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Monday 6 February 2017 • Our plea to authors and illustrators appearing at the 2017 festival

Although the Think Twice Campaign has officially been wound up, we’d like to encourage authors and illustrators who continue to appear at the festival to raise awareness of the need for greater human rights and democracy in the UAE.

The post below was originally published on Jonathan Emmett’s blog.

 


If you’re appearing at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, please consider raising awareness of the human rights abuses carried out by the festival’s sponsors

 

This time last year Zoe Toft and I were busy running the Think Twice Campaign, which highlighted ethical concerns about the sponsorship of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai. The festival's main sponsors are Emirates Airline and the Dubai Government (who are the airline’s owners). The festival’s patron, Sheik Mohammed, is both the ruler of Dubai and the Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). One of the aims of the campaign was to highlight the many human rights violations taking place under the Sheik’s regime.

Zoe and I knew that the campaign would be contentious. Many authors and illustrators we admired and respected had appeared at the festival in the past or were due to appear in 2016. And the festival has a reputation for being exceptionally well-organised by a friendly and hospitable team. We were uncomfortable with putting ourselves at odds with these respectable groups, but our concern was that their respectability was being used to whitewash the reputations of extremely unethical sponsors. Actor Mark Rylance expressed a similar concern last year when he announced that he would not work for the Royal Shakespeare Company while they were sponsored by BP. We were not attacking the people appearing at or running the festival any more than Rylance was attacking the people appearing at or running the RSC. Our target was the festival’s sponsors.

We recognised that not everyone that shared our concerns would want to boycott the festival and at the top of Think Twice's FAQ page we suggested that authors and illustrators who still wished to appear at the festival might use their appearance to raise awareness of some of the issues highlighted by the campaign. Writer and philosopher AC Grayling and children’s author Chris Haughton did exactly that by meeting with UAE human rights campaigner Ahmed Mansoor during their stay in Dubai. Grayling addressed the UAE’s poor record on free expression during his public talks and Haughton blogged about his meeting with Mansoor on his return.

This year the International Campaign for Freedom in the United Arab Emirates (ICFUAE) are encouraging UK authors and illustrators appearing at next month’s festival to follow A C Grayling and Chris Haughton’s example and "speak out clearly in favour of human rights, free speech and democracy in the UAE".

Although Zoe and I have now wound up the Think Twice Campaign, we would also like to encourage the festival's authors and illustrators to consider speaking out on behalf of the following three groups whose human rights are being systematically abused by the festival’s sponsors.


 

1: The migrant workers enduring conditions “very close to slavery”


“It's pretty depressing seeing how many western companies and tourists, all kinds of people, flock there and still describe it and see it as this paradise in the Middle East, ignoring what's right in front of their nose.”

Investigative Journalist
Ben Anderson

When Donald Trump sang the praises of Dubai Airport in last year’s presidential debates, he neglected to mention the inhumane labour practices that enabled the Dubai Government to build such grandiose structures so quickly and for so little money. Dubai has been described as “a place where the worst of western capitalism and the worst of Gulf Arab racism meet in a horrible vortex.” The 2016 HBO VICE documentary “Trump in Dubai” exposes the plight of the migrant ‘underclass’ that make up more than 80% of the emirate’s workforce and build many of Dubai’s landmark developments including the new Trump International Golf Club. Investigative journalist Ben Anderson describes the conditions endured by millions of Dubai’s migrant workers as “very close to slavery” and has this to say about western attitudes towards the city in the video below: “It's pretty depressing seeing how many western companies and tourists, all kinds of people, flock there and still describe it and see it as this paradise in the Middle East, ignoring what is right in front of their nose.”


Anderson's documentary focuses on the construction industry, but he mentions that similar labour abuses apply to migrants working as cleaners, cooks and housemaids in Dubai. In the Human Rights Watch video below Women’s Rights Researcher Rothna Begum explains how the UAE government “facilitates and fosters the abuse and exploitation of domestic workers” who are explicitly excluded from the country's labour laws.



As you enjoy the hospitality of Dubai’s impressive airports, hotels, conference centres and schools, please be aware that many of these buildings are built, maintained and serviced by people who are treated as an “underclass” by the festival’s sponsors and do what you can to draw attention to their plight.



