Literary Censorship: The Changing Standards

Laila Al-Sharqi, Irum Saeed Abbasi


Censorship is a double-edged sword that has bred legal, political, and moral wrangling across the globe. The basic controversy, which harkens back to ancient times, stems from the motivation and intention of the censoring authority. The censoring authority controls literary and informational contents, based on the promulgated political, moral, religious, and cultural values of the land. Historically, the politicians, judiciary, clergymen, powerful groups, and the public at large were involved in guarding public morals and rooting out obscenity. The obscenity laws outlawed the selling, purchasing, printing, importing, and mailing of obscene items. However, in today's day and age, the Internet has made it difficult to control the circulation of what was once considered obscene. Censorship has evolved to monitor and control online content to keep abreast with the changing times; nevertheless, it does not always effectively control the questionable content. Moreover, in the past, cultural values and demography played a vital role in deciding what needed to be censored. Internet, as an electronic global village, has redefined demography; therefore, the global as well as indigenous standards upon which literature were once analyzed for censorship is now blurred. The promise of free speech has given power to the people that live in mature democracies. However, there should be a self-imposed code of conduct so that the right of free speech does not infringe on others' right of existence. This paper reviews censorship, tracing its historical path and evolution over the years, its changing standards, and its pros and cons. Lastly, the paper discusses the need to conjoin freedom of speech with the responsibility to protect the diverse cultures, religions, races, sects, genders, and especially the young generation.



Art, censorship, freedom of speech, literature, morality, obscenity

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