Long airline flights are something which I always dread. Not, mind you, because of any fear of flying but because of having nothing to do during the trip.
To make matters worse, I am one of the many unfortunate people who cannot sleep in an airplane. I think, however, this inability to sleep can be turned into something positive: either reading or taking care of unfinished office paper work which I notice many European and American businessmen do when on a long flight.
I chose the first. Last week on a long British Airways flight to London, I found myself running out of reading material. Luckily, I was seated next to an official from a Gulf state who had an ample supply of newspapers and who was courteous enough to allow me to read them.
On another trip to Casablanca some time back, I remember, I started browsing through The Times. I would have gone on flipping through the pages had my eye not caught an interesting two-word headline: "Shakespeare censored." The dateline was Ottawa the capital of Canada. The story ran thus: "The Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ontario, has deleted two passages from its presentation of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice because of 'anti-Semitic overtones'. One of the cuts concerns Shylock being forced to convert to Christianity as a condition for being pardoned by the Duke of Venice."
On reading this small news item I could not help but wonder at the hypocritical stand of the West in regard to so many controversial issues. A good example of this hypocrisy is the Salman Rushdie affair. Western writers and intellectuals staged protests so that this writer's book would not be banned, although they knew very well of the filth and objectionable material it contained. Material which in fact offended millions of Muslims around the world. Moreover, in some European cities, members of parliament even sat and read passages from the book as a show of support for both the writer and his freedom of expression. Not only that, symposiums and forums were held by Jewish writers in the United States and thousands of flowery words were used by hundreds of writers. These writers, I must add, are the very ones whose faces turn purple with rage if you question the number of Jews killed in the Nazi camps. The press of course rarely mentions the millions of other nationalities such as Poles, Ukrainians and Gypsies who were killed by the Nazis. Anything even vaguely critical of Jewish writers, intellectuals, musicians or teachers is dubbed "anti-Semitic"! Does anyone remember that we Arabs are also Semites?
I fear the day will come when you will be afraid to criticize a New York taxi driver lest you be called "anti-Semitic"? Many of the drivers are of course Jews who have returned from Israel.
And yet the Western media, which claims to be free, criticize us and heap all kinds of scorn on us. This is because we are far away, cannot influence the outcome of any election and whatever we do has little affect upon them.
They complain of the absence of press freedom, the presence of censorship and so on. I do agree that there are certain things we cannot permit because they are against our ideology and culture. And, by the same token, there are things the West does not permit. And that goes for all nations who realize that in the name of freedom nothing should be done to destroy the welfare of the majority. Freedom of expression therefore is a relative term. And perhaps it was in this context that Shakespeare was censored! Like many others, I prefer to think it was mere ignorance.