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Authors condemn Saudi Arabia’s bid to host World Science Fiction Convention

Controversy is abound in the science-fiction writing circle after Saudi Arabia bids to host the World Science Fiction Convention

More than 80 science-fiction and fantasy authors are currently protesting at the possibility that one of the ‘genres’ biggest conventions may be held in Saudi Arabia in 2022, they say that, “the Saudi regime is antithetical to everything SFF stands for.”

The group is led by fantasy author Anna Smith Spark and includes writers Charlies Stross, Stan Nicholls, Catriona Ward, and Juliet McKenna. They have all signed an open letter objecting to Jeddah’s bid to host the World Science Fiction Convention in two years’ time.

The authors point to the fact that homosexuality is illegal and punishable by death in Saudi Arabia, it’s crackdown on free speech, and the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. They argue that these issue make the country an unacceptable stage for an international event.

“On a personal level, we note that many of us would ourselves not be able to write or to live freely under Saudi law. We refuse to attend an event if those staffing it cannot have the same basic freedoms,” they say in the letter addressed to the board of the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS). “We express deep concern that many members of the SFF community would be excluded.”

While the writers acknowledge that holding the convention in Jeddah would, “open up a new world to fans who may otherwise never have an opportunity to travel there, and show solidarity with creative communities within Saudi Arabia and other Arab states”, they state that “the Saudi regime is antithetical to everything SFF stands for”.

“We stand in solidarity with those who seek change in the country. And we write in protest but also in hope – that by raising awareness of the political situation in Saudi Arabia a WorldCon SA will one day be possible,” their statement reads.

One of the authors behind the Saudi bid, Yasser Bahjatt,released his own statement that says he was “deeply concerned” by the letter.

“We believe in their right to express concerns or even distaste for a WorldCon in Saudi Arabia, but demanding that we should not be allowed to even request hosting it is absurd and unhealthy for the WorldCon in the long run,” he said. “The WorldCon already is limited in its spread as it is mainly focused on western culture countries, and as long as it is the WorldCon, it must accept all of the world.”

“This does not mean that the community should not try to make the world a better place, but merely that there is a difference between advocating for change that you believe would make the world a better place, and demanding that the world adheres to your own moral code. When such a tone is used, it is no different than the radicals on the other side,” he added.

According to Smith Spark the WSFS has been dismissive of the authors’ concerns so far, she also says that the response from readers, writers and publishers though had been “astonishingly positive”.

Smith Spark also said she is shocked she had had to take a stand on the issue. “Our community has expressed deep solidarity with the people of Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and disgust that the UK and US governments have such long and deep links with the regime. It’s the Saudi regime that is the antithesis of everything SFF should stand for, absolutely not Islam or Arabic culture to which both science and literature are hugely indebted,” she said. “Many in the community have also expressed outrage that a convention could be considered that would by default exclude many of the most exciting voices in the genre.”

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