close button
Switch to Iranwire Light?
It looks like you’re having trouble loading the content on this page. Switch to Iranwire Light instead.

Self-Censorship is More Painful than Censorship

March 1, 2017
Mohammad Tangestani
4 min read
Self-Censorship is More Painful than Censorship

In this series on self-censorship, we asked writers, artists, journalists and human rights activists to define self-censorship. Where possible, they are invited to give examples of their experiences, and to describe what they have witnessed.

We presented each interviewee with the same set of questions, adapting them or asking further questions where relevant.

Our intention was not to challenge the interviewees. We wanted them to express their own perspective of self-censorship.

Nasim Khaksar, an Iranian writer who spent eight years in prison under the Shah, was forced to leave Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. He now lives in the Netherlands and continues to work as a writer.


How do you define self-censorship?

Self-censorship is born from censorship in general, which is imposed by political and religious institutions of power. With their dos and don’ts, they build all kinds of walls around the truth and independent thinking and prevent people from getting close to them. And breaking these walls means coming face to face with prison, torture, losing social privileges, losing one’s job and so on and so on.

So a person who finds out that he has no support in defending individual and social freedoms and that there is no law to support him resorts to self-censorship. Self-censorship is many times more painful than censorship because the institutions of power — that bluntly justify censorship in defense of their tyranny by using “public interest” and “security” as excuses — sometimes outsource this job to individuals, in many cases by force.

Of course, this does not mean that institutions of power have always been successful. The history of our literature might be full of damages done by censorship and self-censorship but, on the other hand, many thinkers, intellectuals and ordinary people have not stopped at these walls and have pushed ahead. You can find examples of this in the Islamic Republic. Authorities forbid people from participating in protests and demonstrations or from taking part in mourning ceremonies for victims of the "chain murders" of the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s, but people still do attend these events, and they do accept the danger. Look at the activities of the Iranian Writers’ Association [to promote] freedom of thought and freedom of expression. Or look at the work of civil rights activists Nasrin Sotoudeh, Narges Mohammadi and many others, all of whom defend freedom of thought.

Is self-censorship an example of social misconduct or prudence?

Both. But this misconduct and prudence is a result of the institutionalization of self-censorship in society. The hypocrisy that [the classical Iranian poet] Hafez talks about in his poems is the institutionalized self-censorship that he is trying to escape.

Iran is a self-censoring society. Is this self-censorship rooted in Iranian culture or in its history and political events?

Censorship and self-censorship are destroyers of creativity. A simple search through the history of our literature shows us the effects of this destruction in Persian texts that have remained with us after centuries. Most of our literature preserves this legacy instead of innovating and breaking with tradition. The moment that the atmosphere has opened up and a new way of thinking has broken through, the fear that it will pass by quickly has pushed us into the trap of preserving the legacy instead of distancing ourselves from the past.

We do not see this in the history of western literature. Western societies, too, have gone through long periods of censorship and inquisition. But these periods did not last and western literature, arts, thought and imagination were strong enough to resist censorship. They did not allow censorship to become internalized and turn into self-censorship. But in the history of our society this did not take root because of religious and then political tyranny. Our contemporary literature tries hard to escape this heritage but it carries many of those wounds on its body.

Can you give us an example when you have practiced self-censorship?

In general, I have rarely self-censored, but in some stories that I wrote in the 1960s when I was young, it shows that I have changed my subject in order to bypass censorship. Of course, I was not as aware of it as I am now. As examples take the two short stories “The Night of The Road” and “The Germ.” The reader is aware that the writer wants to portray the political environment of the time and the determination of political activists to confront danger but instead, he writes about a person who smuggles cigarettes to make a living and is not afraid to get into a fight with the gendarmes (read the “government”). And there are others like that.


Also in this series: 

Shirin Ebadi: With Advances in Technology Come Advances in Censorship




Zahra Nemati, 2016’s Best Paralympics Archer

February 28, 2017
Iranwire videos
Zahra Nemati, 2016’s Best Paralympics Archer