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Controversial film struck from TV line-up following religious pressure

Text by Marc DAOU

Latest update : 2010-04-01

A Lebanese television channel Tuesday elected not to broadcast the romantic movie “The Kite” after facing pressure from the Druze religious community. Film critic Ibrahim al-Ariss explains the growing phenomenon of religious censorship in Lebanon.

Private Lebanese TV channel NTV has refused to broadcast the feature film “The Kite”, directed by Randa Chahal Sabbag. Winner of the Silver Lion award at the Venice Film Festival in 2003, the film tells the story of an impossible love affair between a young Lebanese Druze woman and a Druze man in the Israeli army (the Druze religious community practice a form of Islam derived from Shi’ism, live in Lebanon, Syria, and Israel).

Two political leaders from the Druze community, Walid Joumblatt and Talal Arslan, as well as several of the community’s religious authorities convinced the channel’s executives to “postpone” broadcasting the film. Their efforts were motivated by what they saw as the film’s potential to offend members of the Druze community. Earlier in the day, several dozen protesters had gathered near the home of the channel’s owner and next to the channel’s headquarters to demand the cancellation of the film’s scheduled broadcast.

In the past several years, Hezbollah has on many occasions managed to interfere in cultural events or programmes in various countries. The most recent example was the cancellation of two sold-out shows by French-Moroccan comic Gad Elmaleh - who is Jewish - scheduled for July 2009 in Lebanon. The Shi’ite party had launched a virulent campaign against Elmaleh, claiming that he was a former Israeli Defence Force soldier.

Ibrahim al-Ariss, film and television critic for daily newspaper “Al-Hayat” explains this phenomenon of religious censorship.

FRANCE24: What do you make of NTV’s cancellation of “The Kite” following pressure from Druze authorities?

Ibrahim al-Ariss: I am absolutely alarmed by the censorship to which this film has fallen victim to on TV. Even more so since the film had been shown in Lebanese movie theatres in 2003 without any problems. It was, moreover, shown on Arab TV channels in other countries, such as Tunisia. If the Druze community rose up against this film, it’s because it tells a love story between a woman from their community and a Druze man of Israeli nationality. The channel caved in, even though censorship in principle does not exist in Lebanon.

F24: It’s not the first time that censorship has resulted from pressure by a particular community. How do you explain that?

IA: Politicians and religious authorities are very influential in Lebanon. They’re the ones who campaign for things to be censured, regardless of their artistic or aesthetic value. Their motivations are purely political or religious. If their attempts don’t work, they send their militants on to the street, as they did on Tuesday.

It’s hardly a spontaneous movement. For several years now, each community reserves the right to censor a piece of work that it finds problematic. That’s how the film “Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi was censored after Hezbollah, following Tehran’s orders, piled on the pressure.

F24: Do you think this type of censorship is a threat to Lebanese culture?

IA: I’m very concerned about freedom of expression because, for the sake of consensus and easing religious tensions, we let the censors do as they please. Culture is the weak link in Lebanese society because it is inextricably linked to politics, and religious censorship is gaining ground.

(Photo : Le Cerf-volant - © Pyramide Films)

Date created : 2010-04-01