2: The LGBT people criminalised in, or barred from entering, Dubai


When it was announced that Jennifer Anniston was to become the new face of Emirates Airline in 2015, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) urged the actor to think twice about associating herself with the airline in view of their “serious concerns about the way the Gulf carriers treat and manage their flight crews, particularly women and gay men.”


Emirates Airline’s reputation for discriminating against gay employees (and, on some occasions, gay passengers) is unsurprising given the anti-gay stance of the government that owns it. Homosexuality is strictly forbidden in Dubai and punishable by harsh, discriminatory laws which promote homophobia.

"I will not lend my name to festivals associated with regimes that persecute their LGBT citizens. I won't strut my stuff in a country where I would not be allowed to live openly and honestly without fear of arrest, incarceration or torture."

Crime Writer Val McDermid

Voicing her support for the Think Twice campaign, crime writer Val McDermid said that: "I will not lend my name to festivals associated with regimes that persecute their LGBT citizens. I won't strut my stuff in a country where I would not be allowed to live openly and honestly without fear of arrest, incarceration or torture." Others may see things differently and I’m told that gay authors have accepted invitations to appear at the festival. However it seems unlikely that any transgender authors will have been invited, given that transgender people are regularly barred from entering or deported from Dubai and even cross-dressing is a criminal offence within the emirate.

If you care about LGBT rights, please do what you can to encourage the festival’s sponsors to be more accepting and inclusive towards LGBT people.



3: The UAE citizens imprisoned and tortured by the festival’s sponsors for peacefully campaigning for more democracy and human rights in the UAE


Ahmed Mansoor is just one of many UAE human rights and democracy campaigners who have been persecuted for speaking out against Sheik Mohammed’s government. More than 100 peaceful activists and critics of the UAE government have been imprisoned on broad and vague national security-related charges since 2011. Most of them remain in prison today, including Dubai citizen Dr Mohammed al-Roken whose case is highlighted in the Amnesty International video below.



“Despite their good intentions, the festival’s supporters risk legitimizing the practice of censorship in the country.”

UAE Censorship Victim
Shez Cassim

The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature presents itself as promoting the free exchange of ideas. Many people have commented on the bitter irony of such an event being sponsored by a government that is brutally suppressing the free exchange of ideas among its own population. Even foreign nationals can fall foul of Dubai’s draconian censorship laws for the most innocent of reasons; in August last year UK-Australian citizen Scott Richards was arrested for the "crime" of posting a link on his Facebook page to a US charity raising funds for blankets and socks for refugee children. Another victim of the UAE's intolerance towards freedom of expression, Shez Cassim, has warned that “despite their good intentions, the festival’s supporters risk legitimizing the practice of censorship in the country.”

If you have the freedom to speak freely at the festival, please consider speaking out on behalf of those whose voices are being suppressed by the festival’s sponsors.



“The root cause of so much of the violence in the region is despair. Human rights are being violated on a daily basis and nobody in the outside world seems to care.”

UAE Human Rights Campaigner
Ahmed Mansoor

On receiving the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, UAE Human Rights Campaigner Ahmed Mansoor commented that, “the root cause of so much of the violence in the region is despair. Human rights are being violated on a daily basis and nobody in the outside world seems to care.” If you care about human rights in Dubai and the wider UAE, please consider using your appearance at the festival as an opportunity to speak out about them.

If you’re willing to raise awareness of the issues highlighted above, you could mention them in the social media or blog coverage you produce regarding the festival. You might even consider raising some issues during your appearance at the festival itself. And, if you’d like to offer your support to local human rights activists during your visit to Dubai, please contact me on hr@scribblestreet.co.uk or Zoe on zoe.toft@kuvik.net and we can put you in touch with people who can help you to arrange this.

If you’re not comfortable raising awareness of these issues, then please think twice about posting photos or making comments on social media or blogs that could be interpreted as promoting or endorsing either Emirates Airline or the Dubai Government. For example, if you share APFA’s concerns about Emirates Airline’s discrimination towards women and gay men, you could avoid mentioning the airline or including photos of their logo/branding in your tweets/Facebook posts.



