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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: February 18, 2009 @ 3:38 pm

    Atwood: Should she stay or should she go?

    Fiona McCann

    Margaret Atwood might have started a cavalcade of trouble for the inaugural Emirates Airline (is there anything they don’t sponsor?) International Festival of Literature, which is due to take place in Dubai from February 26th to March 1st. Atwood has pulled out of a planned appearance at the festival after one novelist was blacklisted for potentially offending “cultural sensitivities”.

    Geraldine Bedell was due to launch her rom-com The Gulf Between Us (geddit?), at the festival, but the organisers got cold feet, due to the novel’s setting, its themes - which explore Islam and the Iraq war – and one particular character, a gay sheikh with an English boyfriend. The book has been blacklisted in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
    Other authors are now said to be considering their options, in the wake of Atwood’s withdrawal.

    While few would argue that it is a good decision by Atwood, and by no means an easy one, it would have been interesting to see her use her appearance at the festival as a platform to raise the issue of censorship. Atwood is the vice president of International Pen, and no doubt she will be applauded for her decision. However, in not going to the festival she is pretty much preaching to the converted. By going to the festival with a plan to protest could have perhaps created a bigger media storm and brought more attention to the issues at stake. It will be interesting to see if any of the other authors at the festival pick up Atwood’s torch – given that those attending include Kate Adie, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Lauren Child, Atwood’s actions and her colleagues’ responses could make it a literature festival to remember.

    It’s not just writers that those in power in Dubai seem to be taking a hardline against. Rising tennis star Shahar Peer was this week refused a visa to the United Arab Emirates. The Israeli player was due to participate in the Dubai Tennis Championships. The World Tennis Federation is currently considering if it will take any action. 

     Given such a heavy-handed line against artists and athletes, should Atwood’s and Peer’s peers (SWIDT?) boycott the event entirely, or should they show up and kick up an almighty fuss? – Laurence Mackin

    • Fiona says:

      Put like that, it does seem to make more sense for Atwood to go and make her point to the local press and in the country itself. It would certainly be more difficult, and complicated in terms of the onus after accepting a certain degree of hospitality to keep schtum. Still, these issues should be highlighted in the places where they matter, rather than, as you point out, to the converted. It’s one way to get round censorship, though a risky one.

    • John Self says:

      Atwood has now written of her regret at her decision to withdraw, which she now feels was made on false or at least incomplete information about the ‘banning’ of Bedell’s book. See here:


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