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LGBT Writing in West Asia: How writers are using the pen to fight stigma and oppression

Many Armenian, Persian and Kurdish artists and activists address homosexuality and gender issues through their work.

On May 28, 2013, a small group of environmentalists gathered at Istanbul’s Gezi Park to protest the removal of trees. The police’s brutal response sparked the indignation of the city’s residents and soon, Gezi Park was flooded with ordinary citizens and activists. They voiced a number of grievances, chief among them the government’s refusal to engage with citizens about urban planning. The protests lasted for weeks and the makeshift camp erected in the Park featured a dizzying array of groups: ecologists, Armenians, Kurds, Zazas, Alevis, Communists, syndicalists, anti-capitalist Muslims and LGBT rights organisations.

The diversity of identities on display brought into the open the complex and sometimes confusing imbrications composing individuals’ self-identification in contemporary Turkey. Since the 1980s, sexual identities have played an increasing role in this construction, and over the last decade the stories and struggles of Turkish sexual minorities have been featured in a number of different media

To be certain, homosexuality, lesbianism, transgenderism and cross-dressing are far from new concepts to Turkish culture. Same-sex intercourse has been legal in Turkey (and the Ottoman Empire, its predecessor state) since 1858; 110 years before the partial decriminalization of homosexuality in Britain. The topic of gay and lesbian relations in Ottoman society and its imagining among Orientalist writers is particularly popular among Western scholars.

While Turkish authors do treat similar subjects within their works, contemporary issues of social, political and economic equality, as well as the battle against discrimination, are more likely to be explored within Turkish academic publishing. Scholars Cüneyt Çakırlar and Serkan Delice, have been particularly active in their writings, whether in collections of contemporary Turkish studies on gender, queer identity and politics or in their participation in the Queer Düş’ün series by *SEL Yayıncılık, which seeks to bring English-language Queer writing into Turkish. Other writers, too, address difficult issues, whether theoretical or practical. Evidence of such comes to us from works such as Neoliberalizm ve Mahremiyet: Türkiye’de Beden, Sağlık ve Cinsellik (Neoliberalism and Intimacy: Body, Health and Gender in Turkey), where we find Cenk Özbay’s study of neoliberal sociology and the case of rent boys, as well as Yener Bayramoğlu’s look at heterosexism and homosexuality within contemporary advertising.

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Southeast Asia’s Rising Publishing World: An Interview With Kenneth Quek

Under-translated and overly vulnerable to censorship, the publishing communities of Southeast Asia nevertheless will soon be ‘making waves,’ according to one of Singapore’s industry leaders.

Publishing Perspectives: Let’s start with Singapore, itself.

Kenneth Quek: Singapore’s publishing industry is stronger than it has ever been. This is not to say there aren’t still a few problems or areas in which it could improve, but our publishing industry is still relatively young and has made incredible strides in the short time it has existed.

PP: And how about other markets in the region?

KQ: Our neighbors’ industries are quite varied.

Both Indonesia and the Philippines have very robust publishing industries, and have produced some international bestsellers.

Malaysia, Vietnam, and Thailand are at around the same level as Singapore, while for Cambodia, Laos, Brunei, and Myanmar, the industry is still in a nascent stage.

There seems to be growing interest and development in Myanmar now that it has returned to a more or less civilian government and opened up a bit more.

The fortunes of the individual countries’ publishing industries are directly related to their development and economic growth. In general, the prospects for the publishing industries across the countries of ASEAN look positive as the region’s economies develop and the numbers of the educated middle classes continue to grow and boost demand.

PP: Can you describe the challenges facing the publishing industry in the ASEAN world?

KQ: I think the two biggest challenges that face the region’s publishing industry stem from language and politics.

With the exception of Singapore and the Philippines, most of the publishing in the region is not in English, and is therefore overlooked by the West. Once in a while, an Eka Kurniawan is “discovered” and makes it big in the West . But the chances of a writer in this part of the world getting a US or UK publishing deal when they’re not writing in English are extremely low.

I can see a microcosm of this even in Singapore, where we have writers writing in our four official languages: English, Chinese, Malay, and Tamil. And although we award the Singapore Literature Prize to incredible works of fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction in these four languages, it’s the English works that most excite the majority of Singaporean readers.

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The Representation of the Syrian Revolution in Literature

“These literary works depict the political, social and religious realities of Syria before and after March 2011 in order to draw a more comprehensive picture of Syria’s culture. These cultural details lay the foundation and act as necessary components for the development of the narratives and their relation to the current situation in Syria.”

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The need for writing

It would be inaccurate to assume that the literature centering on Assad’s family regime only started with the outbreak of the 2011 revolution. Some Syrian authors and dramatists have always addressed Assad’s politics in their works despite the fact that their criticism was indirect. They employed historical figures and events, constructing allegorical works so that they met the expectations of the censor. For example, some works were crafted to revolve around an event in pre-Islamic, Islamic or medieval Arab history and they exposed the ways the Arab kings ruled the masses. Through the interactions between the masses and the king, the monopoly of power alluded to the current politics of Syria and its corruption. Authors such as Mohammad al-Maghot, Mamduh Udwan, Sadallah Wanus and Zakaryya Tamer did not miss a chance to criticize the Syrian regime. however, there were not any explicit attempts to condemn that regime or its head.

