10 June 2007

Censor This!

Two weeks now in Doha and so far have had less interesting, blog-worthy experiences than I did in a typical hour in Budapest. My liver does seem grateful for the chance to recover, however.

It's looking as if Doha is going to become my home base for at least the next few years, so I've been doing a bit of investigation of my new environment. Although Doha hasn't attracted the same kind of media attention as nearby Dubai, it has shared Dubai's frantic pace of development over the past few years, and also its sky-rocketing rents. Both my office and my hotel are housed in tower-blocks that were completed less than 12 months ago. They are also right next to each other, so during the day I look out of my 24th-floor office window at my hotel:

And during the night, I look out of my 21st-floor hotel room window at my office:

The whole area is a giant construction zone -- a 5-year-old building like the iconic, pyramidal Sheraton Hotel is considered an ancient landmark. I would estimate 70% of the buildings I can see from my office window are still under construction:If you are wondering why these images look a bit washed-out, it's not that there is a defect with my camera; rather it's all the dust kicked up by all the construction activity that creates a sort of permanent haze in the air.

On balance, I think I will be happy enough here. True, there isn't a lot of entertainment, but unlike Jordan (where I lived until recently) there is a large expat community here, so I expect making friends and building a new social life will be relatively simple. There are some decent beaches and clubs, and I expect some good opportunities for activities like diving and sailing. Purchasing alcohol requires a licence, but I'll be able to obtain one as soon as my residence permit is sorted out, and then obtaining booze will be no more complicated than it is to buy from System Bolaget at home in Sweden. And unlike in Dubai, Skype is not blocked.

Naturally, there is plenty of down-side as well. Being on the sea means living at sea level, which at this latitude means long summers with temperatures regularly over 40°, and not infrequently over 45 or even 50 degrees. Alchohol may be available, but unlike Jordan or Dubai, pork is not. But most irritating to me is the censorship of the internet. Both Dubai and Qatar have grandiose ambitions to become leaders in media and internet services. Dubai has built Dubai Internet City and Dubai Media City. Qatar has sponsored the establishment of Al-Jazeera, a first class global news channel that in the space of a few years has grown to rival the BBC and CNN. What I find incredibly and irritatingly short-sighted about the supposed visionaries behind these initiatives is their apparently complete failure to understand that you cannot build an information-based society in a controlled, fascist social environment. Even more irritating is the apparent mentality behind the censorship, which can be discerned by exploring which sites are blocked and which are not. A little exploration reveals an incredible level of stupidity and hypocrisy.

Not surprisingly, nearly every site that appears in the Google results for the search term "ass" will display only the Qatari censor's "this site has been blocked" notice.* I've never understood why Arab governments so completely fail to recognise the ancient and obvious correlation between creativity and naked girls. Throughout history, any place you've found writers, artists, musicians, etc., there has always been a nearby and plentiful source of naked girls, so if you expect your town to become the next art, film, or music capital of the world, you can't expect to hang on to whatever traditional sense of ambivalence towards female nudity your society may have developed during the period its economy was dependant on less glamourous industries, such as goat herding. As someone who enthusiastically embraces the whole naked-girls-running-around-stimulating-creativity concept, I find the Qatari attitude annoying enough, but some further investigation reveals that the underlying social attitudes are far more twisted than they initially appear. For example, Googling the term "penis" reveals that the Wikipedia entry for the word -- which has to be about the driest, dullest page on the internet containing the word, without even the slightest hint of prurient interest -- has been blocked by the Qatari censor. Similarly, dozens of other sites concerned with reproductive health, STDs, birth control, etc., have all been deemed to have a potentially harmful effect on Qatari society by the censor. More telling is the stuff that isn't censored -- whilst Qataris cannot find sites on sex toys (the Anne Summers site is blocked), they can have access to sites on how to beat their children properly, the Ku Klux Klan web site, the Aryan Nations web site (motto: "Violence Solves Everything"), and a whole slew of sites promoting racism, homophobia and misogyny.

You see the same sick, twisted thinking in the way films are censored. Go to see a James Bond, Bruce Willis or Steven Segal flick here in Doha and you will be sure not to miss a single frame of cars exploding, brains being splattered on walls, bad guys getting messily disembowelled by jagged metal objects, etc., but if Jerry Bruckheimer decides to throw in a short romantic scene as a sop to the women in the audience who have been dragged there by their boyfriends, you can be sure that anything steamier than a fond gaze gets chopped out by Qatar's defenders of public morality. This is, of course, a society that believes that allowing women to walk around with their heads uncovered will lead to fornication in the streets and the collapse of the family structure, as married men would be helpless to resist their basic animal urges on catching sight of, for example, a lady's naked ear.

This perverted mentality is of course not terribly different from the similarly hypocritical rantings that come out of certain quarters in the U.S.A. In 2004, Janet Jackson had a "wardrobe malfunction" during her performance in the traditional "half-time" entertainment during the "Super Bowl," America's national championship of American Football. For those of you not familiar with this "sport," it's basically ritualised, glorified violence, in which two teams of men with apparent thyroid problems, each wrapped in multiple layers of high-density plastic armour and lycra, hurl themselves at each other for 90 minutes whilst their fans work themselves up into a blood-thirsty frenzy. Half-way through this "game," they pause for a half-hour of singing and dancing about love, patriotism and neighbourliness by leading pop stars. American parents who had no problems with their children watching this spectacle of violence were up in arms that -- horrors! -- their children might have caught sight of an exposed nipple, and angrily demanded that the government do something about it.

So far, Nomadicity has escaped the attention of the Qataris, much to our disappointment, so in the hopes of joining the honoured ranks of the many web-sites that are considered unwholesome by Qatar's defenders of morality, we would like to present "Karen":
Actually, I have no idea if that's her real name -- I'm trying to keep my relationship with her casual, so we've agreed on no real names.

One day, I hope to start my own country here in the Middle East. It's going to be a different kind of place. For starters, no non-alcoholic beverages will be permitted. Men will not be allowed to drive -- a wise policy given that women will have to walk around with only their eyes covered. Anyone caught stealing will have an extra limb attached, and murderers will have an additional head surgically implanted. Most importantly, the internet will be filtered so that only porn sites will be available.

13 June 2007

*One key exception is the Wikipedia entry for the word, which notes that "ass" signifies (amongst other things) "the anus or the buttocks," as well as being a word for "donkey" derived from the Latin "asinus", or an acronym for the American Sociological Society, which in 1959 changed its name to the American Sociological Association. As the ASS was founded in 1905, it apparently took the directors of this undoubtedly esteemed and highly respected organisation composed of a brilliant and well-educated membership only slightly more than half a century to figure out why everyone sniggered upon reading their business cards.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi,Welcome to Doha...It was interesting to read your views on the city and country.However,Karen was the best part..your local squeeze perhaps..