On 26th of January 2013, the Iranian news agency Mehr published an article under the title “Ayatollah’s guidelines on the upcoming Tehran Book Fair”.
Such “guidelines” are dictatorships’ metaphor for censorship and inquisitive practice. The three ayatollahs interviewed in the article have the position of “Mardja-e Taghlid” (source of religious imitation) in the Shiite’s hierarchy. Whenever in doubt in his daily practice, a follower is supposed to refer to his guide’s injunction. Only people who fear the freedom of expression and would blindly follow a leader may enslave themselves to a Mardja-e Taghlid.
Interestingly, the man in charge of the 26th Tehran Book Fair, Ali Esmaili, was interviewing the three ayatollahs; he is a high officer in the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, in charge of “spreading Islamic values”. In any democracy one would expect that such a man in charge of books would be defending freedom of expression. But then, we are in Iran, where more often than not, things are not what they seem to be.
The first interviewee, Ayatollah Djaffar Sobhani, has a website and also has joined Facebook. Reading the content of his website, I was not impressed by his open-mindedness. His declaration in Mehr’s articles would be amusing, if it did not affect book-lovers in Iran: “The books being exhibited should lead people to happiness and felicity”. Further, he insisted on complete supervision of all books: “No poisonous book should be presented to the public.”
My Dear Sire, someone that decides, even for my own sake, what poison to read or which venom to avoid, would be nothing but a despot. The guidance of Sobahni is good enough for the ignorant and those benefitting from the money that religious inanities generate.
The second interviewee, Nouri Hamadani, is a traditionalist and hardliner. He is a dedicated follower of Khomeiny’s line. Check his website and you will realize that he has his finger in every State’s pie with a noted preference for military matters, weapons, nuclear issues and other things.
His learned views on followers’ duties (Ressaleh Halolmassael) are available for our benefit. He has an opinion on many aspects of urine, sperm, menstrual discharge and corpses; hair-raising stuff for any scientist in the 21st century.
Nouri-Hamadani only believes in the legitimacy of Shiites, despising the rest of the world by calling them “enemies”. His hatred and vindictiveness is in line with the most right-wing nationalist dogma found in some democracies in the West. He cannot be bothered with trivialities such as a book fair. He is content to say: “The Ministry of Guidance has a difficult job ahead.”
The third interview was with Ayatollah Mokaram Shirazi. On his website he states his belief that “Western freedom of speech in a cause for disrepute and shame”. In one of his many messages to the universe, he writes: “If you think that great men in authority [i.e. ayatollahs] would back off from blasphemers like you, I must say that your dream is in vain because the extended spiritual link between people and the ayatollahs is an old one. No creeping actions of ignorance would alter it.” In this, I do agree with him. A blasphemer like me has been witnessing the collapse of Iran for more than three decades, but my voice is nothing but a muffled cry in the desert.
In the aforementioned Mehr article, Mokaram Shirazi reminds the readers: “… till now there has not been enough control over books … we should scrupulously take our precautions over unhealthy publications … Besides there is a worry about those participating; the situation is unsatisfactory both in the expressions of their morality and their appearance/look …”
In the last paragraph of Mehr’s article, Ali Esmaili, the man in charge of the Teheran Book Fair, reverently begged Makaram Shirazi to “bless the Fair with his footsteps [presence]”.
Well then, the next Book Fair in Teheran will be cast not in plaster of Paris but clad in iron of censorship. On their website it reads:
“Display and/or sales of books containing immoral pictures, subjects offensive to the religious and Islamic values, books that promote religious division and animosity, books containing ideas and thoughts of abolished and innovative sects, or encourage racism or Zionism, or undermine the interests of the Islamic Republic of Iran are prohibited. [Sic]”
A “blasphemer and foul-mouth” like me is hoping that the 26th Teheran Book Fair (1st–12th of May 2013) will be boycotted by potential participants. There will be a day when censorship will disappear and any book shall be exhibited without whip from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance or any other inquisitors. Then we will enjoy freedom and a broad breathing space. However, the route is a difficult one.
Censorship is a witch delivering two ogres: one ogre is the meddling and the changing of words and texts in such a way that the inquisitor is satisfied to grant the publication’s licence. The damage and ugliness from this kind of censorship amount to more than just the prevention of publication; it is a disgrace to intellectual honesty and prepares the grounds for manipulation.
The second ogre to be born to Censorship’s witch is the auto-censor that kills the creativity of the writer, and the reader is lost in an abyss of double meaning and obscure sentences where even some arguments are deleted from the analysis to satisfy the inquisitor.
If you contemplate visiting the Book Fair, think twice. Those who run the Iranian political prisons, hang people, rape women fighting for their rights; those who violently crushed the demonstrators in the presidential election of June 2009 and have their evil schemes for the upcoming presidential election of 2013: all have benefitted from the guidelines of ayatollahs in Qom and the Supreme leader, Khamenei.
For many the Book Fair is a space to have a little break from the morbidity and the oppression of the Islamic Republic’s realm. But before going to the 26th Book Fair, have a thought for those killed in expressing their ideas, those crushed in the torture chambers of Teheran, those who have fled Iran. They were your fellow citizens and still are.
Boycotting the Book Fair is a peaceful but strong sign of rejecting tyranny. A deserted Mossla exhibition centre is more eye-catching than noisy demonstrations in streets. Besides no one can be in danger of the Islamic Republic’s hangman, bassijis. Those Iranians in the West can write to international publishers and share their thoughts. Iranian publishers and editors that have been censored and barred from participation in the Book Fair could share their plight by writing anonymously to anyone they trust in the West.
Only small but decisive steps taken by each and every Iranian citizen will get rid of the Akhonds and prevent another despotic rule.