Censorship activists move outside the library

It is common to hear of challenges to books in libraries, such as this recent story - one of many - about 'And Tango Makes Three', or this one about a young adult book that was successfully remove from a school library, but a challenge to a bookstore? In this BBC story, an author, a poet, was singled out by a religious group who lobbied a local book store to not sell his latest work, a book of poems that they felt were "blasphemous". In the end, the bookstore merely canceled the book signing that has been scheduled - they still sell the book in question despite the protests.

My thoughts
Some time back the author Salmon Rushdie published a book that followers of a different religion felt was blasphemous to their beliefs. They condemned him for his writings and the outcry in much of Western world was quite great in his defense. Sales of the book skyrocketed. People openly supported Rushdie, a national of the same country as the author of this book of poetry. What is different in this case?

Well, the religious groups that have taken offense for one. In the event of Salmon Rushdie, the religion in question is not one that is counted as a large majority in the area in which the even occurred, while in the case of the poetry book, the religion in question is counted as the large majority, by a good margin of the population.

Given the number of challenges to libraries, it is obvious that not everyone feels that the freedom of religion and freedom of speech are rights worth preserving, or perhaps they do feel that they are worth preserving, but only if people are saying what 'should' be said. It makes me wonder how they would feel if their religious choices were the ones being blockaded by others.

Freedom to choose a religion is something that is fundamental to our society. Here in the United States we are each granted the right to choose a religion, or to choose not to follow any religion, at our own discretion, and an integral part of those rights is the freedom from oppression and discrimination by others for our choices. Everyone is certainly free to voice their opinions, either pro or con on any issue, but they are not free to force their beliefs on others.

Further Reading

The original news story on the BBC website

A brief introduction the the author Salmon Rushdie


Finally it is probably less

the idea of restricting religious and other freedoms, than an effort of one religious group to force its own view of the world onto everyone else in the nation. The censors and religious fanatics would not be as dangerous if their intent was to assert their own rights to beleive what they beleive. It is the intent to supress all other positions to advance their own that presents the real danger.

Had a Christian Rushdie who presented a view of Christianity in the same way Rushdie presented Islam, I do not think many of the people who came out in defense of Rushdie would have been so quick to defend this sort of author.

As Goethe said

"Where they burn books, so too will they in the end burn human beings"

Censorship in any form usually results in other forms of repression.

Much that is considered great literature was also at one time considered to be obscene in the western world. For years delicate western sensibilities resulted in rather poor or bowdlerized translations of works like 1001 Nights. The world was scandalized by Burtons direct translations, from a culture in which things that were pretty much normal to the human condition were considered, well , normal. Even then in Burtons own preface to his work he is reduced to making statements that the mundane nature of the average reader, he is reduced to making his statements in French. "Le peuples primatifs n'y endendent pas malice: ils appellent les choses par leur noms et ne trovent pas condamnable ce qui est naturel". In English this would have offended.

How much that is considered classic would not exist today had he censors of the past had their way. Censorship is more harmful than anything else and it offers nothing that could be remotely considered positive.

In every era, there are censors who claim to be protecting something with their efforts at censorship. Censorship over the past 30 years has not seemed to improve society very much. In fact it seems that over the last 30 years, many of the conditions which censors seemed to wish to protect society against have gotten worse, not better.

Censorship serves no purpose other than repression, and in spite of the efforts of censors, the things which are censored inevitably end up in the hands of those who the censors inted to protect, usually in less than optimal circumstances. Try to keep the Harry Potter books out of a child's reach, the kid will still get copies, and the sense that the child is doing something forbidden will make it all the more enticing. This takes both the child, and society, in directions which are less than optimal, and usually negative.

The experience of the Danes with pornography is a good example. The Danes are bored with it. Only tourists from more repressive cultures take trips to indulge themselves.


I also suppose that had censors of earlier ages had their way, most of what has created our rather badly named "Christian civilization" never would have occured. Most of the ancient works that spurred on the western Renaissance were banned works that had to be either smuggled into Europe from Islamic Spain in the 11th Century or later brought from the Eastern Byzantine Empire through translations from their contacts with the Islamic world and cultures further to the east like China. The local keepers of the public morals insisted that there was nothing of value in these works because they contradicted the religious views of the day, and many who dared to buck that trend ended up being burned or otherwise treated as heretics and criminals.

Well, there is nothing new under the sun, and the same sort of people who burned Giordano Bruno at the stake, and subjected Galileo to the Inquisition are still very much alive today.

Syndicate content