Banned Book Week: All Need To Speak Out Against Censorship

In the 21st century, it is truly sad that in the United States we still need to have an annual event to highlight the pernicious effect of banning books. Now through October 2nd authors, librarians, and readers will join efforts to point out which books are currently being banned and give voice to why censorship is an awful idea.

The Taliban recently marched their way to power in Afghanistan and the world awaits the restraints they will place on the populace. Including the books that people can read.

Abdul is part of a book club that allows people to swap titles with each other: Kandahar has no libraries. Self-help books, many of them by foreign authors, have helped him manage his anxiety. He also reads essays on politics and terrorism.

But even such simple pleasures are now under threat. The author of one of his books about fundamentalism was assassinated in Kabul a few weeks ago. Abdul owns a collection by Kandahar’s most famous poet, Abdul Bari Jahani, who now lives in America. Last time the Taliban were in charge they banned his books.

Abdul decided that hiding his library was the safest option. “I don’t want to take any chances if the Taliban take over Kandahar and search my house,” he says. Whatever the group’s official policy on owning such titles, Abdul fears that his fate will depend on the whims of whoever may raid his home. “If they do not like my books or what I have been keeping in my house, they could take my life in a moment.”

Taliban behavior is appropriate to mention in the context of Banned Book Week because no matter where the removal or restriction of books occurs, or who is responsible, it is wrong. Be it in Kandahar or Wausau, the Taliban or angry objections from a person in Milwaukee, there should be one universal feeling of revulsion when a book is attempted to be censored.

But living in a pluralistic and enlightened society means our level of dismay and vocal outrage over banned books should be deeper and louder. It is simply galling that last year To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck were among the 10 most challenged books in our nation.

I have never felt so wise that I would consider telling someone else not to read a particular book because I felt the content was not suitable.  Conversely, I have never met anyone so learned that they could tell me what I should not read.  Yet every day there are struggles around the nation to suppress books that people should be able to freely read.  I find this unconscionable.

I grew up loving to read and still consider books to be ‘friends’ and so have a very difficult notion with censoring books.  I loved my little hometown library, where as a kid starting in fifth grade, I would go every Friday night after dinner to get a new book.  The neighborly lady who sat in that tiny one-room building soon understood that Ian Fleming was more to my liking than the Hardy Boys.  I recall she tried to steer me to the younger section but when James Bond calls, you must respond.  In short order, she and I were friends, and it was understood I had reading interests that were unique to my age.   She never told me I could not read any book I wanted to check out.

Those who wish to ban books are nervous and afraid of the unknown.  The world is moving too fast for them and so lashing out by restrictions and censoring seems to them a smart thing to do.  For the rest of us, the vast majority, we enjoy the confrontation with reality and the pricklier topics that through exploration opens our horizons for a stronger and healthier society.

Be it for politics, sex, religion, or for some other ‘socially offensive’ reason I am opposed to the attempt to curtail what books other folks read.

And so it goes.