A new book that documents Hezbollah’s terrorist, political and criminal activities sparked controversy in Lebanon last week.
The Lebanese NOW News website produced an investigative report titled “We ban our own books” on the tome, Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of the Party of God, by Dr. Matthew Levitt, on Thursday.
There were conflicting reports about a formal ban of the book.
In an email to The Jerusalem Post on Friday, Levitt wrote, “So it appears the book was never formally submitted for review and therefore has not been banned in Lebanon. Levant, the distributor, apparently self-censored to avoid having to deal with a book about what is a sensitive subject in Lebanon.
“I do hope that the book will now be distributed in Lebanon, where open and fully informed discussion of Hezbollah is needed now more than ever,” Levitt, director of the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, added.
According to the NOW report, Levant’s director, Pierre Stephan, said Levant submitted a draft of the book to Lebanon’s General Security office but the office did not issue a decision.
First-Lieutenant Sami Azzam told NOW, however, that Levant furnished a copy of Levitt’s book to General Security “17 days after telling the author it was banned.”
NOW suggested that the publisher capitulated to self-censorship.
“A look at Lebanon’s tangled censorship process indicates that this may be a case of self-censorship, an increasingly common practice. Lea Baroudi, from the Lebanese anti-censorship campaign MARCH, explained that book distributors like Levant and Ciel incur costs when they try to bring in publications that are likely to get banned. Instead, they preemptively ‘ban’ the draft themselves and tell the authors that General Security had refused their request to bring the publication to Lebanon,” wrote NOW.
NOW identified a source, Charbel Haddad, whose name was changed because he was not permitted to speak on the record.
NOW wrote that Haddad, who works for “a distributing company familiar with the case of Levitt’s book, confirmed that self-censorship by Levant is exactly what happened to The Global Footprint.”
Haddad said books on “sensitive” topics – such as Levitt’s examination of Hezbollah, whose ministers are an important part of the Lebanese government – are subject to a process by distributors, in which a book is not sent to the General Security.
“We see titles with Hezbollah or Israel in them, we read a few pages and look at the pictures, and sometimes we ask our friends in General Security,” Haddad told NOW.
He added the process of sending feelers out to General Security saves the distributor time because the book would have been banned in any case.