Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Censorship in Iran

Recently, I noticed this article about literature in Iran, especially that in translation. It is interesting to see how much censorship plays a role (presumably native literature is pre-censored). As described in the article, “The ministry checks manuscripts mainly for erotic and religious transgression. Today, if a novel has made it past the censors, most Iranians assume that it has been tampered with and that they are better off searching for the Shah-era edition or the bootleg film version. Even in fiction, all relationships must conform to Islamic law. In the most recent vetted edition of “Madame Bovary,” for example, Emma’s adultery is omitted. Characters in Western novels who drink Champagne or whiskey find themselves uniformly sipping doogh, an Iranian yogurt soda that has never made anyone tipsy.”

Personally, I think one of the great joys of reading literature is learning about other cultures and lifestyles. For example, I’d find it odd if the characters in a book that takes place in Iran were drinking Guinness or enjoying a Japanese tea ceremony, and not doogh. When books are censored and adapted in this way, it seems as though only the plot (or some portion of it) matters, and not the culture behind it, and that is a loss. Apparently, many Iranians are aware of this and that’s why they turn to bootleg movies instead.

In Iran, rather than deal with these issues, “some [publishers] have turned away from contemporary literature altogether. The Western fascination with Rumi, for example, has heightened the already enthusiastic interest in Iran, and publishers are putting out new criticism and fresh translations. “The Persian classics create fewer problems,” Mohammad-Reza Zolfaghari, an editor at the Chaveh publishing house, said.”

It’s obviously, and unfortunately, much easier to control new translations of appropriate classics than attempt to translate foreign texts (or movies) that might be challenging to the country’s (or the government’s) belief system.

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