Banned in Lebanon; Sort Of


Several weeks ago the Da Vinci Code was banned in Lebanon thanks to the supreme vigilance of the country's Catholic religious authorities, and Scott Wilson has written a piece on the unfortunate episode for the Washington Post.

There are paradoxes here: The church has been at the vanguard of efforts to expand Lebanese freedoms vis-a-vis Syria, so that depicting it as a pillar of reaction would not be correct. There is also the fact that (as Wilson observes) the book has been selling briskly for months and can still be ordered or bought under the counter (I did so just a few weeks ago). And finally, one might observe that book banning is quite rare in Lebanon.

Does that make the church's decision any more justifiable? Surely not. But we are talking about a country in the Middle East, a region where book banning is the norm rather than the exception, so that this particular exception says a lot about Lebanon's general ecumenism when it comes to allowing a relatively free flow of ideas, even ones as abysmally presented as those in Dan Brown's novel.

For what's its worth, years ago I got two bosses in trouble after I wrote about a banned book. Lawyers were called, and a trial was initiated. But did I bake the pair a cake with a saw in it so they could make a midnight getaway? Of course not. Endlessly delayed legal action is often a substitute for punishment. Over five years later their trial still lingers, until it will fall like a rotting pheasant; and while that's unacceptable in principle, I will see my maker before the two men see a prison cell.

Sure, that's not good enough for even an imperfectly liberal society; but the Lebanese story of DVC must be told with all the relevant caveats.