Page last updated at 16:44 GMT, Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Gulf state bans UK romantic novel

Geraldine Bedell
Bedell said she was frustrated by the festival's decision

A British novel has been banned from the United Arab Emirates after a literary festival there decided it could be culturally offensive.

Geraldine Bedell had expected to launch her book at the inaugural International Festival of Literature in Dubai.

However, organisers cancelled, giving a "rather comic list of reasons", which included the Iraq war, Islam and its Gulf setting, Bedell said.

The organiser said it would "offend certain cultural sensitivities".

Bedell described her novel to the BBC News as "a romantic comedy, not an earnest book, a bit of a romp actually".

Having read 150 pages of Ms Bedell's manuscript I knew that her work could offend certain cultural sensitivities.
Isobel Abulhoul
Festival director

It tells the story of a single mother bringing up three children in the fictional Gulf state of Hawar. It includes a minor character who is gay.

Festival director Isobel Abulhoul, in a statement on the festival website, said: "I have lived in Dubai for 40 years.

"Based on my knowledge of who would appeal to the book-reading community in the Middle East, and having read 150 pages of Ms Bedell's manuscript I knew that her work could offend certain cultural sensitivities.

"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."

Bedell said it was ironic that the book had been banned as "in its own way it is a plea for cultural sympathy and politeness and sympathy".

She said its theme was prejudice in its many forms, including against women, Americans and Arabs.

"We all know the Iraq war happened, and it [the book] talks about Islam because it's set in an Islamic country, but it in no sense queries Islam," she said.

Self-censorship

Bedell, a journalist, said she was "frustrated" by the festival's decision, but the book entitled The Gulf Between Us would be launched in the UK in April.

From her experience as a journalist in the Gulf she said she was aware of the censorship and self-censorship which goes on there, but felt that there was "a tendency to over-react and to think that people in power might be offended".

Among the reasons given to her for the cancellation of the launch was that the book was set in the Gulf, that it talks about Islam, that it focuses on the Iraq war and there was a gay character.

Bedell said none of those reasons made sense, as the setting was fictional, the book was "very respectful to Islam" and the Iraq war would not appear to be a reason to ban a book.

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