Banned books and other forms of censorship

On the banning of books, censorship and other freedom of access issues

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Refocusing my efforts

I regret to announce that I am taking an extended leave of absence from this blog, Banned Books and Other Forms of Censorship, in order to focus my efforts on my other blog, Vietnam Human Rights Journal. My reason for doing so is that, just as my blogging is voluntary work done on my free time, so is my work for Amnesty International USA as its Vietnam country specialist. Given that I have a limited amount of free time, and given that Vietnam is in the midst of a major crackdown on dissidents, I believe it is important now for me to focus my blogging on Vietnam. I will still be writing about book banning and other forms of censorship, but just focused on Vietnam.

I had thought about retiring this blog altogether, but do not have the heart to do so. The topic is important, and unfortunately there are many ongoing cases today of book banning and other forms of censorship all over the world. The links I provide here for the most part do a good job in documenting such repression, particularly David Durant's Heretical Librarian and Elaine Anderson's Fahrenheit 451.

I may come back here on an irregular basis, perhaps every few months, to post something of importance. Perhaps at some point in the future I will resume posting here regularly. But for now those interested in reading what I write on the topic of censorship should visit my other blog, Vietnam Human Rights Journal.

My thanks go out to those who have encouraged me in my writings and who have linked me to their blogs.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Censorship in the American Library Association

A controversy has erupted within the American Library Association and more particularly its sub-group, the Social Responsibilities Round Table, over a mailing just before the annual election for ALA council members. In the mailing, organized by SRRT member Elaine Harger but mailed from the SRRT c/o the ALA's address in Chicago, a card was sent to all SRRT members informing them of SRRT members who were running for ALA council. Two names were left off: Harger's and Greg McClay. When the controversy came out in the SRRT Action Council email forum, Harger informed McClay:

"Your name is not included because I could not in good conscience play any role in votes being cast for you by anyone who is unaware of your hostility toward everything that SRRT stands for. The other name left off the list was my own, because I also could not in good conscience accrue any possible votes myself while depriving someone else (even you) of the same."

In discussion on the ALA council list and in the SRRTAC forum, criticism was directed at Greg McClay because it was felt his politically conservative views made him an outsider, a disrupter within the SRRT, whose only purpose in joining the organization was to undermine it. One poster to the SRRT list compared him to David Duke, another said:

"Neo-fascists should have no free speech. They deserve the business end of a baseball bat."

The above remark was an extreme example of a deeper problem within the ALA and SRRT, the notion that ALA members who want to engage in activism on what they consider to be socially responsible issues can do so only if they do so from within a left of center context. To me, a roundtable within the ALA should be a place where people of different political views can come together and discuss their ideas and then move forward with some consensus on certain proposals, like maybe the U.S. Congress, or for that matter the ALA Council. But the presumption here seems to be that the SRRT is more like a political party within the ALA, say the Green Party, and that only those who share the general political mindset of the SRRT leadership are welcome to participate, others are considered outsiders intent on undermining the organization.

Greg McClay is much more conservative than me, but I have also been made to feel unwelcome in that organization because of my support for the independent library movement in Cuba and my opposition to the 2003 political crackdown on dissidents in the same country, in which individuals were sentenced up to 20 years in prison following quick political show trials, a crackdown which has been condemned by Amnesty International and every other major human rights group, but which has been defended by certain prominent SRRT Action Council members who are also on the ALA council. That such individuals could then set themselves up as arbiters on what constitutes socially responsible activism within the ALA is in itself highly ironic.

It is time for the ALA council to recognize that no one within the organization has a lock on what constitutes socially responsible activism within the ALA, and that Greg McClay or any other conservative, or moderate for that matter, has just as much right to fully participate in the one organization set up for this purpose, the Social Responsibilities Round Table, as do its current leaders. Otherwise, the ALA should encourage the development of alternative social responsibilities round tables for those who do not share the leftist political views of the current SRRT leadership.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

UN Human Rights Council urges limits to free expression

A resolution passed March 30 by the UN Human Rights Council stated that freedom of expression can be restricted in order "to ensure respect for religions and convictions." It was passed by 24 council members, with 14 against and 9 abstentions. It was sponsored by Pakistan, on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC); other supporters included China, Russia, Mexico and South Africa.

Source: Article 19 newsletter, Winter 2006-Spring 2007; news via posting of Mark Perkins to FAIFE-L list.

Australia: new legislation to ban terrorist videos, books

The Australian federal and state govenments agreed last Friday to enact new legislation to ban the sale of books, DVDs and other materials that advocate terrorism. Under the law, writers, publishers and distributors would not be liable to arrest, but circulation of such material would be banned. The country already has a law that allows officials to remove from sale materials that "promote, incite or instruct (people) in matters of crime or violence."

Source: Associated Press/International Tribune, April 13.

