Friday, May 25, 2012

Lebanon's clergy finds new common ground on need for more censorship

[Originally posted at NOW Lebanon]

A taxing problem of satirizing the religious is that they so often do a better job all by themselves.

How is one to improve, for example, on the name of the ‘Committee for the Conservation of Values’, Lebanon’s brand-new cross-sectarian censorship board? Not since Saudi Arabia’s ‘Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice’ has Orwell’s 1984 been so faithfully reconstructed.

As the Samir Kassir eyes [SKeyes] website reveals, this first-of-its-kind collaboration between the official Sunni, Shia, Druze and Christian clergy aims to combat the “moral decadence”, “social corruption” and “threats to the Lebanese family” arising from the grave “abuses” of media freedom in recent times. As a charming afterthought, it even “invites” media outlets to “conduct self-monitoring”, in order to lighten the workload and streamline the overall purification process.

I telephoned SKeyes’ Ayman Mhanna, who had evidently guessed why I was calling when he picked up, laughing, with the words, “It’s not a joke.” He explained the unwritten gentleman’s code by which the mosque and the church – which are not formally invested with legal power to censor – enforce their will upon the state. “Whenever the censorship bureau sees anything at all related to religion, they take it upon themselves to forward the movie, the play, the script, or whatever, to the religious group that could be offended, and they wait for their response, and usually they respect their response and censor accordingly.” He pointed to the recent case of Tannoura Maxi, which had to be pulled from cinemas for a second round of censorship when initial cuts were found to have insufficiently satisfied the church. “No matter what the law says about freedom, in de facto terms [the religious leaders] hold the real authority.”

All of this makes me rather fed up. I’m fed up, in general, of the religious everywhere whining about “militant” and “oppressive” secularism while having things entirely their own way, all the time. I’m also fed up of hearing from otherwise liberal friends that the confessional system is the protector of freedom in Lebanon. Has it ever been more obvious that the country is not merely a theocracy, but a polytheocracy, and that the only thing God’s terrestrial deputies are able to agree on is the imperative of strangling and suffocating liberty?

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