On Censorship

I’ve always been curious about the apparatus that makes book censorship possible, so I avidly read Youssef Aït Akdim’s article in Tel Quel magazine on “The Forbidden Books” in Morocco. There is apparently an office in the ministry of communications (sic) called the “service for foreign publications.” All distributor requests for book imports have to transit through this office.

If a book title is deemed suspicious, either because “it is suspected of sedition” or deals with a “sensitive subject,” the office requests a copy and an employee reads it and files a book report. The report is then turned over to the head of the office, who turns it over to the director, who turns it over to minister, and so on. According to the article, there is rarely an official decision, because once paperwork gets delayed a few times, the distributor gives up. But what about books that are published locally? The article doesn’t say.

Among the novels that have been censored in Morocco, at one point or another, the magazine lists: Mohamed Choukri’s For Bread Alone, Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, and Tayib Salih’s Season of Migration to the North. In non-fiction, the list is much longer and includes Stephen Smith’s Oufkir, un destin marocain, John Waterbury’s The Commander of the Faithful, and Moumen Diouri’s A qui appartient le Maroc?

On a related note, J.M. Coetzee delivered a speech at the University of East Anglia on the subject of censorship. Writing under the threat of censorship, Coetzee said, is “like being intimate with someone who does not love you.” I wish the talk had been made available online, but in the meantime, one can always read the short piece in Granta by Simon Willis, who was in attendance.

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