Kuwaiti writers welcome change to book censorship laws

The new amendment removes the need for official approval prior to publication

Kuwaiti author Nada Faris says literature and politics should be kept separate. Supplied
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Kuwaiti book lovers and authors are set to benefit from the latest change to the country's publishing laws.

The Kuwait News Agency says the country's parliament approved an amendment to the publishing laws on August 19 that removes the need for regulatory approval for books before they enter the Kuwaiti market.

With the amendment now in place, book importers and international publishers have to provide only book titles and author lists to the Ministry of Information, with the understanding that they bear legal responsibility if a book’s subject matter contravenes Kuwaiti law.

Legal action against a particular book will now only be triggered by an official complaint from the public. Furthermore, a book ban can only be given by the courts, as opposed to the Ministry of Information.

The move has been hailed by Kuwaiti writers, and international and regional literary bodies.

While acclaimed Kuwaiti poet Nada Faris says she has yet to study the new regulations, she feels strongly that literature should not be conflated with politics.

"If I am talking at a podium then I am in the political realm, but if I am writing a story then it has to be dealt with in a literary way," she tells The National.

The Lucie Photo Book Award finalist for Women of Kuwait says good literature should be probing. "This is why I write. Literature helps us deal with ambiguities and ambivalence. The thing about politics is that you always have to be right in the moment, but literature allows us to be OK with uncertainty and shifting morals.

"If the new law allows writers to deal with these things then, yes, I am all for it.”

Kuwaiti-American novelist Layla Al Ammar says the new law will come as psychological and financial relief to authors (both Kuwaiti and international) and is "worth celebrating".

“Huge news for Kuwaiti writers. Yesterday, the parliament passed a law abolishing the censorship committee. If books are banned now, it will be by court order and not the shadowy machinations of some committee," she posted online.

She noted that this now means that instead of an author having to go to court to get a book ban lifted, "the person who wants it banned would have to go to court for a ruling".

Kristenn Einarsson, chairman of the The International Publishers Association's Freedom to Publish Committee, also praised the move. "Congratulations to those in Kuwait who have successfully encouraged this change in favour of the freedom to publish," he said in a statement. "This is an important step forward and I hope that more positive changes will follow."

It supports the literary and cultural momentum, imposing a creative and scientific responsibility on the author and publisher

The news has also been welcomed by two of the region's biggest literary awards. The Sheikh Zayed Book Award's secretary general, Dr Ali bin Tamim, tells The National the new amendments will strengthen the region's literary and academic fields. "Commitment to creativity is better than being committed to censorship guidelines that, if biased, surely derail cultural efforts and scholarly work," he says.

"The Kuwaiti parliament's decision to waive censorship on written works is commendable because it supports the literary and cultural momentum, imposing a creative and scientific responsibility on the author and publisher."

Fleur Montanaro, administrator of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, says the changes will be good for Kuwait's already strong literary scene, citing the international success of 2013 Ipaf award winner Saud Alsanousi (The Bamboo Stalk) as an example of its fertile landscape.

"The Kuwaiti literary scene is a lively one, with active book clubs and many talented writers, including Alsanousi. Hopefully this means writers in Kuwait will feel greater freedom and be able to look forward to their books being enjoyed in their home country, which has a history of openness."