Never particularly regarded as being particularly active in the fight against censorship, Apple has reportedly removed an eBook from the iTunes bookstore not because of the content of the book, but because of the image used on the book’s cover.
The novel in question is Salwa Al Neimi’s The Proof of the Honey, described by its publisher Europa Editions as “far more than an erotic novel, [but instead] a surprising and illuminating voyage into the history of Arabic literature.” Which isn’t to say that it’s not an “erotic novel”; Europa’s own description of the plot goes a little something like this, after all: “Syrian scholar working in Paris is invited to contribute to a conference on the subject of classic erotic literature in Arabic. The invitation provides occasion for her to evoke memories from her own life, to exult in her personal liberty, her lovers, her desires, and to revisit moments of shared intimacy with other women as they discuss life, love, and sexual desire.”
Whether or not that that internal content is the reason for Apple’s removal of the book is unclear. Certainly, when Europa announced on its Facebook page that the title had been removed, it said that the company hadn’t mentioned the content, with Apple instead “citing the inappropriateness of the cover.”
Europa didn’t seem convinced, however. “One would assume, then, they would also consider classical nudes by Ingres, Renoir, and Botticelli, not to mention photography by Man Ray inappropriate,” the Facebook post continued. “What about New York Book Review editions of Dud Avocado, Tyrant Banderas, or our very own The Days of Abandonment? NOPE! All are available in the iTunes bookstore.” In a later comment to the thread, the publisher added “The author is Syrian-born. Is it too much to think that this might have something to do with their decision?”
This isn’t the first time that The Proof of the Honey has faced censorship; the title has been banned in some Arab countries for its sexuality. Al Neimi addressed this response in a 2010 interview: “I was at first surprised by the intensity of the commotion surrounding The Proof of the Honey, as I had assumed that writing about sexuality was no longer considered taboo in our society,” she said. “Perhaps this is because I no longer took Arab censorship seriously in the age of the Internet… Today, more than three years after the publication of my novel, I understand what a shock it must have been for the Arab reader to be able to read about sexual experience in this way. I am constantly reminded of this whenever I follow heated debates about my novel on Internet forums. It is almost as if I had brought to light elementary questions about sexuality that had previously been hidden in Arab society.”