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Censorship in Saudi Arabia

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According to this article, "violin" "bliss" and other such words are very naughty and therefore not allowed by Saudi censors in Arabic publications for children. The article is not the result of a "Zionist" Islamophobic plot. Rather it was published in English at
http:// www.arabview.com/articles.asp?article=488, This is the environment of the Middle East.

We See Them, We Hear Them, but We Can’t Name Them

Lubna Hussain
Lubna Hussain is a Saudi Writer. She is based in Riyadh.

It is an extraordinary phenomenon really when you come to think of it. They accompany Muhammad Abdo in his highly acclaimed concerts internationally and underscore much of the dramatic overtures greatly popularized in the Arab community. People grow sentimental when they listen to their soulful strains at once reflecting and enunciating the pain in the voice of Umm Kulthoom and yet, they are not allowed to unveil themselves in the written word.

Schoolchildren in this part of the world are permitted to hear them, but they are denied the privilege of knowing what they are called, so they probably have to refer to them with more convenient pseudonyms such as “those wooden curved boxes with strings” or “those contraptions that people hold under their chins while they fiddle them with a bow”. So much simpler than using the actual expression that has been ascribed to them in order to denote their essential qualities.

By this stage, ladies and gentlemen, you must be curious to ascertain what could possibly be the offensive nature of this term. How can a musical instrument that is used so plentifully in every Arabic orchestra in the region be considered so subversive that it must be blackened from the textbooks of our children? Does the word “violin” really constitute such a threat to these innocent minds that it needs to be eradicated from all printed material available? Such was the exasperation that pervaded my mind when I flicked through a copy of my daughter’s French textbook and found a whole series of utterances obliterated out of existence by varying shades and intensities of black pen.

What’s more is that being naturally curious and inquisitive, children tend to miss the entire point of the lesson they are being taught in favor of trying to guess what lies beneath the careful board marker scribble. After all, what is concealed is infinitely more provocative, enticing and alluring than what is exposed. Tell a child that they are not supposed to look at something and their interest in the forbidden fruit grows exponentially. It is just part of human nature. Which is why children being creative in circumventing the strictures placed upon them by adults go to all lengths to determine what the sacrilegious word is, thereby entirely defeating the point of covering it up in the first place. Whether they are tantalized by the names of musical instruments once they uncover them, I very much doubt. I myself have never seen any child musing upon the licentious properties of a piano.

There are practices here that defy all logic. The words “violin”, “music”, “musician”, “demon” and “kiss” have all been subjected to the same cruel fate of the indiscriminate and peculiar vicissitude of our system of censorship. So whereas we are allowed to listen to music, kiss each other as a matter of due course according to our cultural norms, eulogize musicians as is clearly evident in any Amr Diab extravaganza and confront our own demons as per our religious requirements, we are to be devoid of being able to name any of the aforementioned and must engage in the pretense of not knowing what these things are even though we hear them and see them loudly and clearly.

I remember watching in stunned amazement a cartoon being broadcast on Saudi TV’s Channel 2 some years ago in which there was a scene with children opening presents around a tree and a old jolly portly man sporting a long white beard and a red and white suit being addressed eagerly by the assembled throng as “Father Bleep! Father Bleep!” (By default of our clever censors we are not supposed to know who he is, just in case you may have missed the point entirely.)

Having worked at the national radio station, I had become so disillusioned by the ridiculous restrictions placed upon us as broadcasters that I eventually gave up. We were allowed to play popular music but I remember being chastised once for the word “bliss” appearing in one of the chart songs.

“What’s wrong with that?” I argued in vain.

“No, no,” retorted the man responsible for screening the programs before they were deemed fit for transmission. “You can’t have bliss here on earth. Bliss only belongs in heaven.” What he meant to say was that although you can experience a state of extreme happiness and be flooded by a paroxysm of ecstasy, you are just not allowed to call it that. Makes perfect sense? Smile, you’re in Saudi Arabia. And so the words “dance”, “party”, “sexist” and a whole plethora of others are excluded from the permissible vocabulary of public service announcers.

Ironically enough, it is startling how quite lascivious double talk and other associated ambiguities escape the notice of lexicographic vigilantes. Messages that are far more damaging to the sight, hearing and sensibilities of the populous are freely circulated whereas innocuous words that have no hidden meaning are scrutinized and left unchecked.

Personally I wonder why it is that entire pages are ripped out of magazines and newspapers when they are all freely available unadulterated through the Internet. Somehow, the desecration of the written word is nothing short of abhorrent. In order to understand the world and participate freely in matters that are pertinent to us, there appears to be little reward in adopting our ostrich-like repose and burying our heads in the sand.

Having said all this, I am not against the concept of censorship especially with regards to certain undesirable aberrations that I firmly believe children should be shielded from. However, it would help enormously if the process was executed judiciously and with logic rather than in the haphazard and fruitless manner in which it is conducted in now. It is absurd that words such as “heaven” and “hell” are excluded from the national vocabulary but concepts such as wide-eyed inebriated drug-crazed teenagers annihilating their parents in cold blood are not.

And for those of you who would be interested in procuring an insight into the mind of a censor and require answers to questions such as why it is that Celine Dion’s picture on her CD has been rendered unfit for public consumption, there will be more on the corrupting nature of such lascivious thought inducing imagery and its drawbacks next week.

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