My friend, B.K., sent me a few copies of his newspaper in Japan. I’m going to write for them and he wanted me to take a look at some similar features they’ve run recently. The package arrived this morning and I was about to slice it open when I noticed the corner of the envelope.

Already opened

Someone had snipped the corner off of it, presumably to see what was inside. This was no steam-open-the-envelope-and-reseal job. It took me aback for a second.

To be honest, it doesn’t bother me. I know that this is not home; I don’t have the same expectation of privacy here. When I wrote about the possible BlackBerry ban, I spoke to attorneys who very openly said they sort of expect that communications is or can be monitored.

I don’t get a lot of mail here. There is no residential mail delivery in the U.A.E. and I pay bills and get paid online or through wire transfers. Lately, I’ve received some as friends will mail me hard copies of papers where I have had stories published. (P.B. sent me my F1 coverage in the Austin paper and included  Shiner beer bottle opener!) I’m not really worried about the packages being opened, I suppose, because, well, they’re copies of newspapers in which I have articles or I hope to have articles.

It does intrigue me, though, because of the idea that this sort of thing could be being monitored. J.B. went to Kinokinuya, the Dubai branch of the Japanese bookstore here, and inquired about a book I would like to read. It was in order, the manager said, and might be back on the shelf in about six weeks. Six weeks? What, are monks in the hills of Umbria copying each page by hand?

Turns out, he said, that the books actually arrive into Dubai quite quickly. But there is a “review” process (emphasis mine) that takes the time. Oh … I see.

Back when M.H. lived here in the mid-1990s, she said her VHS and audio tapes (ah, how quaint that sounds!) were routinely taken by customs authorities when she arrived in Dubai. Some time later, she would receive them back. She also noticed that they were selectively, and rather crudely, edited.

It just makes me wonder, whose job is it to do this? How would you get such a job? Is it fun or just tedious? I imagine a floor of cubicles of people reviewing mail, packages, etc., looking for offending material. Has anyone uncovered something and helped prevent, say, an act of terrorism?

Obviously, I’ll never know the answers to these questions. But it is interesting to think about.

3 thoughts on “The Watchers

  1. 6 weeks is quite fast considering they need to translate the book and then judge if its acceptable or not. When I lived in Cairo in the 90s a friend of mine went to pick up a box of chocolate from the post office. The box was open, half empty, but at least the man behind the counter thanked him and said the chocolates were really good especially the ones wrapped in foil (with alcohol).

    1. Ah, well, at least he properly thanked your friend! The thing is about the book, they already carried it and were restocking. So why the need for additional scrutiny? And if you’re going to do this I hope you have a corps of scrutinizers who can work faster than six weeks!

  2. The best part was having to have my visiting parents “repatriate” my VHS copies of “Grease” and “Dirty Dancing” to keep them from being destroyed. Apparently they couldn’t censor them enough to make them acceptable.

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