Controversial Settings

by Cardela
(United Arab Emirates)

Question:Is there any restriction in a Novel to say the exact place of where the story really happens? (E.G Middle East.) Does the writer need to get permission to use the country or particular place to be mentioned in a story? E.G Middle East?

Answer: The short answer is "no." To the best of my knowledge, if you are living/publishing in a country which recognizes the right to free speech, you can set your novel anywhere, and there is no need to get anyone's permission.

The long answer is that there are cases where you might incur legal problems. While I personally believe in the right to freedom of expression and dislike the idea that some great books might be suppressed for because they offend certain people, there are cases where that happens.

For instance, you use the phrase "where the story really happens." If you are writing a fictionalized version of something that really took place, you may need to consider whether any living people might think you are intentionally writing about them in a negative way. Many countries have laws against libel or slander. In some cases, it may be safer to create a fictional village within a real country.

You may also need to develop a journalistic sense of fairness and objectivity when reporting on historical events, even if you are writing from a particular point of view. Authenticity can be important.

Granted, some of the most beautiful novels ever written have been set in politically charged environments, and have taken a particular side on the issues. For instance, Cry, the Beloved Country which is set in South Africa in the days of apartheid.

On the other hand, there are risks involved as well. The right to free speech, particularly in matters like politics and religion, is not recognized everywhere. I'm thinking here of Salman Rushdie, who received death threats for his controversial book, The Satanic Verses. He is not the only writer to have made serious enemies.

If you live in the Middle East, I suggest you inform yourself about local laws and politics before you publish a controversial work, so you know what you're getting into. You may also wish to contact Pen International (, an organization of writers that lobbies for free speech throughout the world. They may know more about the situation where you live.

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