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Film director goes from prize in Venice to prison in Beirut

Lebanese-French director Ziad Doueiri’s The Insult was recognized at the Venice Film Festival last Friday, when Kamel El Basha was awarded the Coppa Volpi for Best Actor.

Yet the triumphant return of Doueiri’s to his homeland on Sunday turned into a nightmare when he was arrested upon arrival. The reason? Entering “enemy territory” without prior consent.

That is a reference to Israel, where part of The Insult was filmed. Some scenes are set in Tel Aviv, where a Palestinian doctor tries to understand the reasons why his wife commits a suicide attack.

Mind you, this is happening in Lebanon, one of the most liberal Arab countries. Moreover, Doueiri had the support of the Lebanese minister of Culture, who accompanied the director in Venice. Just imagine what would await someone like Douieri should he be returning to a place like Saudi Arabia, where sheiks swimming in oil relegate everybody but themselves to the dark ages under all sorts of religious pretexts.

Doueiri, whose French and Lebanese passports were confiscated upon arrival, was questioned by a Lebanese military tribunal but released. As of Monday, however, his situation remained uncertain.

Not only these restrictions violate basic freedoms and are massively idiotic. They have a profoundly adverse effect on culture in places that need it the most, like Arab countries ruled by dictatorial regimes or fragile democracies, like Lebanon’s, based on precarious arrangements of tribal divisions of power.

In the meantime, the cuts that can be brought together in films and movie theaters will be undone by states intent on parceling the world among themselves into little chunks cut off by border controls, barbed wire and huge ideological barriers. Future generations will look down upon the present world in amazement at the incompetence of the prevailing political order and the absurdities they impose on populations that are often more progressive than their rulers.