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Book ban. It works? – DW – 09/21/2022

Forty years ago, in September 1982, the first Banned Book Week was held in the United States. It was organized in connection with a sharp increase in bans on the use of certain textbooks, as well as due to the withdrawal of a number of books from libraries and shops. Since then, this action in defense of freedom of information has been held annually.

The starting point is considered to be a court case considered by the US Supreme Court – “Council of Education v. Pico”. In September 1975, the Island Trees County Board of Education removed some books from schools at the request of parents. That list of supposedly “anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic and just plain dirty” included eleven books, nine of which were immediately removed from school libraries. These included Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Naked Monkey by Desmond Morris, Down These Mean Streets by Pirie Thomas, Best African American Stories edited by Langston Hughes, Laughing Boy: A Navajo Love Story by Oliver La Farge , “Go Ask Alice” by an anonymous author and others. After the investigation of the special commission, only a part of this list was returned to the shelves.

Schoolchildren sued

A group of high school students led by Steven Pico filed a lawsuit for violating their First Amendment rights. This amendment is seen as part of the US Constitution’s Bill of Rights and prohibits Congress from passing laws that restrict freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, or the right to petition. It also prohibits the establishment of a single state religion and federal law to favor or discriminate against individual religions.
Four of the judges involved in the trial came to the conclusion that the seizure of the books was unconstitutional, four did not see violations, and one judge decided that the court did not need to consider this issue. As a result, the court ruled that local school boards cannot remove books from libraries they control simply because they don’t like the ideas they contain. It was the first U.S. Supreme Court case to address the First Amendment right to access libraries in libraries, but the judges’ decision left the scope of that right unclear.

US Book Society for Freedom of Information

American free speech activist Judith Krug co-founded Banned Book Week with the American Library Association’s Free Thought Committee. This week, the American book community of librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers and readers is hosting numerous events to promote free access to information and the free flow of information. The initiative to hold the Weeks of Banned Books is also supported by the international human rights organization Amnesty International. In particular, she uses this platform to draw public attention to people who are persecuted or arrested for their literary, creative or journalistic activities.

Banned and classical works

Prohibitions on certain works of art, as well as the fight against these restrictions, have always existed. The black list included not only openly political books – like Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” and Marx’s “Communist Manifesto”, but also books that were completely neutral in content. “Alice in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll, for example, was banned for its anthropomorphic depiction of animals, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Harriet Beecher Stowe for preaching the idea of ​​universal human equality and undermining religious ideals. And even the Bible was the subject of discussions about the prohibition.

Blasphemy allegations

The most famous example of a banned book today is The Satanic Verses. Salman Rushdie. The book has been officially banned in several countries for what critics say is a blasphemous depiction of the Prophet Muhammad. This work was published in 1988, and since then the British author of Indian origin has been forced into hiding due to the threat of death. Iran’s spiritual leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini imposed a ban on the publication of Rushdie’s works. A large reward was assigned for the murder of the writer. Ayatollah Khomeini died long ago, and the death sentence has not been officially canceled to this day. In August of this year, a 24-year-old man attempted to assassinate Rushdie by stabbing the writer several times as he prepared to give a public lecture at a US institute. The alleged perpetrator called Rushdie “the one who attacks Islam” and pleaded not guilty. The writer was seriously wounded as a result of this assassination attempt.

Ghosts, sects and witchcraft

Both children and adults all over the world read stories about Harry Potter, and, perhaps, you will not meet a single person who has not heard about his adventures. However, this work by the British writer JK Rowling has already disappeared from some American school libraries. What is the reason? Proponents of the ban believe that this book is about ghosts, cults and witchcraft, and can harm the psyche of readers.

Galileo Galilei’s 1632 “Dialogue Concerning the Two Major World Systems” has long been a thorn in the side of the Catholic Church. An Italian astronomer claimed that the Earth revolves around the Sun – and he was accused of heresy. The ban on his work was lifted only in 1822. But the Catholic Church admitted its mistakes much later. It was not until the 1990s that the Vatican officially agreed with Galileo.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, written in 1884, is considered one of the greatest books of all time. But today in the US, the book has come under fire for its depiction of racial stereotypes and its use of words that are now considered discriminatory. The “N” word occurs 242 times in the novel, leading one critic to call the book “the most grotesque example of racism I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Nabokov’s controversial work

“Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov experienced both bans and permits in France, Great Britain, Argentina and New Zealand, as well as a number of other countries. In the US, this book is criticized, but not banned. This work was first published in 1955. The book tells about the love of a literature professor at the age of a twelve-year-old girl. Numerous critics see signs of pedophilia and pornography in the novel. At the same time, “Lolita” was included in the list of 100 best novels according to The Time magazine, as well as in the list of 100 books of the century according to the French newspaper Le Monde and was filmed twice.

Critics of the Week of Banned Books argue that the action is pointless, because books as such – their sale and reading – are not banned by the US authorities. In their opinion, the lists of prohibited books in US curricula and public libraries help protect the interests of children and young people from sexual, violent, offensive or inappropriate content. In turn, supporters of such actions associate bans with restrictions on the freedom to receive and disseminate information, and also fear that local bans will grow into global ones. With the help of the action, they draw attention to the problem that exists from their point of view.

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