Bodour Al Qasimi: Creativity is key driver of community development

  • Sunday 14, January 2018 in 1:48 PM
  • During the panel discussion at the Arab Publishers Association Conference
Sharjah 24: Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi, Founder and President of the Emirates Publishers Association (EPA), moderated a discussion panel at the fourth edition of the Arab Publishers Association Conference, which was held in Tunis recently. The panel saw a host of writers and publishing industry experts discuss the impact of censorship pressure on intellectual products of Arab writers.
Themed ‘Censorship in the Arab World: Restrictions Imposed on Cultural Expression and Its Impact on Creativity’, the panel was led by Tunisian Author Dr. Shukri Al Mabkhout, International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) 2015 (Arabic Booker) Laureate for his novel Al Talyeni (The Italian); Lebanese writer Eman Hmaidan, author of Ba methl Beirut (B for Beirut); Egyptian author and poet Ahmed Al Shahawy; and Kristenn Einarsson, Head of Freedom to Publish Committee at International Publishers Association (IPA).

Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi’s opening remarks at the panel featured many important questions, most notably: “To what extent censorship impacts creativity and hinders the aspirations and objectives of literary titles?” To answer the question, she used some of her personal experiences in the book industry field, and spoke about knowledge production in the UAE.

“Creativity is the key driver of community development at all levels and in all fields. Innovation enriches knowledge and at the same time stimulates the economy. It is not an option anymore, but an urgent necessity for all governments and communities, who seek to improve their position on world’s economic map, and enhance their competitive capabilities. This is exemplified in the fact that most visions of the future, national strategies and development plans in the Arab world highlight the importance of stimulating creativity and innovation at individual and collective levels,” Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi remarked.

Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi explained that the core focus of most Arab countries’ strategies is placed on building a knowledge economy, and as a result, is stirring critical and creative thinking in fields of economy, energy and programming; something that has not extend to the world of culture and philosophy.

Tunisian Author Dr. Shukri Al Mabkhout highlighted that the UAE government does not impose censorship directives and is an example for other Arab countries, he added, “Sometimes controllers impose themselves as protectors of the community, and this contributes to restricting freedom and creativity, but such actions are hardly reliable. Each writer has the right to express their creativity the way they want and have a responsibility to being loyal to what they write. The most important thing is for an author to firmly believe in individual freedom as the driver of all freedoms and intellectual conceptions.”
For his part, Egyptian author and poet Ahmed Al Shahawy called on Arab governments to enforce the laws and regulations that ensure the freedom of creativity and innovation, and provide vital platforms to creative people to express themselves honestly and creatively.
Al Shahawy pointed out that censorship plays a vital role not only in the deterioration of creativity, but Arab culture as a whole. He stressed the importance of giving creative thinkers and writers the freedom to be able to develop and ink their ideas using a language that is suitable for readers globally.
Hmaidan, who is President of the ‘Pen Club Association’, mentioned during her participation that there is a spontaneous gap between the publisher and the author, and in coordination with other cultural associations, literary clubs, and alternative theatres, and said: “Our role is to bridge this gap and bring readers closer to the publishing world, enabling them to explore the creative landscape holistically. All parties must make tangible achievements. We should not be only confined to criticising censorship, but should also circumvent it through creating generations who read and fight for freedom of expression.”

Kristenn Einarsson shed light on the importance of having a freedom committee at the IPA, saying, “The International Publishers Association is fully committed to freedom of expression, something under siege worldwide today. IPA believes that the unique contribution of publishers to enable freedom of expression, debate and dialogue, by disseminating the works of authors deserves recognition and protection. Publishers have the will to challenge established thinking, and while we must preserve the history of society, we must also make room for new knowledge and new artistic expressions. We think publishers must be willing to challenge the boundaries that are drawn by society by choosing to publish works that will determine the kind of conversations communities will have and subsequently alter our social fabric. In the process, it is important that members of the IPA work closely and also forge partnerships with other international organisations.”

The participants agreed unanimously on the substantial impact of censorship and self-censorship on the intellectual products in the Arab world, stressing that restricting freedom of speech and thought decreases their chances of achieving their objectives of creating a sustainable knowledge economy.