Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Childrens books banned for mere hint of sexuality

First this:

The New York Times reported this saddening news that a children's book that won the prestigious Newbery Medal is now being banned in many public schools in the USA for its use of the word, "scrotum": "The inclusion of the word has shocked some school librarians, who have pledged to ban the book from elementary schools, and reopened the debate over what constitutes acceptable content in children’s books. The controversy was first reported by Publishers Weekly, a trade magazine. [...]The book has already been banned from school libraries in a handful of states in the South, the West and the Northeast, and librarians in other schools have indicated in the online debate that they may well follow suit. Indeed, the topic has dominated the discussion among librarians since the book was shipped to schools."

Then this:

Israel's Ynet reports that the Palestinian Authority Education Ministry has ordered an award-winning anthology of Palestinian folk tales to be pulled from libraries and destroyed reportedly over mild sexual innuendo. "Speak Bird, Speak Again is a 400-page anthology of folk tales as narrated by Palestinian women, and was compiled by Sharif Kanaana, a novelist and Professor of Anthropology at Bir Zeit University, and Ibrahim Muhawi, who is a teacher of Arabic literature and also of the theory of translation. Mr. Kaanana, who lives in the West Bank town of Ramallah, reported that after the book's publication, the Palestinian Culture Ministry had requested 3,000 copies before distributing them throughout school libraries in Palestine. Mr. Kanaana said that two of the 45 tales contained what some might consider vague sexual innuendo, referring to body parts in colloquial Arabic. "This is our heritage, this is our life," he said of the folk tales.

I am reminded of the 2001 Harry Potter book burnings:
“2001: On Sunday evening, members of the Harvest Assembly of God Church in Penn Township sing songs as they burn books, videos and CDs that they have judged offensive to their God.”and “Two groups of people argued over the definition of evil Thursday night in Kennedy Park. One group said it was embodied in the messages contained in the Harry Potter novels. The second group countered that evil lives in those who want to ban books and censor what men, women and children can read.”

And we have to remember the book burnings of Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime, or of Joseph Stalin's equally repugnant attempts to intimidate those who held opposing views to the censors in Communist Russia, and then there are blatent dual-standards which were at work in the USA in the early 50s, where Nazi censorship was decried whilst US Senator Joseph McCarthy introdued "book-burning" as psychological persecution during his anticommunist campaign - capitalist regimes are equally capable of political and 'moral' censorship.

One good illustration of corporatist (capitalist) censorship is recalled in this famous case involving the works of Wilhelm Reich, where although none of the items burned were actually books; the act could at worst be described as a "magazine and pamphlet burning.", the U.S. state upheld an Federal Drug Agency (FDA) injunction against Reich, and witheld all Reich's hardcover books from publication, "until all mentions of orgone energy were removed from them. At the time, the FDA were trying to repress alternative therapies and medical practioners in the USA.

Religious-oriented censorship of books, as practicised by groups and individuals today in the USA, and also more recently by the Palestinian Authority in their removal of the culturally rich compendium of Palestinian Folk Lore from schools and libraries, is reminiscent of the Catholic Church's 16th Century "Index librorum prohibitorum" (Index of Forbidden Books), in which books were to be "free from all partisanship and prejudice, and had to pass judgment [..] simply and solely according to the general Catholic teaching and the dogmas of Holy Church"

The late Maï Ghoussoub told us in her personal keynote speech at the Freemuse Conference on "Freedom of expression and music in the Middle East” in Beirut that: “Totalitarian regimes are afraid of freedom and impose one speech, the one that keeps them in power". However, it's not only totalitarian regimes who can, and have opposed freedom of expression - sometimes the censorship impetus comes from individual citizens and their social groups, who seek to impose their agenda onto the rest of society either by misusing their social position (as we saw with the prudish librarians), or by lobbying publishing houses in an attempt change their publishing criteria.

In Texas, USA, religious conservatives, using a combination of grass roots organizing and deal making have effectively censored many text books that were destined to be used in sex-education, we're not talking about removing a book that refers to a part of the erotic/sexual body, or uses a coloquial term for parts of the body, we're talking about imposing an ultra conservative religious agenda on how children and young adults are taught about their own bodies and as they mature, about the natural expressions of human affection, and love.

Further reading:
The Mass Psychology of Fascism by Wilhelm Reich
Historical and Thematic Context of Fahrenheit 451
The Foundation and Loss of the Royal and Serapeum Libraries of Alexandria
Satirical site Landover Baptist: Book Burning: A True Christian® Tradition
Hot Topic - Censorship (a comprehensive resource on banning and censorship of media
Feminists Against Censorship (FAC)


Biby Cletus said...

kewl blog, interesting stuff you have got here keep up the good work.be in touch

regards Biby - Blog

Anonymous said...

The Most Frequently Banned Books in the 1990s

Censorship in the United States is an old pastime and new hobby of the feebleminded. In January 1997 a Minneapolis, Minnesota parent inspired an investigation of whether R.L. Stine's Goosebumps should be banned in the school library because it is too scary for children. Never mind that there are 180 million copies of Goosebumps in print --not a hard book for a child to obtain-- this library's nine copies might be dangerous.

James Joyce's Ulysses was prohibited from the United States, and the U.S. Postal Service actually seized copies between 1918 and 1930.

The U.S. Postal and Customs Departments have been actively involved in seizing and banning numerous books including Voltaire's Candide, Aristophanes's Lysistrata, Jean-Jacque Rousseau's Confessions, and Chaucer's Canterbury's Tales.

Locally, schools and school districts have banned Shakespeare's Twelfth Night and The Merchant of Venice, and Little Red Riding Hood. States have been vigorous censorship advocates, as well: