A private school in Qatar has removed a copy of the children’s fairy tale Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs from its library after a parent complained that the illustrations in it were indecent.
Qatar’s Supreme Education Council ordered the move after investigating concerns made by an unnamed parent of a student at SEK International School in Dafna on social media.
The parent had said the Penguin edition of the classic Disney story contained culturally “inappropriate” images, the school told Doha News.
The head teacher of the privately-run Spanish school has apologized for what she said was an “unintended situation.”
In a statement to Doha News, Principal Vivian Arif said:
“The school took immediate action and removed the book from the library and has revised and enforced the procedures to ensure that this type of incident will not happen again.
SEK International School Qatar is proud to be established in this country and presents its formal apologies for any offence that this unintended situation may have caused.”
The school opened just over two years ago, and has in place procedures for staff to ensure “the laws, traditions and ethics of the Qatari community” are followed, she said.
“We deeply respect the culture of Qatar, we are committed to the promotion of its values and principles, and we will keep on working so that our school is always a reference for its commitment and service to the people of Qatar,” Arif added.
The book is an abridged, early-readers’ version of the story, according to details on an international, online book store.
The school did not give further detail on what the offending images were, but the front cover of the book shows the princess and the prince in each other’s arms.
In the story, the princess is woken by a kiss from the prince, after she eats a poisoned apple and falls into a comatose state.
Public displays of affection such as kissing and hugging with members of the opposite sex are considered culturally inappropriate in Qatar.
This week, Al Sharq, which first covered the story, reported that the father who raised the complaint was “flabbergasted” at the illustrations in the book, which were described as “inappropriate,” “indecent” and “containing illustrations and phrases that have sexual innuendoes.”
The newspaper also reported that the book was being taught in the classroom, but director of the SEC’s Private Schools Office said this was incorrect.
Speaking to Doha News, Hamad Mohammed Al Ghali Al Marri said that the book was stocked in the school’s library for free-reading.
“Like all western fairy tales, you know they always have a bit of romance,” Al Marri said.
He added that the incident was “not out of the ordinary,” saying the school was cooperative when approached regarding the subject and immediately withdrew the book.
All schools in Qatar are required to follow SEC-issued regulations detailing which books and learning materials are permitted and culturally appropriate.
Al Marri said the school was reminded of its need to follow the rules and warned that such incidents cannot be repeated and will not be tolerated.
These guidelines are very clear and stipulate that no school material can be in conflict with Islamic values and Qatari norms, Al Marri added.
While the SEC is responsible for regulating schools’ literature, all books sold in shops in Qatar are vetted by the state’s Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage.
Al Marri said the Snow White book was on sale in several bookshops in the country, although did not say which. “Perhaps it needs to be banned from shops too,” he added.
This week, the SEC has tweeted excerpts of the school’s apology in response to a discussion launched by Qatari journalist and TV presenter Hassan Al Sai.
However, some said it wasn’t enough:
Translation: An apology is useless. The entity responsible for supervising school syllabuses and material should be held accountable and whoever failed at their job should not go unpunished.
@Hassan_alsai ياليت التحقيق مع المدرسه والمنسقه والنائبة الأكاديمية والمديرة لأنهم كلهم مشتركين في الخطاء هذا اذا سياسة التعليم صحيحه
— Qtr_sll (@Qtr_Sll) January 19, 2016
Translation: This investigation should include the school, the coordinator, the academic delegate and the principal because they are all incriminated in this wrongdoing. That’s if the education policy is on the right path.
@Hassan_alsai مش اول مره استاذ حسن ولا شفنا اي اجراء من المجلس ولا اي محاسبه ولدلك تحدث وستحدث اشياء ابشع من هاللي صار ?
— Nora Alkubaisi (@alkubaisi_nora) January 19, 2016
Translation: This is not the first time (something like this happened) and the SEC has not done anything in the past to hold those responsible accountable. Therefore, such incidents continue to take place and uglier stuff will continue to happen.
This is not the first time Qatar has grappled with questions of cultural appropriateness.
Films are regularly censored here to cut out kissing and other scenes of intimacy, and pictures of women in bikinis or showing cleavage in magazines are blacked out before they go on sale.
Last January, Qatar’s Ministry of Economy and Commerce (MEC) pulled stocks of perfumes and scented lotions labeled “VS Fantasies: Strawberries & Champagne” from the Victoria’s Secret store in Landmark mall, saying they contravened the “customs, traditions and religious values” of the nation.
And bottles of perfume featuring the Playboy bunny logo were removed from Family Food Center in Al Sadd following complaints about the branding.