Sunday, July 24, 2011

Are there books that should be banned? A column sparks a debate in the Christian Science Monitor

A column in the Christian Science Monitor, "5 books almost anyone might want to burn," sparked a storm of responses when it suggested there are certain books that ought to be destroyed. "What about books that take on some seriously taboo topics, like Holocaust denial, terrorism, sadism, or pedophilia?" the writer, Husna Haq, suggested, providing a short list of books that "strangely, have never been banned." Hitler and Osama bin Laden are represented -- as well as the Marquis de Sade.

The result was an emphatic "no" from readers. In a subsequent article Haq took a step back and considers that no matter how repugnant the contents may be, the act of banning a book is dangerous indeed, writing further that those who attempt to ban books, especially on political grounds, are often trying to revise history or control the thoughts and collective psyche of society.

With that said the article considers the fate of writers whose works have been banned for political or unpopular reasons, and who have been jailed, abducted, or even killed for their work. Readers should remember that the idea of censorship is a continuing struggle worldwide.

Here is an excerpt of Haq's article published in the Christian Science Monitor, titled "Let's not forget the writers."

Banned Books Week tends to focus on books rather than their authors. And many of the spotlighted books were published decades and centuries ago, putting their authors out of harm’s way. ...

This year celebrate Banned Books Week by doing more than reading banned books from decades past. Instead, try learning about contemporary writers and journalists whose governments have banned their works – and often imprisoned or tortured them – in an attempt to control the thoughts of the citizens by controlling what they can read.

They may be the Orwells and Paines of tomorrow.

(Above: Eynulla Fatullayev. Below: Prageeth Eknaligoda)

Here is a representative group of writers who have faced persecution, detention, harassment and jail for their work, from the Banned Books website:

Azerbaijani journalist Eynulla Fatullayev wrote a series of articles critical of his government. One discussed consequences for Azerbaijan of a US-Iranian war, which Azerbaijani authorities perceived as a threat of terrorism, according to Amnesty. Mr. Fatullayev was sentenced to 8-1/2 years in prison. The European Court of Human Rights ruled that his conviction violated rights to free expression, that he had been unfairly tried, and that there was “no justification for the imposition of a prison sentence.”

Uighur poet Nurmuhemmet Yasin is serving a 10-year prison sentence for writing an allegorical short story that Chinese authorities consider a condemnation of their rule in the Xingiant Uighur Autonomous Region.

Like many before her, Iranian journalist Hengameh Shahidi is serving a six-year sentence in Evin prison, Tehran, for articles she has written deemed critical by the regime.

Journalist and human rights defender Chekib el-Khiari is serving a three-year sentence in Morocco’s Taza prison for his writings.

Sri Lankan journalist, cartoonist, and political analyst Prageeth Eknaligoda disappeared soon after he left work at the Lanka-e-News office Jan. 24, 2010. His family suspects he was abducted by the government for his criticism of President Rajapaksa.

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