The Kuwaiti government has banned 4,390 books in a four year period, in a bid to appease the country’s conservative bloc in parliament. Despite Kuwait’s push to be seen as a modern “enclave of intellectual freedom,” censorship literature is still pushed through the Ministry of Information’s twelve-member censor committee. The government’s censorship committee has banned the likes of The Little Mermaid, Maya Angelou’s memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Nobel Prize winner Gabriel García Márquez, an Arabic-language translation of George Orwell’s 1984 and an encyclopedia with an image of Michelangelo’s David.
Many have taken to the streets in protest of the frequent bans, with three protests occurring during September, including one coinciding with the annual “Banned Books Week,” which raises global awareness of literary censorship. Kuwait has been seen for many years as a cultural and intellectual hub for many in the Gulf region and well-known for its “sponsorship of literature and culture,” according to the government. Critics of the ban have said this image cannot sustain if books continue to be banned.
For some, the notoriety of having written a banned book has increased sales, but for many others, particularly first-time authors, it has become infinitely harder to publish their books without agreeing to the committee’s censorship rules.
Many politicians have allowed the censorship committee to censor and ban books with little resistance, due to a fear of losing their own jobs if they speak out on this and other similar social issues, as ministers are liable to lose their jobs through a vote of confidence.
Banning and censoring books unnecessarily and barring people from knowledge constitutes a suppression of literary freedom and is unfortunately far too common by both governments and educational institutions in a number of countries. While there are many campaigns to raise awareness of banned books – most notably the annual Banned Books Week – these bans must continue to be challenged to ensure that these stories are told.
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