Movie Monday: Tunisia Censors PersepolisMay 7th, 2012
I have half a mind to save this for Rebel of the Week and not Movie Monday, but it’s a breaking story, so we’re going to run with it. This from Tunisia, where the self-immolation of a desperate street vendor set the Arab world on fire a year ago. Well, it seems the government of Tunisia missed the point. Last week Nebil Karoui, President of Nessma TV, was convicted of “disturbing public order” and “threatening public morals” for broadcasting Marjane Satrapi’s animated graphic novel Persepolis. That’s essentially bureau-speak for “blasphemy.”
We posted a review of Persepolis in February.
Among the offenses committed by the film is a scene where the young Marjane dreams of a meeting with God, which runs afoul of islamist groups who are uncomfortable with the fact that sometimes art is edgy. This apparently resulted in an attempted arson attack on the network, and a mob trashing Karoui’s house.
The Washington Post is reporting that Karoui was fined $1,600, and two members of his staff were fined $800 each… of course those numbers are meaningless without exchange rates. But prosecutors pushed for a five year sentence, and two lawyers even called for the death penalty.
A year ago the revolution in Tunisia ousted their tyrannical leader Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, and since then the country is divided between secularists and theocrats. Ironically (or more likely, intentionally) the struggle between secularists and theocrats after the Iranian Revolution is a major theme in Persepolis. Marjane grew up in Tehran with parents active in the Iranian communist movement prior to the Iranian Revolution. As a child she witnessed the fall of the Shah and the rise of Rohollah Khomeini, making it a particularly potent social commentary to be broadcasting it in defiance of long-standing theocratic laws against blasphemy. Karoui’s attorney, Abada Kefi called the decision, “a strike against creativity and freedom of expression,” and “an occasion of mourning.” Too true. He intends to appeal the ruling to a higher court.
Protestors against the film outside the courthouse carried signs which read “Do not mock what is sacred for people” apparently unaware that the film was not mockery, but an artful expression of a young girl’s experience of God’s moral counsel, or that the liberties they mock are sacred to others.