Further Info:

International Campaign for Freedom in the United Arab Emirates Open Letter to Authors Appearing at the Festival
http://icfuae.org.uk/campaigns/dear-uk-authors-open-letter-why-you-should-speak-out-ahead-emirates-festival-literature

Human Rights Watch World Report 2017: United Arab Emirates
https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2017/country-chapters/united-arab-emirates

Human Rights Watch Report – “I Already Bought You” Abuse and Exploitation of Female Migrant Domestic Workers in the United Arab Emirates’
https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/uae1014_forUpload.pdf

Amnesty International Report 2015/16: United Arab Emirates
https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/middle-east-and-north-africa/united-arab-emirates/report-united-arab-emirates/

Amnesty International  Report- “There is No Freedom Here”: Silencing dissent in the United Arab Emirates
https://www.amnesty.org.uk/sites/default/files/mde_25.018.2014_-_there_is_no_freedom_here_-_silencing_dissent_in_the_united_arab_emirates_uae.pdf

Detained in Dubai - Homosexuality in the UAE
http://www.detainedindubai.org/homosexuality-in-the-uae

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Wednesday 23 March 2016 • Reflections upon the campaign and our one major regret

With this year’s festival now over, we are winding down the campaign. However this website will remain online and we will continue to accept new signatories to our pledge.

The principle aim of this campaign was to raise awareness of the three key issues highlighted on our homepage, which we have achieved. The debate the campaign provoked online (and off-line) has helped to highlight the oppression of free speech and human rights in the UAE as outlined in English PEN and Human Rights Watch’s open letter to festival patron Sheik Mohammed, which was published as the festival drew to a close.

We’re pleased to say that the response to the campaign has generally been very positive, however there have been some exceptions. Critics of the campaign have argued that the festival promotes cultural exchange and a love of literature. We accept this point, but the same could be said of all book festivals, most of which give these same benefits without lending their respectability to a sponsor who is so morally reprehensible. The fact that this particular festival presents itself as promoting free speech, while being funded by a government that is brutally suppressing free speech among its own citizens, seems especially inappropriate. In short, we don’t accept that sponsorship by an environmentally unfriendly company owned by an oppressive government is a “necessary evil” that authors should be prepared to accept in return for a book festival.

The one major regret we have about the campaign is that we were unable to get more authors and illustrators to engage with the issue of aviation-induced climate change. Some people have suggested that it was inappropriate to combine climate change and human rights issues in the same campaign. We disagree entirely; climate change is very much a human rights issue. Amnesty International have described climate change as “one of the greatest human rights challenges of our time". Savio Carvalho, Amnesty’s Senior Advisor on International Development and Human Rights addresses the subject thus in this article:

What has climate change got to do with human rights?
Extreme weather-related disasters and rising seas will destroy homes and ruin people’s ability to earn a living. What’s more, unless emissions are reduced significantly, around 600 million people are likely to experience drought and famine as a result of climate change. So you can see there’s a direct link between climate change and human rights, including the rights to life, health, food, water and housing.”

Climate scientists and environmental campaigners have made it clear that the continuing growth of the aviation industry is critically undermining efforts to keep global warming beneath the 2ºC limit needed to avert climate catastrophe. Earlier this week, the World Wildlife Fund, Transport and Environment (a coalition of European environmental organisations) and other environmental groups launched the FlightPath 1.5 campaign to address “the defining global climate change issue of 2016: reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the airline industry.” As well as urging world leaders to confront the aviation industry, the campaign aims to educate “the public about the importance of this unaddressed issue".

The FlightPath 1.5 campaign aims to educate the public about threat posed by aviation-induced climate change.

 

The problem is that, while domestic flights are covered by the carbon budgets of individual nations, international flights are not. So, while other industries have been working hard to reduce their CO2 emissions, the aviation’s industry’s emissions have more than doubled in the last twenty years. The festival’s sponsor, Emirates Airline, have led the way in exploiting this loophole, outstripping all other airlines by a considerable margin. The international passenger kilometres flown in 2015 by the top 5 international carriers are shown in the graph below.

And, rather than curb their growth, Emirates have announced plans to double the size of their fleet. As such, Emirates are by far the worst offenders in an industry that has consistently prioritised corporate profit ahead of the welfare of future generations.

