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Absurdities of Book Censorship in Iran

Kamali Dehghan reports from Tehran book fair in Guardian:

Iran’s ministry of culture and Islamic guidance vets all books before publication. Three censors read each book to make sure it conforms to Islamic values. Censorship might apply to only a word, a sentence, a paragraph or sometimes a text as long as a dozen pages and the result would be given to the publisher after a long procedure that might last a year or two. Censors, who sometime use computer software to look up “unIslamic words”, go as far as advising writers to substitute certain words with other “appropriate” phrases, should they wish their book to be approved. Publishing houses will be given negative points if they persist in sending too many books to the ministry which they deem to be unsuitable, encouraging self-censorship.

Speaking to the Guardian, Mehdi Navid, who has translated Richard Brautigan’s In Watermelon Sugar into Persian, called some changes were ridiculous. When publishing a book by Charles Darwin on evolution, he said, the ministry asked the publisher to add an introduction to the book explaining that Darwin’s views were unIslamic and untrue and the book was to be published to expose the wrongdoings and the decadence of the west.

Among words changed are cigarette (when used for a female character in a novel), laughing (again for female characters), swear, tattoo, cage and makeup (regardless of the character’s gender).

“Kiss”, “beloved”, “wine” (in a non-fiction book about Charles Darwin, where it was mentioned that he got sick after drinking sour “wine” – the censor advised them to substitute the “wine” to a more appropriate word such as “juice”), “drunk”, “pork”, “dance”, “rape”, “dog” and “meditation” are among others frequently asked to be substituted. Male and female fictional characters are permitted to walk “hand-in-hand” in the story only if they are married couples. Censors will advise against any human touch between those fictional characters who are not married. Implicit gay touch can survive if the censor does not figure out that there is a homosexuality theme.

In reviewing a poetry book, one censor commented that it lacked appropriate rhythm. Another book, by celebrated writer Mahmoud Dolatabadi, was deemed too depressing.

Plato’s Symposium, Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s Journey to the End of the Night, Ulysses by James Joyce, Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel García Márquez, and some books buy Kurt Vonnegut and Paulo Coelho are among books banned in Iran.


  1. I bought Céline’s Journey to the End of the Night two years ago from a bookshop in Tehran. But it seems to be banned now.

  2. Has Plato’s Symposium ever been published as seperate book in Iran? I think it is still re-published as part of Plato’s collected works.

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