Doha Debates audience reject Arab censorship of art


AMMAN — An audience at the Doha Debates has publicly expressed opposition to state censorship of the arts, still strongly enforced in the Gulf and the wider Middle East, according to a statement issued by the organisers on Tuesday.

In a live session where participants discussed a range of issues, including the frequent censorship of foreign films, 58 per cent of the audience voted in favour of the motion: “This House believes censorship makes a mockery of the arts”, the statement said.

Speaking against the motion, Iraqi American Nada Shabout said “local context and cultural sensitivity” had to be respected, especially in Gulf universities which had recently introduced classes in modern art, according to the statement.

“It reflects the needs of the audience,” added Shabout, director of the Contemporary Arab and Muslim Cultural Studies Institute at the University of North Texas.

Meanwhile, Peter Florence, British founder and director of the Hay Festival which showcases writers from around the world, argued that censorship does not work, the statement said.

“You can kill the artist,” he said. “But you cannot kill the art. It survives in the public imagination.”

“Censorship does not make a mockery of the arts. It brutalises the arts…and worst of all, it is murderous!”

Arguing for the motion, Syrian American Malek Jandali, who received the 2011 Freedom of Expression Award said art was about life. Anyone banning it was hindering progress, according to the statement.

He strongly rejected the argument that censorship protected people from inappropriate images. “Nature knows no indecencies,” he said. “Indecencies are only in the mind of people. We invented them.”

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