In a move that has raised considerable fear regarding freedom of speech in the wartorn nation, the Iraqi government has announced that it plans to screen all books before they’re allowed into the country, and will block those books which “promote sectarianism.”
For writers and literary critics in the nation, the announcement seems like a dangerous first step down the road to the sort of harsh censorship seen during Saddam Hussein’s government, particularly as the nation’s Communications Ministry openly talks of blocking “unwanted” content on the internet and shutting down sites which it claims support terrorism.
The announcement comes less than two weeks after the government unveiled a new law which it says was intended to protect Iraqi journalists. Journalists fear that law too will ultimately be used to curb speech the government finds objectionable, as it bans the publication of anything which may “serve enemies of the state” without defining who those enemies are or what it would mean to serve them.
Iraq’s Deputy Culture Minister Taher Naser al-Hmood says that while the Iraqi constitution promises freedom of thought and freedom of expression “that should come with respect for society as a whole, and for moral behavior,” adding “it is not easy to balance security and democracy.” So far that balance seems to be tilting in favor of increased government control over the minutiae of information exchange in the country, and those promises of freedom are coming with some mighty big caveats.