AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Last week in the country of Qatar, a poet was sentenced to life in prison. That was the punishment for writing verse that the country's ruler found insulting. The poet's name is Mohammed Ajami, and his poem skewered governments across the region. At one point, it declared: We are all Tunisia in the face of the repressive elite.
Well, commentator Andrei Codrescu says this case shows a brazen bit of hypocrisy.
ANDREI CODRESCU, BYLINE: The Emir of Qatar is a tolerant man. He allowed Al Jazeera, which is based in his country, to broadcast reports of the Arab Spring as long as they didn't cover local unrest. However, even a tolerant emir has to draw the line somewhere, and he drew it at "Jasmine Poem," a work by poet Mohammed Ajami, which criticizes the regime.
Freedom is relative. In the United States, it's hard to write a poem offensive enough to get you even a few days in jail. In Vladimir Putin's Russia, the young performers of the band Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years in prison for insulting him in church. That's not bad for Russia, where in Stalin's time, a poem insulting the leader would get you executed in a jiffy.
The United States did almost hang poet Ezra Pound after World War II, but not because of his poetry but because of his radio broadcasts from fascist Italy. Of course, if Mohammed Ajami had insulted the emir in a mosque, he might have been decapitated instead of just getting a life sentence. A ruler must draw the line somewhere.
CORNISH: That's commentator Andrei Codrescu, author of the book "Bibliodeath: My Archives with Life and Footnotes."
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