Anti-Semitic attacks increase worldwide

There was a sharp increase last year in anti-Semitic attacks around the world, according to the annual report of the Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism and Racism at Israel's Tel Aviv University. It reported 590 instances of violence or vandalizm against Jews last year, the highest since 2000. In Britain, there were 100 such attacks, the highest in 20 years. It said the attackers were primarily Muslim immigrants and extreme right-wing youths. It also said the physical attacks against Jews more than doubled over 2005, from 130 to 270: "Such assaults, which took place mostly in schools, at the work place and in streets near Jewish institutions, were usually randomly perpetrated when an opportunity presented itself."

Sources: UPI, April 15; annual report of Stephen Roth Institute.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Kaffir Boy removed from curriculum in Burlingame

An award winning book describing the gritty life of a boy growing up in South Africa before coming to America where he became a tennis player has been banned from the curriculum of Burlingame Intermediate School in northern California (my alma mater), because of a two-paragraph graphic passage describing boys having sex with men in order that they could eat. The book, Kaffir Boy, by Mark Mathabone and published in 1986, is number 31 in the American Library Association's list of 100 most frequently challenged books in America from 1990 to 2000. The book had been used in the 8th grade class the previous year without challenge. Students were allowed to skip the graphic sections when and if they become uncomfortable, said the school's principle Ted Barone. However, the school district superintendent decided to remove the book from the curriculum late last month after parents complained about the passage.

From my eighth grade days some 45 years ago at the same school, I don't recall what books we were required to read, but do recall reading for extra credit Herman Melville's beautifully written novel Typee, which has been described as being about fish, sex and cannibalism. I learned many new words from reading that book.

Sources: San Mateo Times, April 10; San Diego Union Tribune, April 12.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Zimbabwe: Attacks against dissidents on the rise

Today's New York Times reports an increasing number of physical attacks against dissidents in Zimbabwe:

"There is nothing subtle about the reaction of President Robert G. Mugabe’s government to the latest surge of political unrest in Zimbabwe. By the scores — by the hundreds, some opposition figures say — people critical of Mr. Mugabe’s rule are being cornered on sidewalks, hauled to jails or simply abducted from their homes in early morning raids, and then savagely beaten.

"The main faction of the leading opposition group, the Movement for Democratic Change, says that at least 500 of its members have been attacked in the last month. The numbers of attacks on civic advocates and other opposition figures is less clear but appears substantial.

"Some of those attacked are left with fractured skulls or broken limbs. A few have been shot. At least one has been killed: a week ago, a 65-year-old former cameraman for the state-controlled Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation was found bludgeoned to death in a field 50 miles from his home in Glenview, a south Harare slum that is a locus of antigovernment sentiment..."

"..Mr. Mugabe was widely quoted last month as saying that “the police have a right to bash” protesters who resist them, and added that the main leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, Morgan Tsvangirai, deserved the beating he got on March 11 — leaving him hospitalized with a head wound and possible skull fracture.

"An international furor erupted this week after The Herald, a government-controlled newspaper that frequently speaks for officials in power, suggested that one British diplomat that it accused of aiding opposition figures might return to London 'in a body bag, like some of her colleagues from Iraq and Afghanistan.'

“'This is not a regime that is ensconced in the affections of the people,' Iden Wetherell, an editor of the weekly Zimbabwe Independent, said in his downtown offices this week. 'There’s a real fear of popular mobilization. Look at the pattern of beating people up, of declaring Harare a zone where no demonstrations can be held, of breaking up news conferences. It’s clearly an attempt to prevent the leadership of the opposition from communicating with its members.'”

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Tehran book fair imperiled by hardliners

Efforts of Iranian hardliners to prevent independent publishers from having contacts with their foreign counterparts is bringing the prestitigous annual Tehran book fair to the brink of collapse, reports Index on Censorship. The fair, scheduled for May, is one of the biggest in Asia, with about two million visitors a year. This time, Iranian authorities plan to separate the fair in half, with domestic publishers at a location at one end of the city and foreign publishers at another location at the other end. Some domestic publishers have already withdrawn.

The International Publishes Association has said the separation would mean that "international publishers would see no point in participating in the Book Fair as exchange with our Iranian colleagues would be hindered." Index on Censorship notes:

"The dispute comes at a sensitive time for publishing in Iran. All new books have to go past the censors and final proofs and bound books cleared by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance before distribution. Even if publication of a translated book is approved, the text is often so changed by censorship that it is unrecognisable to a bilingual reader who has read the original."

Source: Index on Censorship/Rohan Jayasekera, April 4.

YouTube banned in Thailand

The Thailand military government has banned access to YouTube because of a 44-second video which is considered derogatory to the King. It included a juxtaposition of a pair of woman's feet over the King's head. YouTube's owner Google Inc. has refused to take down the video and the Thai Information and Communications Technology Ministry (ICT) has stated YouTube access will be denied in the country until the video is removed.

Source: Southeast Asia Press Alliance, April 4.