Azadeh, let’s start with you. How did you hear about this book ? Why did you decide to translate it ?
Azadeh Parsapour: I read an interview on the IPA website right after the book was published. As someone whose career is about identifying different types of censorship and finding solutions to bypass it, the book sounded like an interesting source to me. And I was not wrong. Iranian publishers are working under harsh systematic censorship. Censorship is now the main barrier for all creative works and Iranians do not even have access to a free internet. For me, any information that can help us navigate old and new methods of censorship is worth reading, publishing and spreading.
Translating this book in Persian was important to me for two main reasons: Dictators and authoritarian regimes always learn from their predecessors so it is vital to know the roots of today’s problems. Iran is isolated because of the international sanctions and publishers are even more isolated from the world publishing industry because Iran did not join the Berne convention. I feel it is part of my responsibility to create a space so we can have effective dialogues about important issues. I live and work in the UK so I have the freedom to bring up issues and raise awareness. I know researchers will enjoy reading this book but for me the next best target readers are the publishing community in Iran.
The second reason, I believe, is the discussions about new emerging types of censorship that are not necessarily dictated or policed by the authorities. In Iran, the dominance of political and religious censorship usually makes us overlook the other kind of censorship. Our society is changing and transforming constantly as any other society in the world and the effects of new technologies and digital giants who run and regulate our content online or political correctness and new ethical values that might end in ‘cancel culture’ and other silencing routes, can be detected. However, we lack enough reliable content to open discussions on these issues and I think this book is one of the best ways to start such discussions.
Etienne, could you tell us about where this book began ? How did it come together ? What were your expectations ? How did you react to the request for the rights to a Farsi translation?
Etienne Galliand: It’s quite funny, when you think about it: this text by Jean-Yves Mollier was originally meant to be the first part of a book. I had the great fortune to read it when it was in draft form; as is often the case with Jean-Yves’ writings, I found this text luminous, extremely smart and well written, and I immediately thought that there was something in it – as much in terms of content (the freedom of publishing!) as in terms of form – that could be used in a book. I therefore proposed to the sponsors of this text (whose project had been greatly delayed) and to the author to make it into a book in its own right. This was accepted. Jean-Yves therefore reworked it and I endeavored to give it the form it deserved – airy to allow an easy entry into this scholarly work, illustrated to visually accompany the reading, etc. It was both a very serious and a very pleasant task. I was personally driven by the certainty that this was an important text… Our societies need to hear that the freedom to publish is in danger – threatened as much by “old” forms of censorship as by new mechanisms of exclusion…
Jean-Yves, in November you received the Prix d’Histoire of the Académie des Sciences morales et politiques. Congratulations ! When we spoke in 2020 you noted that censorship ran in cycles and that we were in the middle of a negative cycle. Are we nearing the beginning of a more positive cycle, can you see any changes since 2020 ?
Jean-Yves Mollier: The numerous examples of censorship of literary or artistic works that have taken place in France since our interview a year and a half ago preclude any optimism as to the end of this negative cycle. From an economic and financial point of view, I believe that the strengthening of control of the media and publishing houses for example through the takeover bid of the Hachette group launched by the Bolloré group will considerably strengthen the weight of a group with an oligopolistic tendency in these two sectors. This press and publishing magnate resembles Rupert Murdoch in his management of his empire. He does not seem to tolerate the slightest contradiction and seems to impose a very conservative ideology in the media that he buys out – as shown by decisions taken during the takeover of Canal+ or more recently of Europe1 … Moreover, Mr. Bolloré was again auditioned by the Commission of Inquiry on Media Concentration of the French Senate very recently, which proves a certain concern on the part of the authorities about the monopolistic risk which weighs on the publishing sector. Once again, the process of editorial concentration is underway; and it is very rarely accompanied by a renewed freedom of publication for publishers or groups of acquired publishers.
The weight of the critical media continues to decrease and their impact on public opinion is weak. If we then look at the many cases of direct censorship against creators (the latest targeted a Swedish pianist who was to give organ concerts in churches in Nantes and then in Paris), they have not diminished since the publication of my book, quite the contrary. And we even saw the town hall of the city of Nantes, despite being socialist and green, refusing the printing of a poster on tourism which ridiculed a great bourgeois of the last century traveling with black porters collapsing under the weight of luxury suitcases on the pretext that, perhaps, Africans would not understand the criticism contained in this message. By privileging stupidity to the detriment of intelligence, we have prevented a healthy debate in a city which drew part of its wealth from the slave trade in the 19th century. This example of false “good” conscience illustrates the ravages of “cancel culture” and its derivatives in the European space. I am therefore rather pessimistic for the short term while hoping that the end of this cycle will not be long in coming…
Etienne, do you have any other plans for this book ?
Etienne : I will keep promoting and defending it! Alas, it will remain topical for a long time, not a month goes by without new examples of censorship – very recently, a school board in Tennessee decided to remove Maus, Art Spiegelman’s famous work, from classrooms, claiming that the content was “inappropriate”… Not so long ago, 5000 books were thrown away, destroyed or burned by schools in Southwestern Ontario, Canada, in order to “reconciliate” with First Nations… It would be very useful if this book were translated into English, Spanish and Arabic… But I am also aware of the difficulty that this theme and this text can represent for publishers from certain geocultural areas… That is why I find it so extraordinary and courageous, on the part of Azadeh Parsapour, to have had it translated and published in Farsi – may she be warmly thanked! I hope the Charles-Aubert History Prize may also be the occasion to initiate other translations of the book – it is an important distinction, which gives additional visibility to the work. I would be happy to send a copy of the book to anyone who could help with its translation and publication.