F(read)om. We Want.- Banned Books Week

Oct 10, 2012 by     4 Comments    Posted under: Book Emporium

I pronounce myself guilty of reading banned books. Did I hear someone gasp? Probably not. Because reading banned books may not seem like a big crime, if a crime at all. Would I get a death sentence for perusing a copy of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses? If yes, then I better get my Last will And testament in order.

Reading the book might not implicate me to such an extent, writing one such book might mark me for life. My hard labor could be burned right on the streets, angry maulvis might take out a fatwa against me, and if that wasn’t enough, kill the poor souls who had the guts (read: audacity) to translate my work of art into a couple of different languages. If I were Salman Rushdie, I’d be happy to still be alive. In this age we pride ourselves on having freedom of speech. We can speak out about anything, against anything. We think we are free to use our words in any way we like, and anyone who wants to read them can. There’s truth in that, but only some. Censorship exists. Our degree of intellectual freedom depends on what our sociopolitical and religious leaders deem appropriate, anything unorthodox or unpopular is first challenged, and then banned.

Great gems of literature have gone through severe censorship. Ulysses by James Joyce was burned in USA, Ireland, Canada and England for being ‘obscene’. Gone with the wind by Margaret Mitchell was banned for the use of the N-word. Even J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings was removed from libraries and bookstores for containing supposed ‘satanic elements’. Books influence lives, propagate culture and cultivate and spread ideas. Adults can tell between right and wrong, reality and imagination. Young minds are unable to make distinctions; they take the written word quite seriously. Harry Potter was challenged for this very reason. Parents and teachers expressed concern over their children being strongly influenced by witchcraft and wizardry. Even the ever popular Twilight series has a case against it for being too sexual and having anti religious beliefs. The Hunger Games is too violent and let’s just not talk about the 50 Shades series. Fahrenheit 451, a book about censorship and those who ban books for fear of creating too much individualism and independent thought too faced implications.

So whether it’s Rushdie, for being blasphemous, or Orwell, for being a communist and because his book Animal Farm contained a talking pig, freedom of speech comes heavy with limitations. Censorship in Pakistan is nothing new; Jinnah of Pakistan by Stanley Wolpert was banned for mentioning our Quaid’s taste for pork and wine. Books criticizing and providing insights into the military and political practices are constantly under consternation. Books that should be banned, for example pamphlets propagating militancy and communal hatred remain widely available. But is banning books effective? Can banning stop people from reading the contested titles? And to what extent can the government dictate the thoughts of its citizens.

I, for one, am a curious reader. Banning a book gives me reason enough to find out what made it the mark of censorship in the first place. With the books available online, removing them from libraries and bookstores does not ensure that they won’t be read. Complete freedom has to be fought for, after all.

The Author

Aspiring novelist, not-really-a-closet poet, blogger; Maryam is a sophomore at Kinnaird College, majoring in Media Studies. She is forever ‘adopting’ words that have been forgotten. She writes letters to Sylvia Plath whenever she is bored . She hates being told that she should be studying Literature.

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4 Comments + Add Comment

  • I agree – partially.

    Tell a child not to stick his finger in the socket. Guess where you’ll find it two minutes later?

    You’re right when you say that a big red “NO” isn’t the best way to stop a people, or even an individual from venturing in to the vast unknown- most of which may actually harm us (or, eventually, the author/ instigator). But like the child that keeps returning to the socket again and again, we don’t always know what’s best for us. Mostly because we don’t really know much of anything. Most of us have learnt, read or heard a snippet or a bit of information about a lot of different things, but none of us know a lot or even a sufficient amount about most of the topics we’re interested in (yours truly being no exception). Reading the satanic verses does not make you a literary pundit. Writing it definitely has not made Rushdie, a man who himself has never claimed to have any attachment or understanding of the religion he has allegedly referred to (I say allegedly because I haven’t read the book and am relying on hearsay myself).

    People like Salman Rushdie should not be compared with Tolkien- please, I beg of you. And why you chose to bring Rowling in to the mix is beyond me (unless The Casual Vacancy really did not please you). He is currently being heralded by the so called “liberals” (a term I can not hope to understand) as a crusader and reformer and a genius. One must wonder if that would have been the case had the situation been dealt with differently – sans the death threats and fatwas etc. But that’s a case of could have, would have, should have (or not, with regards to this situation) and one that’ll take us no where. And freedom of speech, like all other liberties, must be earned. The first thing we learnt in Political Science : For every right, there is an obligation. There are times when one must be blunt -in the name of honesty, when the other party is wrong, horribly so. But if you as a writer can not present your views or ideas in a manner that won’t hurt or incite the populous, than that’s your failing as a writer.

    There IS an alternative to banning books: educating the people. Educating, not just teaching them how to read and write (that’s making them literate)- truly educating, grooming and refining, giving them an ideological basis to stand on and opening the world before them.

    But that’s an activity we’ve decided to leave to the very people, corporations and government who’ve influenced and placed the bans in the first place. Why? Because we don’t want the responsibility? Because we think it’s too high or noble or tiresome a cause? It doesn’t have to be. Charity does begin at home after all.

    Well written, coherent.

    But why you would put Rushdie and Tolkien in the same piece and position is beyond me.

    • *Writing it definitely has not made Rushdie, a man who himself has never claimed to have any attachment or understanding of the religion he has allegedly referred to (I say allegedly because I haven’t read the book and am relying on hearsay myself) a religious figure head or a saint or a crusader or anything else he’s ever been called*

  • I have, at no point in this article, compared Rushdie with Tolkien. I have merely stated facts that outline that all kinds of books become the mark of censorship, no matter what their theme might be.

    • Shush Wabbit.
      That comment took all the argument out of me. Too drained to set about explaining things to you right now. I said it was a good piece love. Now go get some rest.

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