Five years before I was born, a new law, the Obscene Publications Act, allowed publishers in my native United Kingdom, for the first time, to escape conviction for obscenity if they could prove a work they produced had literary merit.
Its first trial was in 1960, when Penguin books went to court over DH Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover, a suit brought by the Crown. They won the case and a new era of freedom was ushered in, allowing people to explore ideas and concepts that had previously been impossible to air in public.
By 1971, the producers of the underground magazine Oz faced trial in a UK court for obscenity, again a suit brought against them by the State. After a lengthy and expensive trial, they too were acquitted (on appeal, in fact).
In the meantime, satirical magazine Private Eye was banned from sale at branches of WH Smith until the 1970s. In fact, the retailer also refused to stock the controversial 'Diana' issue as recently as 2004.
The Sex Pistols' Never Mind the Bollocks (Here's the Sex Pistols) was banned from the charts, BBC radio and many record stores across the UK. Their 1977 single 'God Save the Queen' was banned by the BBC. As was The Stranglers' Peaches.
Frankie Goes To Hollywood's overtly homosexual record Relax was banned from the charts, BBC Radio and many record stores in 1983.
In 1992, Radiohead agreed to edit the word fuck out of 'Creep' and thereby avoided a radio ban.
This list of records banned by the BBC for reasons of sexuality, politics and 'obscenity' details the lot, right up to 1997, when The Prodigy faced an effective 'no airtime' ban by BBC radio.
Throughout my lifetime I have seen censorship in my home country, from the demonstrations against Monty Python's Life of Brian (and the cutting of the film to meet the demands of the UK's censor), the censorship of television (Mary Whitehouse and all), of literature (see above) and of music (ditto).
I don't like censorship. I'm against it. I have pushed against it, as slowly and surely as I believe I can within limits of reason I choose to set myself. I believe strongly in freedom of speech and expression.
But the sound of the newly secular and liberated voices of the UK media howling like a pack of infuriated Macaques at the temerity of people living and working in another society and cultural environment in deciding whether a work is appropriate for that audience is really too much. Over the period in which the UAE has been a nation, the UK has only just managed to stop banning, suing, censoring and repressing literature and music. Is it SO hard to understand that other societies might not be quite as... umm... 'advanced'?
Media freedom in the UAE has moved ahead in my time here. It's by no means perfect, but it's a whole lot better than it was and much more liberal than in many other parts of the Middle East and Asia. Greater freedom of expression is allowed here than in many other parts of the Middle East and Asia. But there are limits. These are being constantly explored, tested and pushed. Probably not as much as they could or should be, but they are. It's a long, slow game to play precisely because this Muslim society holds different values and is keen to preserve those.
As is its right, no? People do still have the right to uphold different values, don't they?
I agree on the principle. No book should be banned. And I look forward to the day when we get there. But in the case of the celebrated 'Festival Book', I believe the author knew exactly what she was doing. I believe this is a cynical attempt to use this ban to create 'buzz' around an otherwise, I suspect, unremarkable book.
In the meantime, I do strongly believe that the newly libertarian UK could engage in a little less hubris and a little more introspection regarding its own, hard-fought and newly won freedoms.