Monday, February 27, 2006

Opening Iranian Borders -- Terms and Conditions 

To:Border's Books Worldwide Corporate Offices
From:Minister for Promulgation of Blind Obedience
Re:Franchisee's Request to Open Iranian Borders

We hope this letter finds you in good health, and more importantly that Pervaz, your American-born prospective franchisee, is recovering well. The slightly overzealous response he received was unfortunately the result of a few of the Ministry's bad apples, whose sense of the expedient was as yet insufficient to take seriously your proposal for a Western-style Iranian bookchain. This has been rectified, believe me. We also pray, however, that you are still interested in cooperation, despite having received no response to your "opening Iranian Borders" request for so long -- I was unaware of the problem because all memos were initially mis-routed to the Ministry of Isolationism.

Contrary to the initial impression your franchisee's beating might have conveyed, the mutual brand-building opportunities afforded by your visionary offer really are of great interest to us. However, a few niggling details remain before we can involve the lawyers and accountants to close the deal.

First is the issue of the name. As we hope Pervaz was able to explain to you, the word "Borders" in this region has nothing but negative connotations associated with colonialist interlopers and tea-drinkers, who carved up our land like a drunken mathematician's Venn Diagram. So -- with nothing but your commercial interests in mind -- we must insist you utilize a different name for any stores you open here. May we take the liberty of suggesting one of the following:
The last title was actually suggested by Pervaz during a brief moment of lucidity. We include it only to illustrate just how distasteful was his sense of humor regarding what is to us a very serious issue: the precise nature of the content we can allow to be sold within our Iranian State. Pervaz clearly overreacted when, near the end of his beating, he promised to sell nothing but copies of the Holy Koran and The Protocols of the Elder of Zion. While his subsequent dental troubles are most regretable, surely we can't be expected to ignore such slander. As a matter of public record we have a very robust book market, including many other top-sellers such as Mein Kampf, the auto-biography of Sheik Yassin, and the Michael Moore boxed-set, not to mention a brisk export of certain specialized and highly-technical how-to materials. So we are clearly open to books. We are a people of the book. It's just a question of which book and which pages.

Since I'm told Pervaz was not paying careful attention toward the end of his meeting, I'll reprint for your benefit a few section-by-section guidelines he might not have conveyed to you.

Children's section

We are well aware of the world-wide "Harry Potter" phenomena, and realize it would be to difficult ban the series entirely. We will, however, expect the series to be shortened from seven volumes down to a single book, which must be edited for our young readers' sensibilities and retitled "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stoning."

The Zionist Dr. Seuss will obviously have to go, as will Shel Silverstein, the Berenstains, and any other author with a last name ending in 'stein' or 'stain' -- too inflammatory.

Curious George is fine; although, we would prefer the yellow-hatted colonialist to get a little more of what he deserves. Perhaps rabies from a monkey bite, or a light beheading?


While we are familiar with the "Harlequin" phonomenon, the so-called "bodice ripper," we feel this genre has little to offer the Iranian woman, who has no need to dream of Fabio replacing her Iranian man. We would suggest, therefore, that this section be stocked instead with cookbooks, since a bountiful dinner table is a sure way for the romantically-inclined woman to please her man.


While we prefer to steer away from mainstream science fiction, on the grounds that such futuristic speculation might lead readers to question whether the body of all possible knowledge was perfected and freeze-dried early in the 8th century, we might be able to whittle a few of the classics down to acceptable pamphlets, as well as offering a few good Fantasy selections:
Self Help

The Holy Koran. Hey, we let you have the rest of the bookstore, so give us a break here. Well, it's just that we haven't really seen much else we like. Perhaps we could get a few of our own enlightened writers busy, if you could promise publication:
Science and Technology

We'd prefer to focus on the technology here, and leave the science to the prophet. A few volumes we believe would be brisk sellers are:
Chick Lit

Obviously there has to be something for the grrrrls and chicks, to "empower" them. It shouldn't be too hard to take a classic and suck out all the sex and sinfulness until you can offer "Bridget Jones' Head Covering." We also expect "The Girls Guide to Shooting and Demonstrating" should sell well, with proper editorial guidance of course.

In Closing

If you feel you can construct a bookstore along these editorial guidelines, we believe there is a real chance that you could eek out a meager profit between riots and firebombings -- we recommend all construction and furnishings consist only of non-flammable materials -- all the while contributing to the overall impression that Iran is an open society. However, there are a few last little teeny-weeny itty-bitty points to deal with first.

We have a very minor requirement of your world-wide operations. While you might take the Islamophobic position of refusing our suggestion on the grounds that Sharia is not yet globally enforced, we believe that forward looking businesses like yours should consider the longer view. Do not forget, the world is filled with 1.2 billion potential readers, or potential rioters -- the choice is in your hands. In that vein, we strongly recommend your existing stores modify their policy of stocking the shelves with books with those inflammatory covers, which include images of women, often scantily clad, images of the human form, and that of animals, not to mention various and sundry prophets. Wouldn't it be much wiser to simply stock books in plain brown covers?

Eagerly awaiting your response, and etc.

POSTSCRIPT: In reality, there are already bookstores in Iran; although, there are indeed issues of censorship:

On the other hand, it is the very rare book written by an émigré author that can get published in Iran; it is hard enough for writers living inside to get their books accepted by the government censors.
The censorship even extends to Tintin:

It wasn't until a few years ago, nearly a quarter century after the revolution, that Tintin found its way back into Iran. This time, however, the publishers are unauthorized, and since there is no copyright in Iran no one can stop them.

This means they have "censored" a lot of stuff out of the Tintin stories. They have "islamified" Tintin, and had they failed to do so they probably would never have gotten permission to publish the books.

A lot of people, certainly those like me who have read the original editions, hate these new ones though. Imagine Captain Haddock drinking "lemonade" all the time instead of whiskey, or imagine Castafiore wearing stockings and long-sleeves, and then you will know why we hate them.

While it looks bad, there is room for hope that Iranians may someday enjoy the liberty they deserve too. But it won't happen by itself.

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