Book ban's violent face

Thursday, September 23, 2010

I started writing this post in a totally different direction from where it ended up. So I split it up into two posts and decided to go with the one that was raging in my head at the moment of writing.

Honestly, the very idea that there are banned books seems so ridiculous to me. Fine, there are books you wouldn't want your 10-year old child to read or see included in the curriculum, but how long does one hope to keep the blindfolds on the child's eyes? That's not to say that they will not get the book one way or the other. Remember Dolores Umbridge and The Quibbler edition that she banned? Banning something doesn't really meet the eventual goal for controlling access, instead it usually has the opposite effect. What's needed is a healthy discussion of the offending topic.

What if there is no avenue for that healthy discussion?

In countries like the US, we have one side favoring the ban of a book and another side protesting it strongly. The book either gets banned or not, and there will be a lot of talk around it. The ban may be repealed, overturned, reinforced, etc. Usually that's it. In several other countries, books with sensitive content, are received with violence. Say, the publication of The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie, and Lajja by Taslima Nasrin (a book that's high on my wishlist), were followed by a lot of violent protests by people who were offended by passages in the book. I don't even think all those protesters read the book. Most likely, they were swayed by opinion. Both books were banned by many governments. Both authors received death threats.

I've always felt that the attitude of the protesters was, to put it mildly, intolerant, and when the government follows with a ban, it only encourages that attitude. The widespread violence, burning of public property and effigies definitely disturb the peace of a country. Is it worth keeping a book in publication at the risk of more violence? Or should the people be pacified and the book banned, only increasing the possibility that it can happen again? Banning a book also makes more people curious, and they get the book by some means, usually illegitimate. And then more protests follow from both sides of the war.

The Satanic Verses controversy even has its own Wikipedia page. I myself heard of Salman Rushdie for the first time only after the protests over his books. I can only imagine what life would be life for those authors, to live under the threat of assassination (not even murder) every minute. If something in a book offends you, why not just throw the book at the wall, or rant for a minute? Why threaten the author or ban it? Why make it a national or international phenomenon?


Helen's Book Blog said...

Great post! I guess we should feel lucky that our conversations over banning books are just that: conversations. I am constantly amazed at how much some people want to control other people's lives.

AliBird said...

This is such a timely post in light of the whole Speak! controversy. Book banning makes me nervous not only because it limits access to quality literature, but also because it is often used by those in power to determine whose voice, whose version of history, whose experience COUNTS. Silencing a person or culture's voice is often a way of invalidating their experience or point of view and, in my opinion, that's one of the most psychologically violent acts imaginable.

Man of la Books said...

If I was to write a book I'd do anything I can to get it banned in the US' school system and / or church. That practicality guarantees a best seller, free publicity and a wide audience.

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

Wonderful post! I am finally getting around to seeing what everyone is writing about banned books :)

Aths said...

Helen, that's right - I'm so glad we just "converse" here about banning books and don't run around with sticks. The authors who face the violence will be in so much danger!

AliBird, you are so right! Why do governments think they have a right to decide what people should know - in terms of free literature? They promote what they agree with, and ban what they don't. So unfair!

Man of la books, haha! That's pretty much what happens though. At least something good comes out of all the banning!

Sheila, thank you! :)