By Wassim Mroueh
BEIRUT: Arab writers, filmmakers and lawyers sounded off on censorship Friday during the conference, “Cultural Freedom in the Levant, Censorship and the Arab Spring Prospects,” organized by SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom.
During a session entitled “Why cultural censorship?” Lebanese writer Shukri Anis Fakhoury told the audience that his experience with General Security, which is responsible for censoring films, books and television in the country, had improved much since his first interaction with the body in 1987.
“From 2002 and onward, the General Security has experienced considerable maturity; only things banned by the law are not allowed to be mentioned, like attacking the president.”
Moderating the session was journalist Gisele Khoury, the president of the Samir Kassir Foundation. Khalil Mozain, a Palestinian filmmaker, Father Abdo Abu Kasm, president of the Catholic Media Center and Lt. Col. Elias Abou Rjaili on behalf of Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, the director general of the General Security, also attended.
Abu Rjaili declined to offer any remarks during the session, but did answer questions.
Asked by Khoury whether he supported censorship, Fakhoury said that “someone who censors the work should be more skilled than the one who produces it ... The question is, are they [General Security] more skillful than me to supervise what I produce?”
Abu Kasm argued that the Catholic Media Center does actively look for works to censor but does provide its opinion to General Security.
“We do not search for [films or books] and call for banning them. We get a letter from General Security, for example ... on [Dan Brown’s] ‘The Da Vinci Code,’ and we are asked to give our opinion about this book.”
“As a Christian, I do not accept it because it distorts all facts related to the Christian theology,” he said.
Abu Kasm acknowledged, however, that the entire world had become “open through the Internet.”
“[That’s why] we have been asking our Catholic schools, universities and congregation to raise the young people on the proper use of media outlets ... so that they know what to read and exercise self-censorship.”
An earlier session focused on the legal framework and mechanisms of censorship in the Levant, with lawyers from the region participating and Lebanese lawyer Sobhieh Jomaa moderating. Zeinab Ghonaimy, a laywer from Gaza, said that every time the political authority changes in Palestine, “a new basket of prohibitions is created to repress the will of people who oppose that of the political authority.”
“In Gaza, we do not have a single cinema [theater] ... anyone suspected of having an opinion or thought that might be in opposition to the current authority [Hamas] is questioned, arrested, investigated and banned from traveling.”
Jomaa outlined an example about censorship practices in Gaza Strip.
“In one of the universities in Gaza, students place at the beginning of the year their ‘porn cassettes’ in a box and get in return ‘non-porn ones.’”
“When I asked a student what ‘porn cassettes’ meant, he said those of [legendary Arab singers] Abdel-Halim Hafez, Umm Kalthoum and Fairouz!”