHere that the publications division does not put down in writing any rejections, and hence as per official records there is no ‘banned’ list. It is more censorship by omission, where distribution permits are not given, but not the reason behind the decision.
Though Qatar has played host to controversial art by international artists, it has been far more stringent with local endeavours. Cinema censorship has been a contentious issue for long, and last week a gag order was placed on local media outlets on writing about the restaurant blast. Last October, Qatari poet Mohammed Ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami has been sentenced to 15 years in prison for ‘inciting a revolt’.
Qatari author Sophia Al Maria speaking to JustHere, had this to say about literary censorship.
“I haven’t read Love Comes Later. I’m sure it’s great. But I think there are sensitivities around observational fiction written specifically to give ‘insights’ into a culture. It’s problematic when there have been so many ‘behind the veil’ books in the Gulf. Unfortunately that genre of book often depicts society in black and white strokes using anecdotal stories as the rule. Then you end up with misconceptions and misunderstandings.
“That said I don’t think there is any excuse for literary censorship when things like Saw are on TV and GTA is being played in so many homes in Qatar. There are a precious few people in Doha who actually read novels so I don’t understand why books are a considered such a threat,” she adds.
Her memoir The Girl Who Fell to Earth was published by Harper Collins in 2012, but hasn’t been released regionally yet.