Author Banned From Dubai Book Festival For Having Gay Character in Novel

Posted on February 17, 2009

British journalist and author Geraldine Bedell says she has been banned from the first International Festival of Literature in Dubai because one of the characters in her novel is gay. The book festival runs from February 26 - March 1st and lists such authors as Margaret Atwood as attendees.

Geraldine Bedell, a journalist for the Observer newspaper and the author of several previous novels, said organizers had been discussing launching her book "The Gulf Between Us," which is set in the Gulf, at the festival. But she claims festival director Isobel Abulhoul later wrote to her publishers, saying: "I don't want our festival remembered for the launch of a controversial book." "The Gulf Between Us" is scheduled to be published by Penguin in April.


Bedell said Abulhoul wrote to Penguin toward the end of last year to say the book was not acceptable because one of her characters, Sheikh Rashid, is gay. The author also said festival organizers complained that "it talks about Islam and queries what is said." Bedell, who lived in Bahrain for five years in the 1980s, said Sheikh Rashid "is only spoken about" and "assumed to be gay." "Of course it does make reference to Islam because it's a Muslim country and part of it is set during Ramadan," she added. "But the narrator - a middle-aged Englishwoman - is incredibly respectful to Islam."

Another criticism from the organizers, according to Bedell, was that "it is set in the Gulf and focuses on the Iraq war." But she said the book's action was set in the months leading up to the Iraq war. "They (festival organizers) were talking to Penguin about the possibility of launching my book there because my book is set in the Gulf and there are few books in English set in the Gulf," she told The Associated Press.

Juliet Annan, Bedell's publisher says that the censors banned the book so that means no bookstores are allowed to buy it. The author says the book is quite positive in its tone towards the Middle East, and is quite upset that her book has been banned. But if she has lived in Bahrain, surely she knows that having a gay character or espousing unapproved political views is totally forbidden in any authorized literature? This is Dubai, not New York. One has to wonder: have the censors actually read any of Margaret Atwood's books?

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