Setting the issue of ethical sponsorship aside, we hope that this campaign will help authors and illustrators who are genuinely concerned about climate change to recognise the immense impact air travel may be having on their personal carbon footprint. One person's return flight from London to Dubai generates more CO2 than all of the electricity used by a typical UK household in an entire year. For authors and illustrators who fly once a year or more, probably the most effective thing they can do to help combat climate change will be to cut back on their flying.

For many authors and illustrators this may mean attending fewer international festivals and conferences in person (regardless of their sponsorship). The academic community are already leading the way in this respect. The Flying Less campaign is helping to reduce flying by members of academic institutions and professional associations. Launched in October last year, it already has 352 signatories. In the interests of future generations, we hope that the literary community will also recognise the urgent need to cut back on its flying.

 

Sunday 28 February 2016 • Author Chris Cleave on why he doesn't support our campaign and our response

Author Chris Cleave, who is attending this year’s festival, has written a long post about the campaign and why he is not supporting the boycott.

We’re keen to promote debate, so we’d encourage you to read Chris’s post here:
http://chriscleave.com/2016/02/why-not-boycotting/

Our response, posted as a comment on Chris's blog, is also shown below:

 

You make a lot of valid points, Chris, but as organisers of the Think Twice Campaign you won’t be surprised to learn that there also several that we’d take issue with. The chief one being that supporting the campaign is a form of self-censorship.

If anything the campaign has encouraged authors to stop self-censoring themselves. Several of the authors who are supporting the campaign admitted to having had ethical concerns about the festival for several years but, prior to the campaign, had not felt comfortable voicing these concerns publicly. You can read some of their comments on the signatories page of our site. We know that some (if not all) of the authors that have supported the campaign would feel that it would be hypocritical of them to voice these views while being sponsored by the very government they were criticising. And the recent case of Australian illustrator Jodi Magi shows that the UAE government is not above arresting foreign nationals that are critical of the country, which suggests that authors not wishing to self-censor their views might be wiser to air them from outside of the UAE.

Crime writer and campaign supporter Val McDermid made the following statement in relation to the campaign.

"I will not lend my name to festivals associated with regimes that persecute their LGBT citizens. I won't strut my stuff in a country where I would not be allowed to live openly and honestly without fear of arrest, incarceration or torture.”

Homosexuality is forbidden in Dubai and punishable by harsh, discriminatory laws which promote homophobia.*

Several of the authors supporting our campaign have cited LGBT rights as a key reason. Regardless of their own sexuality, these authors are not comfortable appearing on a platform where an author such as Val would not feel comfortable expressing her sexuality openly.

You characterise the UAE as being at a crossroads, deciding to move towards or away from western values. There is little evidence to suggest that the festival is helping to encourage the country in the right direction. If anything, the UAE government has become less tolerant of free speech since the festival was launched. The festival was in its third year (2011) when the government began its current crackdown on peaceful activists, persecuting and imprisoning UAE citizens who were calling for greater democracy and government accountability. More than 100 peaceful activists and critics of the government have been imprisoned since then. At least 67 of them remain in prison today.

Your final paragraph implies that authors that refuse to attend the festival are “turning their backs” on the problems within the UAE. If you read some of the statements from human rights campaigners working for Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and the International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE on our site’s news page (all of whom know the country well) its clear that they are concerned that the festival is helping the West to turn its back on the grave human rights abuses that are taking place in the UAE. Here is a quote Human Rights Watch’s Middle East Researcher Nicholas McGeehan gave to the campaign.

“What concerns me about these events is their normalising effect and the glossy, progressive image they lend to a repressive and abusive government that has zero tolerance for free speech. Authors attending the festival should ask themselves if they are contributing to the furtherance of free speech or indirectly assisting in its suppression.”

The principal aim of our campaign is to raise awareness of the three issues highlighted on our home page. If you intend to use your appearance at the festival as an opportunity to raise awareness of these issues with your audience and/or other attendees, we commend that. However we don’t think it is reasonable to suggest that those who wish to raise the same concerns, without being sponsored by the government they are criticising, are somehow making things worse.

And we haven’t even touched on the ethics of helping to promote an airline that is actively undermining efforts to combat climate change…

 

*The following two sentences, which were in the version on Chris's blog, have been deleted from this version after it was pointed out that this article calls into question the veracity of the two articles (linked to in the text below) they were referencing.

