Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Life on the edge for Syrian artists

Click the title to read the full article at the BBC

In the second of his articles from the Syrian capital Damascus, the BBC's Martin Asser looks at the role of the cultural life in a police state which for years has oppressively controlled freedom of expression.

I was trying to buy a banned book in Damascus by one of Syria's top literary figures, and to my surprise it seemed to be going rather well.

The bookseller phoned another supplier located nearby. A boy was dispatched and soon returned with my request, discretely folded in a plastic bag.

Actually, I confess to being somewhat disappointed - as I had been trying to test one of Syria's famous "red lines".

These are the taboos imposed by Syria's repressive government on public discussion of things like politics, the ruling Assad regime, or the security forces.

So how was I standing in a bookshop in the centre of the Syrian capital having just bought a book that crossed a whole tangle of red lines, In Praise of Hatred by Khalid Khalifa?

Happily, or perhaps unhappily, my faith in Syrian totalitarianism was restored as soon as I asked for a receipt for my purchase.

"I can't give you one, sir," the bookseller hissed conspiratorially. "It's banned, it's a banned book. Let me make it out in a different title for the same price."

Which he did, officially "selling" me a fictional work (in more than one sense) called In Praise of Women.

It's not perhaps a very good fit, but the above excerpted article reminded me of a story in the December '08 issue of Asimov's Science Fiction, "The Flowers of Nicosia." Click the story title for an excerpt.