Many authoritarian regimes censor books for political reasons.
But Iran goes so far in also tampering with books for self-claimed religious reasons that the Islamic republic’s censors form a league of their own.
The latest example came this week, when censors refused a publishing house permission to reprint an edition of one of the country’s best-known classical epic poems.
The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance decided that some parts of the epic poem “Khosrow and Shirin” by Nezami Ganjavi needed reworking, despite the fact that the book-length masterpiece has been a classic of Iranian literature for 831 years.
The news not only astounded the publishing house, which had expected routine approval when it sought to publish its eighth edition of the book, it also shocked Iran’s intellectual class, despite decades of inurement to the censors’ heavy hand.
Iranian poet Simin Behbahani
“This poem existed for nine centuries and…Iranians were Muslims during those nine centuries,” says Iran’s best-known contemporary female poet, Simin Behbahani. “No one [during that time] had any objections to [the] ‘Khosrow and Shirin’ poem and didn’t think of censoring parts of the poem…. Nothing would…