Margaret Atwood has pulled out of the inauguraul Emirates Airline international festival of literature in the wake of a novelist being blacklisted for potential offence to "cultural sensitivities".
The book in question is former Observer journalist Geraldine Bell's "The Gulf Between Us," a romantic comedy set in the Gulf. It appears that a minor gay character--a local sheikh with a foreign boyfriend--may be the cause. You can read the author's take here.
I am so bored with these "homosexuality/art/censorship" controversies in the Arab world. As the director of the festival himself points out at the end of the following statement he released, the controversy will only help the book's sales.
I have lived in Dubai for forty years. Based on my knowledge of who would appeal to the book-reading community in the Middle East, and having read 150 pages of 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.
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.
But I do think this snafu points to larger problems with the Gulf states' increasing patronage of the arts--from the many literary festivals they are organizing to the gigantic new Guggenheim Abu Dhabi museum. The Emirates want to put themselves on the world map as art and culture patrons, but they are out of step with international expectations about an artist's right to express herself and to tackle all manner of provocative subjects.
(P.S. Thanks for the tip, Sumita)