Fundamentalists afraid to confront their demons

Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey have banned the latest issue of the French bimonthly magazine Historia Thématique, which looks at religious fundamentalism.

The Tunisian authorities announced their ban on January 10th, claiming that it was due to a picture of Muhammed which is “formally forbidden in Islam and could offend the religious feelings of Tunisians.” The picture in question comes from an illustrated copy of the Koran dating from 1583 which can be found in the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts in Istanbul.

The January issue of Historia, a monthly produced by the same publishing house, has been on sale without any problem although it has an illustration showing Mohammed in partially animal form (with feathers and the tail of a fish).

Historia editor Pierre Baron told Reporters Without Borders that the reaction to the Historia Thématique issue was indicative of the current climate of intolerance. He pointed out that the issue was also about Christian and Jewish fundamentalism, adding that his staff decided that fundamentalism was an appropriate subject because of the increasing frequency of cases of offence being taken on the grounds of religious sensibilities.

Blogging Tunisia: Censorship, bans and censorship

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that the Tunisian Ministry of Culture’s review board had decided to censor playwright Jalila Baccar’s new work, Corps-otages (Captive Bodies). So thanks are due to Klaus for pointing me in the direction of the much fuller picture contained in this roundup of Tunisian blogs.

Although theatre is the only cultural form subject to preliminary censorship, TV is far from immune to state intervention, as highlighted by blogger and former judge Mokhtar Yahyaoui. He points to the popular Bidoun Istithan (Without Invitation) in which journalist, Farah Ben Amara highlights the hidden side of Tunisian society by broadcasting his meetings with the poorest people in the country. The programme, which was broadcast on Hannibal TV - Tunisias only private TV station - has been cancelled following a campaign organised by some journalists working in government-controlled media.

Internet censorship in the country is still going strong with many expressing surprise at the discovery that this includes online translation sites. According to the Open Net Initiative the reasoning behind this form of censorship is that:

Like anonymizers, translation sites can permit users to reach blocked content. A user who requests that such a site translate a filtered page can often read the prohibited content since it is the translation site, not the user, that accesses the blocked content.

And finally, a pair of related stories which very effectively highlight the connection between censorship and repression. So lets start with Fulla, the dark-eyed doll with Muslim values.

Claiming that the hijab-clad doll encourages sectarianism, the Tunisian authorities have started the school year by cracking down on toy shops, confiscating both the doll and other goods bearing a photo of it.

Not surprisingly, the campaign that started with dolls has quickly extended to people with police applying with renewed vigour a decree dating back to 1981 which prohibits women from wearing Islamic headscarves in public places. Decree 108 pioneered legal bans on the veil in the country at the height of the confrontation between the authorities and Islamists.

Police in Tunisia have been stopping women on the streets and asking them to remove their headscarves and sign pledges that they will not go back to wearing them.

Human rights groups in the country have described the move as unconstitutional and Francophone blogger, Stupeur, highlights the contradictions inherent in banning things by publishing pictures of a selection of things banned in the country.

Censored Bodies

IFEX (via) reports that, after thinking about it for three months, the Tunisian Ministry of Cultures review board has announced the censorship of playwright Jalila Baccars new work, Corps-otages (Captive Bodies), directed by Fadhel Jaibi. The board is demanding that Jaibi bring the play in line with a list of 100 themes subject to censorship before it grants an opening permit.

Board members took issue with the plays treatment of problems confronting Tunisian society as it enters its 50th year of independence (religious extremism, terrorism, intergenerational conflicts, abusive security policies), and have demanded that all dates, names of persons and places, as well as Coranic excerpts and references to Tunisian history be removed. Tunisians, it seems, will be denied the right to see a play which has only recently returned from a highly successful run at Pariss Odéon theatre, in June 2006.

Theatre is the only cultural form subject to this sort of preliminary censorship in Tunisia. A public performance permit must be obtained from the national review board - a branch of the Ministry of Culture - for all productions. IFEX also notes that, as the board enjoys a virtual monopoly on theatrical distribution channels in the country, it may exercise a form of indirect censorship via these distribution channels, even when a permit has been granted.

As you surely dont know

With Wanadoo about to announce a partnership with Tunisias leading internet operator, Reporters Without Borders have published an open letter to Olivier Sichel, Director General of Wanadoo, pointing out that Tunisia censors the Internet and imprisons its users. Read it here