In 2009, the festival’s inaugural year, Geraldine Bedell's book ‘The Gulf Between Us’ was dropped from the festival, the inclusion of a gay character being cited as one of the justifications. Author Margaret Atwood subsequently pulled out of the festival in protest.

 

Friday 26 February 2016 • Crime writer Val McDermid pledges her support for the campaign

Celebrated crime writer Val McDermid has joined the list of pledge signatories and made this comment on the festival.

"I will not lend my name to festivals associated with regimes that persecute their LGBT citizens. I won't strut my stuff in a country where I would not be allowed to live openly and honestly without fear of arrest, incarceration or torture."

 

Wednesday 24 February 2016 • Author Matt Haig pulls out of festival

Author Matt Haig announced on Twitter that he is pulling out of the festival over concerns over free speech and human rights in the UAE.

 

 

He posted a similar comment on his Facebook page and provided a link to the Think Twice web site for further information.

 

Monday 22 February 2016 • Press Release

The latest campaign press release is shown below.

For immediate release Monday 22 February 2016

Human rights activists express concerns about prominent UK authors attending Dubai book festival

Human rights activists have expressed concerns that UK authors appearing at next week’s Emirates Airline Festival of Literature will be helping to lend a sheen of respectability to an oppressive state.

The festival’s sponsor, Emirates Airline, is wholly owned by the Dubai government, part of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). While the festival portrays itself as promoting freedom of expression, the UAE government has been charged with a multitude of human rights abuses including the persecution and ongoing imprisonment of peaceful campaigners calling for greater democracy within the country. Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have documented credible allegations that many of these campaigners were tortured during interrogations.

The Think Twice Campaign is encouraging UK authors and illustrators to boycott the festival in protest against free speech and human rights abuses within the UAE. The campaign is supported by the International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE (ICFUAE) a London-based group that highlights human rights abuses and supports democratic reform within the UAE. Shazia Arshad, ICFUA Campaigns Manager, has this to say about the festival:

“The Think Twice campaign is doing important work to highlight the irony of holding a literary festival in the UAE, which would bring together writers who could find themselves violating their hosts rules with just one tweet. A literary festival should foster discussion and be a home for free expression, in the UAE where people are locked up or deported for expressing themselves freely, it’s hard to see how this would be possible.”

Mansoureh Mills, Amnesty International Campaigner and former Amnesty UAE Campaigner has this message for UK authors and illustrators thinking of attending the festival.

"Not only do the UAE authorities have contempt for free speech by their own citizens, they also hold a grudge against foreign nationals who question their human rights record by banning them from entering the country. There is a zero tolerance policy for any form of speech, be it the spoken or written word, that expresses peaceful criticism of the government. Unfortunately, western governments are far more concerned about their economic relations with the UAE than with its human rights violations, so all these jailed activists are simply forgotten.

I would encourage British writers to learn more about the plight of fellow academics, writers and bloggers jailed in the UAE and to raise awareness of them."

The boycott’s supporters include authors Laurence Anholt, Debi Gliori and Amanda Craig. Voicing her support for the Think Twice Campaign, Craig said that, “no author should support a country where human rights and free speech are abused. This is non-negotiable.”

The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature starts on Tuesday 1 March 2016.

Amnesty International’s 2015/16 report on human rights abuses in the UAE:
amnesty.org/en/countries/middle-east-and-north-africa/united-arab-emirates/report-united-arab-emirates/

Saturday 20 February 2016 • Amnesty campaigner Mansoureh Mills asks UK authors to consider the plight of the UAE's prisoners of conscience

Mansoureh Mills, Amnesty International Campaigner and former Amnesty UAE Campaigner has this message for UK authors and illustrators thinking of attending the festival.

"Since the Arab Spring in 2011, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has carried out a systematic crackdown on freedom of expression. Using draconian legislation introduced after 2011 and under the guise of "national security", the UAE authorities have arrested dozens of peaceful critics, including prominent human rights lawyers, academics, writers and bloggers. Activists arrested by the country's State Security apparatus are generally taken to secret detention facilities where they have no access to the outside world for many months, and are often tortured to extract "confessions" later used to convict them in grossly unfair trials and sentence them to long prison terms.

