George Bernard Shaw once said, “The first condition of progress is the removal of censorship.” He knew well that censorship and freedom had long been enemies, and had he been alive today, he would probably not be very impressed with the state of progress we have achieved as a country.
Lebanon has a long history of censoring books, films, art, songs, opinions, etc. Since the last week of September is celebrated as Banned Books Week, this article will be dedicated solely to presenting banned books in Lebanon—all 54 of them. I will also present an additional 14 books that were once banned but are now allowed, or books that are thought to be banned but are in fact not.
One might not think that books would get banned in our country since authors who are thwarted in other Middle Eastern countries often seek Lebanon to publish their books. One example is Tayib Saleh’s book, “Season of Migration to the North”, which got banned in Sudan, only to be published in Lebanon instead.
Our constitution also seems to protect freedom of speech. Article 13, for example, states that “freedom of expression by word or pen, freedom of the press, freedom of holding meetings and freedom of association are equally guaranteed within the framework of the law”.
However, the reality is that our censorship police is just as malignant as those in other Arab countries. The power to ban books in Lebanon is granted to the General Security, which “consults” religious authorities, like the Catholic Church, the Supreme Islamic Shiaa Council, and Dar Al-Fatwa. Although it is not clearly stated in the law, these religious institutions effectively dictate what material is suitable for the Lebanese population, and more dangerously, what material is unsuitable. Other major players are, of course, the corrupt sectarian political parties that we are all so familiar with.
The reasons for banning books vary, but these regressive forces usually justify their actions by pretending to be driven by the national duty to maintain “social stability”. What they really mean to say is, “If anyone says something we don’t like, we will cause riots and instability,” as they have on multiple occasions. These medieval thugs are not the guardians of stability; if anything, they are holding it as their hostage.
The list of banned books in Lebanon is continuously changing since some books may suddenly be banned or suddenly have the ban on them lifted. If you know of any other banned books that are not included in the list below, please mention them in the comments.
Finally, it is important to note that the censorship police in Lebanon lacks consistency. It is not unusual to have them banning one book for a particular theme/reason while allowing another book that shares the same theme. Competency has never been the hallmark of the Lebanese state.
Note: Some of the books banned in Lebanon can be found in local bookshops that sell used books, as some people buy them from abroad and sell the books to them.
Here is a list of banned books in Lebanon, in alphabetical order:
1 . A Brief History of the Middle East