Right now I am working on the Fahrenheit 451 section of my paper, and it is going very nicely, but lately, I have become distracted by the atrocities going on in Nigeria, and I am finding them somewhat applicable to my paper. Bradbury discusses the elimination of books. And in an interview with him that I just watched, he gives his thoughts on book-banning and how censorship and book burning like they experienced under Hitler is a disruption to the positive progress of a democratic society. The self-confessed Islamist men who abducted over two hundred school girls between the ages of 12 and 15, and then recently stole eight more, have condemned “Western” education, and have pronounced that teaching girls to read is a “sin”. Allow me to first qualify my words. I do not wish to sound sexist, but it is “men” who have done this thing. I do not wish to sound intolerant, but these men have identified themselves as Islamist.
As a woman of faith myself, I appreciate and am grateful that I live in a culture that allows me the freedom to gather with those who share my faith, and to worship according to my conscience. Further, I respect the rights of those of other faiths who wish to do the same. I am very liberal in my position that people should enjoy personal liberty in Canada which must include holding political and religious beliefs that differ from mine. I might not agree with them, but I defend their right to hold their position. However, when these political and religious beliefs begin to infringe on the liberty of other people, then I take exception. This post is not an “anti-Muslim” rant by any means. In fact, I have Muslim friends who are as liberal as I hope I am, and this incident in Nigeria horrifies and outrages them. It is becoming time to speak out though, and that is difficult for those who have always had a “live and let live, agree to disagree, do no harm” type of approach to life–not just in “religion” but also in politics and in academia. That is because, in Canada, we have lived in our liberty for so long, that it is “no big deal” anymore to some of us.
Most of those who fought in the great wars are dead. The majority of Canadians living today weren’t born during World War Two. We don’t have the memory with us personally. And some of us forget what the fight was about. Most people today know it was about Hitler and the Nazis, but they don’t personally understand all that was at stake the way the generations before us knew. We pay homage on November 11, but the numbers at these gatherings of remembrance are dwindling. We are those who have inherited the liberty won, but sometimes it seems that the lesson and value of that liberty is lost on us. I am as guilty as the next person. I do not celebrate victory over Nazi oppression, or feel thankful that I can walk into a library and read anything that I choose to read without fear of reprisal. In fact, I am not usually “grateful” that I know how to read. I feel entitled to read. I feel that it is my right to read. I forget that, of the women on earth today, I am a minority. I am within arm’s reach of a Master’s degree and I enjoy gender equality in a culture that will not tolerate, and will censure those who would impede my aspirations simply because I am a woman. I should be grateful all the time, but still, I sometimes feel like a spoiled child.
That is what happened to the people in Bradbury’s future. It wasn’t an evil regime that violently took power and banned books. It was the apathy of the people that led to it. It was the silence of the scholars and academics who didn’t speak out until it was too late. The people of Bradbury’s society were good people–they just got too busy to pay attention. They did not value leisure and the act of reading. They could see it all on television anyway. Before they knew it, they had sacrificed more than they realized, and there was no going back. What had been lost could only be rebuilt after a cataclysmic event–and this is precisely what happened to Bradbury’s society. Nuclear war came as they were all watching their televisions, and too separated from the real to take any action at least to save themselves. They didn’t even try to run away, in spite of the fact that the news told them what was happening and they could hear the fighter planes overhead as plain as day. They had become utterly complacent.
I look at the terrible crime against those little girls in Nigeria, and I am shocked by how slow the response to this incident has been. The girls were taken weeks ago, and the other eight within the last few days, and it is now that there is finally a response–that they are at least going to look for the girls. Complacency and lack of initiative is what has happened here. I wonder what the response would have been if 250 little girls were stolen from Canadian schools? Someone please tell me that we would have at least closed the borders. Geez!
I do not believe that the Koran is responsible for the indoctrination of the men who have done these terrible things in Nigeria. Instead, I believe it is the terrible plague of ignorance. If these men were educated, they would know that “Western” education is relatively new. In fact reading and writing were discovered in Mesopotamia–decidedly East–and it was Arabs who invented Algebra. Algebra–the word–is actually rooted in the Arabic word “al-jebr” which means the “reunion of broken parts”. In fact, our education here is based on “Eastern” learning. Not that it should matter. We have also borrowed from the Romans, the Greeks, and the Chinese. Basically, our culture is a late-comer to the global party, and therefore we are a conglomeration of learning from all over the place. Anything original that has come out of North America is only in the past two centuries or so. For the rest, we have everyone else to thank.
If these men were educated, they would know that educating all their children would provide for their society later on. Ignorance fears learning, because it fears being confronted and proven wrong. In Bradbury’s future, no one reads anything of importance. When Montag tries to share his literary discoveries with his wife and her friends, it causes quite an upset. They cannot discuss with him. They do not have the tools. Instead, they act with outrage, and this leads to Montag being reported and confronted by the Firemen.
We live in our happy and polite Canada, slow to anger and politically correct. We do not for a moment believe that what is happening there can ever happen here. Such were the academics in Bradbury’s future America who kept silent while books were slowly banned. Intellectually, I do not know how to appropriately respond to the outrage in Nigeria except to speak out against ignorance. I think this, in the end, is what Montag felt he wanted to do. But like so many of us, he didn’t know how or what to do. He was overwhelmed by his own impotence, and finally, could do no more than escape with the other “readers”–to watch from a distance while everything he knew and cared about went up in a mushroom cloud. Such a tragedy.
I think it’s because I do believe that what happened there can indeed happen here that I find the events in Nigeria so unsettling. We are not separated from fear, harm, and terror merely because we live in Canada. In addition, I believe there are agencies in this world that have their sights set on our beautiful land of plenty, and not in a good way. If Bradbury’s dystopia speaks at all, it speaks to the awful consequences of ignorance and censorship. Bradbury said in his interview that “we are a democracy of readers, and we should keep it that way.” I absolutely agree.