Currently, a prominent academic and pro-democracy activist, Dr Nasser bin Ghaith, is languishing in a secret detention facility since his arrest over 6 months ago. He had signed a petition in 2011 with a group of leading Emirati citizens calling for political reform, including the right to vote in parliamentary elections, and had continued his calls for greater rights and freedoms until his recent arrest. Many of his co-signatories to that petition are currently serving long prison terms on the bogus charge of "attempting to overthrow the government".

Human rights organizations and UN human rights bodies have raised concerns about these issues but the UAE government continues to ignore their recommendations. Not only do the UAE authorities have contempt for free speech by their own citizens, they also hold a grudge against foreign nationals who question their human rights record by banning them from entering the country. There is a zero tolerance policy for any form of speech, be it the spoken or written word, that expresses peaceful criticism of the government. Unfortunately, western governments are far more concerned about their economic relations with the UAE than with its human rights violations, so all these jailed activists are simply forgotten.

I would encourage British writers to learn more about the plight of fellow academics, writers and bloggers jailed in the UAE and to raise awareness of them."

 

Amnesty articles on Dr Nasser bin Ghaith:

UAE: Torture fears for prominent academic held in secret detention

United Arab Emirates: Prominent Academic arrested, risks torture: Dr Nasser Bin Ghaith

 

Amnesty International’s 2014/15 report on human rights abuses in the UAE

Friday 19 February 2016 • Aviation industry’s new emissions agreement deemed ineffective by industry experts

Aviation was excluded from the last year’s Paris Climate Change Agreement on the understanding that aviation industry body ICAO would create its own industry agreement to reduce carbon emissions. This ICAO emissions agreement published last week has been widely recognised as "ineffective" by industry experts and The New York Times reported that it would "do little to reduce the rise in emissions from airlines.”

Following on from this, both this week’s Nature and New Scientist ran lead articles and editorials on the urgent need to address the impact of aviation on climate change. The Nature editorial commented that “Aviation has become a symbol of the world’s reluctance to make serious efforts to tackle climate change". The New Scientist lead article focussed on both aviation and shipping emissions, stating that “the deal to limit global warming to 1.5 °C has no chance of success unless aviation and shipping pay for the pollution they cause”.

Without effective legislation, there seems little hope that the aviation industry will cut its emissions. We hope that authors and illustrators who are concerned about climate change will think twice about associating themselves with an environmentally-hostile company like Emirates Airline, whose international passenger flights generate more CO2 than any other airline.

Wednesday 17 February 2016 • Support from the International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE

The Think Twice Campaign is supported by the International Campaign for Freedom in UAE (ICFUAE).

The ICFUAE is a London based group that supports political activism and calls for democracy in the UAE and draws attention to the human rights violations and the lack of freedoms in the country.

Here's what Shazia Arshad, ICFUA Campaigns Manager, has to say about the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature.

“Freedom of expression has become an expensive commodity in the UAE; should someone violate the authorities sensibilities they’re forced to pay with their liberty. The Think Twice campaign is doing important work to highlight the irony of holding a literary festival in the UAE, which would bring together writers who could find themselves violating their hosts rules with just one tweet. A literary festival should foster discussion and be a home for free expression, in the UAE where people are locked up or deported for expressing themselves freely, it’s hard to see how this would be possible.”

You can visit the ICFUAE website at icfuae.com

Follow the ICFUAE on Twitter at @ICFUAE

And find them on Facebook at facebook.com/ICFUAE

Friday 12 February 2016 • New Video Page

We've just added a Video Page to the site with a selection of videos that highlight some of the issues featured on our homepage.

 

 

Monday 1 February 2016 • Press Release

The latest campaign press release is shown below.

 

For immediate release Monday 1 February 2016

Authors boycott Dubai literature festival over concerns about sponsor’s role in human rights abuses and climate change

Authors have been pledging their support for the Think Twice Campaign highlighting ethical concerns about the sponsorship of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai, which is attended each year by many prominent UK authors. The festival’s sponsor, Emirates Airline, is wholly owned by the Dubai Government, part of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The campaign encourages authors and illustrators concerned about free speech and human rights abuses carried out by the UAE government and/or aviation-induced climate change to pledge not to attend the festival in 2016 or future years.

