Homophobia, literary censorship and selling books

The hoo-ha over the Dubai EAIFL literary festival  grows. Geraldine Bedell had been due to launch her romantic comedy The Gulf Between Us there. After reading the manuscript, the festival’s organiser Isobel Aboulhoul pulled the title from the programme, citing “cultural sensitivities”. The book apparently includes some discussion of Islam and features a gay character.

This week Margaret Atwood withdrew the festival saying that as a vice-President of the writer’s organisation PEN, she couldn’t attend an event that censored work, and yesterday the children’s author Anthony Horowitz said he was considering joining her. Activists have started a campaign to blacklist the festival, on blogs and a Facebook group.

Geraldine Bedell aks: “Can you have a literary festival and ban books because they feature gay characters? Is that what being part of the contemporary literary scene means? The organisers claim to be looking for an exchange of ideas – but not, apparently, about sex or faith. That doesn’t leave literature an awful lot of scope.”

From not being described as “the first true literary festival in the Middle East” the Dubai event now finds itself being portrayed as a hotbed of Islamic homophobia.  Finding herself at the centre of this storm Isobel Aboulhoul issued a counter-statement which suggests, wryly, that she’s fallen into a subtle trap by censoring the book:

“I did not believe that it was in the Festival’s long term interests to acquiesce to her publisher’s (Penguin) request to launch the book at the first Festival of this nature in the Middle East. We do, of course, acknowledge the excellent publicity campaign being run by Penguin which will no doubt increase sales of her book and we wish Ms Bedell the very best.”

On another statement on the main site Ms Abouhoul points out that the decision had been communicated to Geraldine Bedell in September; she is curious why this matter has only come to the public’s attention in the month that Bedell’s novel is being published.

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