Matt Nash


10 of the silliest acts of censorship in Lebanon

Officials at Lebanon’s Directorate of General Security review every book, movie, album, play, and work of art brought into the country before allowing (or not allowing) said work to enter. Locally-produced content is similarly screened. Activists complain that the censorship process is opaque and seemingly arbitrary. NOW looks at 10 of the silliest examples of censorship.
top 10 new
Most reasonable people would agree there’s a difference between urinating on a church/Bible/priest and selling a Halloween/graveyard-themed flip flop. The first is an obvious affront to Christianity and its practitioners; the second, a cheap summer time piece of footwear offending only those hankering to be offended. Add that the importer was a Shiite Muslim and the solution becomes obvious: ban the sale of said flip flops and jail him . And it’s not just Lebanese Christians who have trouble distinguishing between a true insult and something banal that could be construed as insulting if you twist it the right way. Legendary singer Marcel Khalife got into hot water in the ’90s. In a song that had NOTHING to do with Islam and did not insult the faith, Khalife included a line that happened to also appear in the Quran. Dar al-Fatwa, the highest Sunni authority in Lebanon, sued him in 1996. Investigators at the time questioned him and ultimately let him go without finding him innocent or guilty. In 1999, a new public prosecutor re-opened the case and hauled Khalife into court. He was ultimately found innocent, but this stands as an example of how arbitrarily “offenses” can be handled. Judging by the walls of so many of Beirut’s neighborhoods, spray painting is either not illegal, or it is a law very seldom enforced. In some instances, police have even reportedly used the headlights of their squad cars to help illuminate the canvas of artists working at night. However, artists who poke fun at the army or police, or dare to support the revolt in Syria, can wind up on the wrong side of the ambiguous law. The long scissors of the law are well known in Lebanon, as is the boycott of Israel and Israel-linked/Israel-loving things, people, birds, etc.. Director Steven Spielberg not only loves, but also donated $1 million to the state of Israel. When the state of Lebanon mysteriously bucked the boycott by allowing “The Adventures of Tin Tin” into movie theaters in 2011, one cinema employee decided SOMETHING had to be done. Ban the movie? Nope. Hold a protest? Nope. Black out the director’s name on movie posters so patrons only know they’re helping enrich Israel/an Israel lover/supporter once the opening credits start to roll? Bingo Sex sells, but for Lebanese censors, it also corrupts the youths and helps tear at the fabric so seamlessly holding together the population. It makes sense, therefore, that films either bordering on or classified as out-right pornography should be outlawed. Minor on-screen boob action will usually result in only a scene or two subjected to mastectomy. But when the breasts in question are attached to the daughter of a parliamentarian running for re-election? Total ban One would imagine that censoring books, films, music, and the like is a humorless task. Taken to its logical next step, one would further imagine that the men and women responsible for said censoring would not take jokes or criticism well. One would be correct, at least in Lebanon. Back in the ’70s, General Security banned blank newspaper ads meant to skewer a then-new censorship law. This year, the censor-in-chief refused a play mocking the censorship process. The kleptocrats running this country – many of whom avoided prison for engaging in 15 years of wanton criminality by passing a law absolving themselves – don’t take kindly to criticism. Typically, when slighted, they just sue individual “offenders” and live to steal another day. But what happens when an artist points out the fact that the whole damn system is out of order? He’s allowed to freely speak his mind, of course. Oh, wait. No he’s not. Most people roll their eyes when musicians or other artists delve into politics. In Lebanon’s past, the opposite has stirred trouble. National icon Fayrouz had her tunes banned from local radio for six months back in 1969. Her crime? Refusing to croon at a party for then-Algerian President Houari Boumedienne. No matter that she shunned all personal performances for politicians: Fayrouz ruffled the wrong feathers and briefly paid the price. Lebanon’s censors have a problem distinguishing between the state of Israel and Jews in general. While anything from or relating to the former is banned as per the Arab League Boycott, local authorities take that to the next level. Any film or book portraying Jews in a “good light” – regardless of the fact that characters in Philip Roth books or some Woody Allen movies are NOT Israeli nor supporting/talking about Israel – are banned. If the Jew portrayed has no horns, the Lebanese cannot see or read it. As noted above, most politicians respond to criticism and mockery with individually targeted lawsuits which likely prompt authors/artists/etc. to self-censor in the future while leaving the “offensive” content in the public domain. But one of Lebanon’s “bosses” is simply beyond reproach: Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is in a class by himself. Riots over a 2006 television show mocking him served as notice: leave the Sayyad alone