Award-winning author Laurence Anholt was among the first signatories and had this to say about the festival:

"The Dubai Government cannot have it both ways - if they want to encourage literature and the arts, then they must allow unrestricted debate and freedom of speech to all. Until this happens, I feel it would be hypocritical of me as a free-thinking author to take part in the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. All modern governments should understand that a questionable record of human rights and the suppression of debate diminishes their standing in the eyes of the rest of the world."

A list of signatories can be found at: eafolthinktwice.org.uk/signatories.html

The campaign’s organisers have been consulting Human Rights Watch’s Middle East Researcher Nicholas McGeehan about the free speech and human rights issues highlighted by the campaign. Mr McGeehan, who has been blacklisted by the UAE Government for reporting on free speech and human rights abuses within the country, made this comment about the festival:

“What concerns me about these events is their normalising effect and the glossy, progressive image they lend to a repressive and abusive government that has zero tolerance for free speech. Authors attending the festival should ask themselves if they are contributing to the furtherance of free speech or indirectly assisting in its suppression.”

Read Human Rights Watch’s 2016 World Report on UAE at: hrw.org/world-report/2016/country-chapters/united-arab-emirates

Friday 29 January 2016 • Human Rights Watch's Middle East Researcher Nicholas McGeehan expresses his concerns about the festival

Author and pledge signatory Dawn Finch wrote a public post on Facebook about the campaign which prompted some interesting debate with points being made both for and against. We flagged the thread up to Human Rights Watch's Middle East Researcher Nicholas McGeehan, who we’ve been consulting about free speech and human rights issues in the UAE.

Nicholas knows the UAE well, but can no longer go there as he's now been blacklisted by its government for reporting on free speech and human rights abuses within the country. He made this comment about the Facebook debate (which was largely between children’s and YA authors) and gave us permission to share it publicly.

“What concerns me about these events is their normalising effect and the glossy, progressive image they lend to a horrendously repressive and brutal government. Authors who go along are arguably playing along and contributing to this, regardless of their good intentions or concerns. It would certainly be a shame if kids didn't get to meet these celebrated authors but isn’t it more important that kids and their parents be aware of what's happening to people who express criticism of the government's appalling actions?”

Nicholas expresses similar concerns in his 2015 New York Times article "Art and Hypocrisy in the Gulf".

Thursday 28 January 2016 • Debi Gliori on her visit to the festival and why she won't be going back

We're pleased to announce that several more authors and illustrators have pledged their support to the Think Twice campaign in the last 24 hours. One of the signatories is Debi Gliori who has attended the festival in the past. Debi has agreed that we can share her comments below which were originally made in response to this blog post by Zoe Toft.

"[This is] uncomfortable for me to read because after being asked to attend the festival several years on the trot, I ran out of excuses for not being able to go (my main reason for not wanting to attend was the CO2 burden that I’d be adding to our already overstretched planet). My work was not going well at the time and I’d hoped that by attending the litfest, I could generate some more income.

In this, I wasn’t disappointed. I found an amazing client who commissioned four huge drawings from me and that income carried us through a very lean period. BUT. And this is a huge but. Being in Dubai, accepting the amazing hospitality offered by the litfest (it is the best and most luxurious gig I’ve ever attended) meant that I was silently in collusion with the oppressive regime. By being their guest, I was signalling that I was cool with slavery, cool with needless overconsumption and chilled with the idea that I was worth all that carbon. And I’m not any of those things.

I came home feeling weird. On one hand, I’d had the best time ever. Hanging out in a warm pool with Ben Okri, Anthony Horowitz et al was good fun. All writers are a bit odd, and to hang with your kinfolk was heaven on toast. The hotel was beyond luxurious, the food outstanding. We were taken out into the desert in 4WDs (oh, the shame) and driven at vast speed up and down sand-dunes while our driver played Very Loud Thrash Metallica. To my eternal shame, I loved it. Oh, dear. I rode a camel (bliss) and we had dinner in an encampment under an Arabian sky. It was something I’d never ever choose for myself, but it was stunning.

[...]

But, and but and but. I felt I’d totally compromised my small amount of principles by attending the litfest. I feel like an ingrate saying this because I was treated like royalty while I was in Dubai, and it seems unbelievably crass for me to turn round now and say what I’m saying. However, I’m saying it. I’m also saying thank you to the organisers for their kindness, their skills at putting on an amazing litfest, their professionalism and their good humour. None of that is in any doubt. It was the best festival I’ve ever attended, but I’ll never return.

