On the Subject of Book Banning, Can Burning be Far Behind?


This being Banned Books Week, one should first ask why in a free society such a declaration is even necessary. All citizens should be free to read any book they choose without others enforcing their ideals or will upon them. The freedom of choice to read any book offers us exposure to alternative views and experiences of their authors to inform, entertain and enlighten readers in the eternal quest of understanding the world and its people from many different perspectives.

The recent onslaught of calling for the banning of certain books’ subjects brought on by groups bent on controlling access to and trying to determine what others should and can read is the first step in assault on personal freedoms we all should enjoy without anyone enforcing their views and choices upon us. The First Amendment is the guarantor of that right and a fundamental cornerstone of our democracy.

As many textbooks used in schools along with those in public and school libraries face an onslaught of complaints calling for their banning, librarians and school administrators who are resistant are subjected to ridicule and name calling along with the threat of physical violence and, in some states, with arrest and fines for providing access to banned books. Titles deemed as “harmful to minors” of being offensive, or those which broach controversial subjects such as sexual orientation, race relations and racism are being called out for elimination from school and public collections.

In every case the reasons cited for the banning of books are highly subjective, often propelled by sheer numerical proportion with a loud and vocal minority attempting to force their reading choices and agenda on libraries, librarians, schoolboards and administrators.

The banning of books regardless of the reasons cited by critics creates the real prospect of spillover encompassing all books and subjects resultant in libraries with empty shelves. A symbolic reminder of this is best portrayed in the poignant Berlin memorial by sculptor Michael Ullman in Bebelplatz recalling the burning of books by Nazis in 1933 that saw 20,000 books destroyed with an adoring crowd bearing witness. The glass-topped memorial is set under the plaza’s paving stones where the books were burned and features enough empty space to house all the volumes destroyed.

A bronze plaque nearby contains a quote by author Heinrich Heine whose books were burned warning, “That was only a prelude; where they burn books, they will in the end also burn people.”

One reaction already occurring to the ongoing vitriolic calling of banning books is that some librarians and schoolboards thusly intimidated are now self-censoring their choices as a tactic for the avoidance of creating more conflict and division as well as for their own personal safety.

Schools by their very nature of educating students need to infuse in their curriculum and libraries a wide variety of reading material representing numerous subject areas to better prepare literate students who are objective and versed in their views of the world. The freedom of expression represented by books is one that should be held of the upmost importance rather than as a politically weaponized tool used as a lever to divide and intimidate.

Last year alone saw the highest rate of book censorship since 1990 when the American Libraries Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom first started keeping track. It has been reported that over 300 titles were banned for various reasons. The association concluded that books in schools are “… critical for the students who will lead America in the years ahead. We must fight to defend it.”

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) in a full-page New York Times ad during Banned Books Week challenged its readers to “Join us opposing the banning of books, because the rich tapestry of the written word must be celebrated and protected. Books unite us and censorship divides us.”

A free, democratic, literate and educated society demands that its citizens be informed of many points of view and perspectives in fulfilling our obligation as a society to prevail that way, now and into the future.

(This article has previously appeared in Nuzeink)

Phil Pasquini is a freelance journalist and photographer. His reports and photographs appear in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Pakistan Link and Nuze.ink. He is the author of Domes, Arches and Minarets: A History of Islamic-Inspired Buildings in America.


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