Lucien Bourjeily openly confronted the Lebanese censorship bureau by writing a play Would It Pass Or Not? about censorship in Lebanon. The play was banned, exposing the farcical sensitivity of the censors and forcing them to justify their actions in public.
The play was produced by March – an anti-censorship NGO of which Bourjeily is an advisory board member.
In conversation with Index, Bourjeily told of his bizarre encounters with the censor board’s general when summoned to the bureau in Beirut on 28 August.
“The play could not go ahead” he was told “because it was not realistic. It was exaggerated”. “True”, said Bourjeily, “it’s fiction. Of course it’s unrealistic and exaggerated. Otherwise it would be a documentary”.
Bourjeily recounts the general turning to his subaltern and describing scenes from the play, asking “would such a thing happen here?”, unintentionally and ironically echoing a scene in the play itself. When censors are censoring a play about censorship, things are bound to turn to farce sooner or later.
Normally, Lebanon’s censors will suggest changes to works that will allow them to pass – a joke removed here, a political remark erased there. But with Bourjeily’s play, this was apparently not going to happen.
The censors’ next move was interesting: they would show, they said, that Boujeily’s play had no artistic merit. On 3 September, General Mounir Akiki appeared on television bearing testimony from four “critics”, each of whom said the same thing; that there was no artistic value in “Would it pass or not?”
Curiously, none of these critics were named, despite their views being taken very seriously indeed. One said that Bourjeily’s play contained “a defamatory hallucination indicating the absence of his artistic level”, another that the play “was not related to the theatre, but rather with prosaic words. It does not meet the conditions regarding structure.”
Join us 20 March 2014 at the Barbican Centre for the Freedom of Expression Awards