Iran Is Banning the Word 'Wine'

The ministry just outlined new censorship guidelines that ban the printing of certain Western words perceived as arrogant. Words like “wine,” which shall henceforth not be printed in books published in Iran.

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Jan 21 2016, 11:00pm

Photo via Flickr user angelocesare

Seemingly totalitarian states go to all kinds of ends to try to control the populaces they rule. And it could be argued that the leaders of Iran could write the book on how to manipulate people. Instead of writing a book, though, Iran's powers-that-be have instead instructed the Iranian Culture Ministry to keep a bunch of words out of books published there.

The ministry just outlined new censorship guidelines that ban the printing of certain Western words perceived as arrogant. Words like "wine," which shall henceforth not be printed in books published in Iran.

Mohammad Selgi, the head of book publishing at the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, explains: "Words like 'wine' and the names of foreign animals and pets, as well as the names of certain foreign presidents, are also banned under the new restricting regulations." Selgi also said that the ideological viewpoint of clerics must be taken into account whenever a book is to be published.

Does this mean they aren't having screening parties of Sideways in Iran?

Each new book to be published in Iran will be scrutinized by the ministry's staff to make sure it is "in line with promoting the principles of the Islamic Revolution," which took place in Iran in 1979. The idea is to counter the "Western cultural onslaught and any insult against the prophets," says Selgi. Back in 2011, supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, decried the "cultural invasion" of the West. He said in a speech before Iran's High Council for the Cultural Revolution that, "The extent of the cultural invasion of the arrogant [Western] powers encompasses all the countries in the world, but the most important target of this invasion is the system of the Islamic Republic."

Iran, of course, is the site of one of the oldest civilizations on earth—one with a long history of winemaking. In fact, before the revolution in 1979, Iran had around 300 operating wineries. And, as some have pointed out on social media, Persian culture has a long history of revering wine drinking. In fact, the renowned poet and philosopher Omar Khayyam praised the benefits of wine, saying, "Drink wine. This is life eternal. This is all that youth will give you. It is the season for wine, roses, and drunken friends. Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life." How will Khayyam's works be printed in Iran going forward? No one seems to know.

Others have pointed out that the Quran itself is filled with references to wine. And several commentators have highlighted this slippery problem: How will the ministry memorialize the ban if it cannot put the word "wine" in writing?

In any event, the Iranian government's crackdown on alcohol consumption—which long pre-dates this latest censorship of the word "wine"—has apparently not been all that effective in keeping hooch out of the hands of the Iranian people. In fact, as The Washington Post reported last year, the Iranian Health Ministry said they intended to set up 150 treatment centers to deal with domestic alcohol abuse. So, you can evidently get your hands on wine in Iran and drink it—you just can't print a book in which the word is mentioned.

And that book you wanted to write about how much you like to drink wine with Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church? Sounds like a bestseller, but don't count on big sales in the Iranian market.