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Friday, July 18, 2008

Where is the Ministry of Information?

Finding the Censorship Department

(Directions below)

My mobile phone beeped and I excitedly checked it - I was waiting for news of delivery of some books from America. It was indeed news that my book had arrived, but the message was far from pleasing:

Dear Customer,

Your Package under AWB ... containing (BOOK) is being held at customs; kindly call us for further details.

Sender: Aramex

It turned out that one of my books had been nabbed at customs and I would have to go and pick it up. I began to have panicky thoughts. What if the wrong book had been sent to me: Terrorism Today, perhaps, or even - dare I even think of it - a Winnie the Pooh book containing pictures of piglet! I tried to rack my brain to think of what I had ordered, but what I remembered - books on the culture and history of Qatar and the Middle East - didn't seem particularly threatening to the peace, morality or security of Qatar.

Aramex assured me that having books nabbed at customs was quite normal, and gave me a receipt to take there. Fast forward past a morning of searching, getting directions on the phone from Aramex, searching, driving to Aramex and getting an (awful) map from Aramex, searching again and finally I found it: a little white building with a Qatari flag flying in a little back street in the middle of nowhere.

(Actually I find it quite reassuring that the Ministry of Information isn't in one of those huge buildings in West Bay - it shows the Qataris have their priorities right.(Actually it is not called the ministry of information, which is what Aramex called it, but the department of censorship (and that was part of a different department.)))

I went in, was told that the building was shut by a young man exiting, exited, decided I didn't trust the young man and un-exited. I eventually navigated my way to the second floor, where fortunately the censor was still present, albeit on his mobile phone with his feet stuck on the desk. I got the impression he didn't get many visitors.

Actually, the censor was so charming I couldn't remain annoyed.

"We don't get many visitors," he beamed at me. "Most people can't find us."

I wanted to know why he had taken my book, and he told me that the people at the airport sent them to him as they couldn't read English.

"I can see why you have taken these ones," I said, glancing at a large book entitled: "The History of Pornography." I could also see a book on armaments and another one entitled Nuclear Energy for Beginning Terrorists (actually I made up the last three words). "But I don't think mine will be offensive."

"I am sure it won't be," he smiled at me, guiding me into the next room. The packages were still lying there on the floor. "When did it arrive? Two days ago - we might not have finished yet."

However, we managed to find the package and the book, which was entitled Qatar. Not only was it not offensive, it had a picture .

"So you are interested in Qatar," the censor said delighted. We exchanged names and hand shakes all round, and I left feeling that at least next time I would be quite happy to take a trip down the censors.

Which was good, because the next time came quite soon. And a suspicion as to why the books were confiscated. Both the books, and they were two out of many I had ordered, weighed over half a kilo. They were the only two books that had been confiscated, and the onlt two books of any size. Which lead me to the conclusion that only heavy books are regarded as dangerous. Which makes sense, really. How could ou do someone any harm with small light paperback, even if you hit them over the head with it really really hard?

Anyway, for anyone else in the same situation, first don't worry (unless you have ordered a heavy History of Pornography), and second here's some directions.

Directions to the Ministry of Information

The Ministry of Information is located in the Bin Mahmood area. To get there, drive from Sports Roundabout past Hamad Medical Center and Lulu Hypermarket. Go straight ahead at the traffic lights. You will turn right just before a petrol station (gas station for all you American-English speakers.) That's before Mannai roundabout. Drive straight down Ibn Mahmoud Street and take the second left, which is before you get to the traffic lights. You will see two pink buildings. Drive past them and you will come to an old grey building with a Qatar flag flying. This is the Ministry of Information. Make your way to the second floor (I found the stairs quicker than the lift) and you should find your book there.

Also see: Qatar Book reviews

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