21 July 2004

Censoring Both Enemies and Enemy Dissidents

Another article by Matt Welch in the June 2004 issue of The Walrus, under the headline Editing the Enemy: Censorship: The Next Generation, spells out some of the stupid side-effects of a new U.S. policy designed to embargo trade in information as well as goods.
Since September, 2003, it has been official U.S. policy that any American editor publishing a piece of writing that originated from a country under a full trade embargo -- meaning Iran, Cuba, Libya or Sudan -- is expressly prohibited from engaging in "activities such as the reordering of paragraphs or sentences, correction of syntax, grammar, and replacement of inappropriate words."

In other words, use a blue pencil, go to jail -- for up to ten years (and be subject to a maximum fine of $500,000).

Until recently, it was a restriction that most publishers either didn't know about, or quietly accepted. On September 30, 2003, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which is the arm of the Treasury Department charged with enforcing the 1917 Trading With the Enemy Act, informed the world's largest engineering association, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), that articles from Iran (and, therefore, from other fully embargoed countries) could be published in the U.S. only if they could be printed with no additional editing or even illustration....

The Institute complied, and stopped editing all published material originating in Iran. Word travelled over the technical-publishing grapevine, and several small journals stopped accepting Iranian manuscripts altogether.

Then on January 23, the Association of American Publishers (AAP) issued a detailed legal analysis arguing that OFAC's new rules violated not only the First Amendment of the Constitution, but Congress's 1988 Berman Amendment, and the 1994 Free Trade in Ideas Amendment, which specifically allow for the exchange of informational materials with countries under embargo....

The Iranian exile community, which numbers in the hundreds of thousands here in "Tehrangeles," were only in late March beginning to grasp that these restrictions, if fully enforced, could prevent dissident writers from having their work published in the U.S., and inflict chilling damage on the burgeoning academic field of Iranian Studies. "It's just a blanket-type thing covering all written pieces in all domains? Wow, I mean it doesn't make any sense to me," said Hossein Ziai, director of UCLA's Iranian Studies program, which he describes as "one of the largest in North America, if not the largest."

"How can you translate without copy editing?" Ziai asked, posing one of the vexing questions OFAC has yet to clarify.

No comments: