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Every Week Is Banned Books Week in Iran

  • Edward Said books were seized by Palestinian Authority police in Ramallah in 1996. This may come as a surprise to those who know Said as a cheerleader for a Palestinian state. In 1996, however, Yasir Arafat became unhappy with some critical writings by Said on Arafat’s conduct and took his books off the shelves.

  • In 2007, Hamas banned a collection of Palestinian folk tales titled Speak Bird, Speak Again, “reportedly over mild sexual innuendo.” Though the ban was eventually lifted, it stoked fears that Hamas represented the rise to power of radical, hard-line Islam in the areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority.
  • In January of this year, Hamas banned two more novels for blasphemy and depictions of sex: A Banquet for Seaweed by Haidar Haidar, and Chicago by Alaa al-Aswany.
  • While details of Saudi Arabia’s Bible ban are disputed, it is undeniable that possession of the Christian Bible is strictly controlled in that country. The British Foreign & Commonwealth Office advises travelers to Saudi Arabia that “you may bring a Bible into the country as long as it is for your personal use. However, importing larger quantities than this can carry severe penalties, as it will be viewed that it is your intention to convert others.” It goes without saying that visitors traveling with a Jewish siddur (prayerbook) or tanach (Bible) would be frowned upon, as Saudi Arabia effectively bans Jews from traveling in that country.
  • Iran has banned the books of novelist Paulo Coelho (author of The Alchemist), Dan Brown’s bestselling The Da Vinci Code, Nikos Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ, bestselling novel Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier, William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, and dozens of other books by Western and Middle Eastern authors.

George Bernard Shaw famously quipped, “Assassination is the most extreme form of censorship.” In 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini, then spiritual leader of Iran, issued a fatwa, or religious edict, directing the faithful to murder author Salman Rushdie for the publication of his novel The Satanic Verses.

Next: The Fatwa Goes on Tour