I was asked back to do a creative writing programme off the back of the litfest, but I made an excuse and didn’t go. With our poor planet rapidly warming, and there being an urgent need to drop consumption of stuff, drop CO2, eat a simpler plant-based diet etc, and also, DEAR HEAVENS, being the bloody author and illustrator of The Trouble With Dragons (an environmental call to arms for small children) I cannot attend such festivals without being called the biggest hypocrite in Scotland. So – on balance, I’d absolutely love to go back if the regime changed their policies on the oppression of LGBT people, changed their policies regarding suppression of free speech and most importantly (because there really is only one game in town, given the data coming out of the Arctic right now) changed their policies regarding flying and CO2 creation. I wish this would be possible, but I suspect that CO2 isn’t to the forefront of the minds of the Emirates shareholders. Not yet, that is. By the time Dubai begins to feel the disturbances wreaked by a climate off-kilter, I suspect lit-fests may be a thing of the past. I think we need to think very carefully about everything we do, and weigh up how much we imagine our carbon burning to be worth when set against our talents for inspiring children on the other side of the world. I think we need to wake up."

You can read Debi's comments in full here: http://www.playingbythebook.net/2016/01/25/a-call-to-think-twice/

And you can see the full list of authors and illustrators who have pledged their support campaign so far on our pledge page.

Wednesday 27 January 2016 • Guardian Article: Why authors and illustrators should think twice about going to Dubai lit fest.

Jonathan Emmett wrote this piece about the campaign for the children's books section of The Guardian website. It's Author Opinion piece aimed at young readers.

Why authors and illustrators should think twice about going to Dubai lit fest

Tuesday 26 January 2016 • First Signatories

 

The names of the first signatories can now be found on our signatories page. We'll add others as we get them.

Thanks to everyone that got in touch yesterday to voice their support for the campaign. There's been some media interest too, so watch this space to find out about coverage.

Monday 25 January 2016 • Launch and Press Release

 

The campaign launched today. You can read/download the launch press release here:

Social and environmental justice campaign asks authors and illustrators to THINK TWICE about attending the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai

 

Author Jonathan Emmett and book blogger Zoe Toft have written the following blog posts about the campaign:

Jonathan Emmett: Flying in the Face of Fairness

Zoe Toft: A Call to Think Twice

 

We'll update our pledge page with the names of the first batch of signatories shortly. In the meantime, here's what one signatory, author Laurence Anholt, has to say about the campaign.

"The Dubai government cannot have it both ways - if they want to encourage literature and the arts, then they must allow unrestricted debate and freedom of speech to all. Until this happens, I feel it would be hypocritical of me as a free-thinking author to take part in the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. All modern governments should understand that a questionable record of human rights and the suppression of debate diminishes their standing in the eyes of the rest of the world."

Monday 6 Feb 2017
Our plea to authors and illustrators appearing at the 2017 festival

Wednesday 23 Mar 2016
Reflections upon the campaign and our one major regret

Sunday 28 Feb 2016
Author Chris Cleave on why he doesn't support our campaign and our response

Friday 26 Feb 2016
Crime writer Val McDermid pledges her support for the campaign

Wednesday 24 Feb 2016
Author Matt Haig pulls out of festival

Monday 22 Feb 2016
Press Release

Saturday 20 Feb 2016
Amnesty campaigner Mansoureh Mills asks UK authors to consider the plight of the UAE's prisoners of conscience

Friday 19 Feb 2016
Aviation industry’s new emissions agreement deemed ineffective by industry experts

Wednesday 17 Feb 2016
Support from the International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE

Friday 12 Feb 2016
New Video Page

Monday 1 Feb 2016
Press Release: Authors boycott Dubai literature festival over concerns…

Friday 29 Jan 2016
Human Rights Watch's Middle East Researcher Nicholas McGeehan expresses his concerns about the festival

Thurs 28 Jan 2016
Debi Gliori on her visit to the festival and why she won't be going back

Wed 27 Jan 2016
Guardian Article: Why authors and illustrators should think twice about going to Dubai lit fest

Tue 26 Jan 2016
First Signatories

Mon 25 Jan 2016
Launch & Press Release