THE SAME basic plotlines form the basis for thousands of stories. A joke has it that there are only two plots: a stranger arrives, or a man goes on a journey. Ursula Le Guin’s “A Wizard of Earthsea” and J. K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series both feature a young orphan boy who discovers he has magical powers, attends a wizarding school and defeats an evil adversary, but no one would argue that they tell the same story. (Much the same could be said of Luke Skywalker.) Several recent lawsuits regarding alleged copyright infringements raise an important question. When it comes to an overlap of theme, plot or character, how close is too close?
“To become a great writer – regardless of which Arab country one is in – one must be truthful; to be truthful, one must be free; and to be free, one must be alive; yet to be alive, one must hold one’s tongue!” – Syrian poet, dramatist and radio journalist Muhammad al-Maghut
In the Arab world, words are used as weapons. First occupied by colonial powers then presided over by authoritarian rulers, in many countries in the region literature has become a battleground between the state and those seeking to voice a perspective that challenges the status quo. Novels, stories and poems have been both exploited by the state as a vessel for spreading propaganda and feared as a means of smuggling subversive messages to the public. Continue reading →