With the outbreak of the revolution, the allegorical style would be abandoned because of the flooding of news of demonstrations, attacks, shelling and most importantly, the daily killing of innocent Syrians. Such incidents brought a radical change to literature. Due to the pace of news coming out of Syria, the media had to handle it in a way that served the needs of its audience, delivering the most up-to-date news without necessarily pinpointing the background of the revolution or taking into consideration the different constituencies that supported the revolution.

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8 Best Books on South-East Asia

From Cambodia to Vietnam, get lost in some of the region’s best literature.

South-east Asia has undeniably had its fair share of war and torment through the centuries, from colonisation in Malaysia to communist rule in Cambodia and civil war in Vietnam.

But in the 21st century, the countries are recovering from their pasts and are instead known by nicknames such as Cambodia’s The Land of Smiles and the Philippines’ moniker, The Pearl of the Orient Seas.

There are beautiful beaches, incredible mountains and welcoming people. You have super-modern cities and ancient temples, which combined form the fascinating area we call South-east Asia.

And if you can’t get there to see it for yourself, read about it. We selected eight books covering the region. This list includes a mix of new releases and some older titles that have become classics of their genre.

1. First They Killed my Father by Loung Ung: £7.99, Mainstream Publishing

Loung Ung’s story caught the attention of Angelina Jolie, who is currently directing a film for Netflix of her harrowing early life. Ung was forced to leave the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh to become a child soldier at just five years old when Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge army captured the city. This non-fiction book graphically retells the story of a family – and nation – torn apart. She vividly describes the sight and smell of rotting corpses and being forced to eat whatever scraps they could get their hands on, and the terror and loss suffered by so many. It’s a story of survival that will grip you and not let go, even after you’ve turned the final page.

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I want to stroll Tehran’s streets at night, like men can: writer Fereshteh Ahmadi

Under Hassan Rouhani’s less repressive regime, female authors are starting to see their books in print, and daring to dream of greater independence.

Even the gentle references to sexuality in Fereshteh Ahmadi’s short story Harry Is Always Lost meant it was hit by the censors…

But that was under hardliner president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Now the story is in print thanks to a little more leeway in censorship under newly re-elected president Hassan Rouhani.

Ahmadi’s work as a writer is particularly striking because she comes from a country where conservative attitudes towards women are prevalent… Ahmadi’s success is testament to female writers thriving in Iran’s literary scene.

Ahmadi, who has been a judge in a number of Iranian literary prizes, was born in the southern city of Kerman in 1972. She studied architecture at Tehran University and worked as an architect for some years before dedicating herself to writing. Her first collection of short stories, Everybody’s Sara, was published in 2004 and she has written two novels: The Forgetful Angel and The Cheese Jungle.

“The eight years under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was a real catastrophe,” she says. “A lot of books did not get permission for being printed, a lot of books had permission but they were blocked from being reprinted. In the past four years under Rouhani a lot of books managed to get permission, get printed, for many writers they finally succeeded to publish their work.”

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Nobel Laureates speak out for jailed Turkish writers

Nobel laureates and other writers have issued a message of solidarity to Turkish colleagues who have been jailed as part of what they call a “heavy-handed” crackdown against free expression.

Close to 150 writers and journalists are in prison in Turkey, several jailed as the government embarked on a massive clampdown on a network linked to a US-based Muslim cleric blamed for Turkey’s failed coup in July. The crackdown later extended to other government opponents.

Nobel laureates, including Elfriede Jelinek and JM Coetzee, and other high-profile authors vowed today not to remain silent “while your human rights are violated.” Read more


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Foreign authors warned about book censorship in China

Books translated for the fast-growing Chinese market may be censored without their authors’ knowledge, a writers’ advocacy group reports: The Guardian

A US-based advocacy group is warning Western authors to be vigilant about censorship of their work, which is sometimes done without their knowledge, in China’s fast-growing book publishing industry.

A report on Wednesday from the PEN American Center says translated versions of foreign books may be expurgated because of political sensitivities about such topics as Taiwan, Tibet and the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown on democracy protesters. But sexually explicit material and references to gay and lesbian issues are also frowned upon. Continue reading


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PEN Report: Foreign Authors and Chinese Censorship

Free expression and literacy advocacy group PEN America this week released the report “Censorship and Conscience: Foreign Authors and the Challenge of Chinese Censorship.” The study, written by journalist Alexa Olesen, looks at how foreign authors are navigating China’s heavily censored and rapidly growing publishing industry, and offers a set of recommendations for those looking to publish in the PRC. AP summarizes the report’s findings...

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Call for boycott of Brevity magazine

Brevity Magazine published an essay “One Hundred Days in India” by Jennifer Sinor in its Winter 2015 issue. Owing to its cultural imperialist perspective, the essay has received several critical comments from around the world. But the editorial staff of Brevity has censored these comments.

Kahini, a non-profit literary-arts organization, has called for a boycott of Brevity until its editorial staff stops censoring the critical comments. With due respect to freedom of expression, Kahini has asked Brevity to publish all comments and has not insisted on removal or censorship of the essay. Blocking comments from readers is a breach of freedom of expression.

Kahini wants to preserve Brevity’s reputation as a venue of high quality literary work by encouraging its role as a platform for conversation.

-By Mantra Roy

 


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Penguin to destroy copies of Wendy Doniger’s book ‘The Hindus’

The HindusAll copies of American scholar Wendy Doniger’s “The Hindus: An Alternative History”, published by Penguin, will be recalled within six months and destroyed as part of a court-backed settlement with a group that called the 2009 book “insulting to Hindus.” Continue reading