The “Evils” of Censorship

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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. 

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5 thoughts on “The “Evils” of Censorship

  1. Wow. Well-articulated and thought-provoking post.

    Again, just commenting on one small detail: World War II wasn’t about Hitler and the Nazis – well, yes, it was, but Nazi ideology was only the most extreme outworking of the nationalism, racism and totalitarianism that was the point of conflict worldwide; the battle with Japan and Italy was obviously not about “Nazi” (i.e. Aryan Supremacist) ideas. But it all was about an evil that, in its initial outworkings, seemed innocuous and even beneficial (I mean, what’s not to like about bolstering your country’s self-esteem?), an issue that pervaded all of society in those days. It wasn’t about “the good guys” vs. the Nazis, it went much deeper than that – a rift that went right through each of the societies that were part of the conflict. It puts me in mind of what I wrote a few years ago on Remembrance Day: http://www.amovitam.ca/2010/11/poppy-conflict.html.

    As you’re saying, the horrific events in Nigeria are not about “the evils of Islam” – it’s not the Muslim faith that is the issue here, it’s ignorance, willful ignorance and fear of learning (Foucault and the Power-Knowledge relationship?). There’s nothing we can do about this here, but what we *can* do is remain ever-vigilant that the attitudes that spark these evils cannot take hold in our own small lives.

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    • Thank you for your response, Amo. Forgive me for generalizing to such an extreme, and of course, you are right. WW2 was about far more than Nazis– they were just one part of it.

      I wanted to add to your comment that it all seemed rather beneficial at first. As for Germany, what I understand (though not a history major) was that the country was in a terrible depression after WW1, and they were being strangled by the weight of reparations. The terrible economy led to something like a society wide depression–if that makes sense. Then along came Adolf Hitler, and he restored a sense of national pride in the people. People felt better, and things got better, and they loved him. Apparently the trains still run on time in Germany because of Hitler’s improvements. At first, Adolf Hitler was just what Germany needed. He was an excellent leader. At first. Then, well we all know the rest.

      And I thought about it for a while as I wrote the blog earlier today. What could compel a young boy to inform on his parents? Or neighbors to turn on each other? We’ve all seen young Rolf in “The Sound of Music” turn on the girl he loved. And while the young fellow in the movie is mostly fictional, not all the young fellows who informed were. The only thing I can think of, and please correct me if I’m wrong, is that Hitler had proven himself. Everything he said he would do, he did. He had the confidence of the people. They believed in him, and so when he pointed the finger, and said “they” are to blame for your hardships, the people agreed with him.

      That is related to a journal I read by R A Smolla. He said that sometimes the decisions made in a community are bottom up, not necessarily top down. It works the same way with censorship.

      I think I would like to read that article by Foucault. And it must be “wilful ignorance” as you said. Sometimes I do not believe it is about religion, but about power and control. The leaders in extremists groups are not always poor and ignorant, but sometimes wealthy and well-educated. Look at Bin Laden. However, the people under these types are usually chosen for their ignorance and blind religiosity. Anyway, I’m not an expert on extremists, and my opinion is based only on watching current events and seeing a documentary here and there. But I very much agree and appreciate your remark that we should remain ever-vigilant. Very wise indeed.

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      • Hah, no, trains in Germany run on time because Germans are efficient, simple as that. 🙂 But yes, the first stretch of Autobahn was built by Hitler, and it’s still being driven on (well, having been upgraded multiple times since then, of course).

        As for why Hitler came to power, yes, the economic situation was a main reason, but another was that after WWI, Germany had been profoundly humiliated. They lost the war, so the winners could heap all the blame on them (“History is written by the winners”). On a world scale, Germany was told they were BAD, losers, war-mongers etc etc. So is it any wonder they lapped it up when a charismatic leader comes along and tells them that not only are they not bad, they’re in fact THE BEST, better than anyone else? And then he gave them the Jews as a scapegoat for all the suffering they had been through, AND boosts the economy to a point where people have work again and can feed their families. Economic security coupled with the very humanly normal propensity to want to blame, to want to feel superior, and you’ve got an extremely potent recipe for what happened.

        As for why young boys betray their families or neighbours inform on each other, again, it happens over and over, wherever ideologies are in conflict. American Civil War, Canadian History (French vs English), Religious Wars (Protestant vs Catholics)… “Brother shall betray brother…”

        From what I understand, Foucault was *all* about the Power-Knowledge relationship, that was one of his big points. And yes, I don’t think any of these “religious” conflicts are about religion, but about power. Always have been. Greed, and Power.

        Whenever I talked to my kids about these matters, I always told them: we need to look to ourselves, catch the seeds of these things in *us*. You can shout as loudly as you like that you would never be racist and kill Jews, but if you point a finger at your neighbour and say “they”, as soon as you harbour a feeling of superiority over someone else, you’ve already set foot on that slippery slope.
        That’s why (to come back to Bradbury) we MUST keep reading, keep telling each other our stories, so we can UNDERSTAND, can put ourselves in others’ shoes, can learn that the Other is not so different from Us.

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  2. Beautifully expressed. And being German, you certainly know German history far better than I, and all my information at a first and second remove. Lol! First year History 101a raises its ugly head. 😉

    I have been searching for Foucault all afternoon, trying to land on that one special journal–the one that will speak to my paper. Lol. Where are you hiding Foucault??? I simply do not have time to stop to read a whole other book. AArrrgggg!!

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  3. kimberleyagla

    The militancy of the Boko Haram incidents are no doubt unsettling but “we” here, in western society have the same problem. Canada is home to one of the largest child pornagraphic centres in the world so much so that in the early 90’s a special police task force was created called “Project P” founded by a retired police officer because there was just not enough manpower to devote to this very real and growing problem. If studying Crime and Deviance, one will learn that pedophiles will go through great lengths to be near children. Many become doctors, teachers, child psychologists and daycare workers just to be surrounded by their prey. Women and children go missing everyday here in Canada, mostly through no will of their own so I must agree with Carol Burnett who once said, and I paraphrase, “We need to clean up our own backyards, [basements and closets] before pointing fingers onto others”. At least the Boko Haram make no bones about it. What “we” consider to be “their” outrageous and uneducated political stance, Canada’s child pornography ring is not politically based, gets little to no coverage and is comprised of extremely, and some not so extremely, educated adult males. We are not an exemplary country to be sure. It all hinges on what gets the most press and the battles we choose. Nazi propaganda targeting the Jewish people, as we are all aware, was mass media carnage leaking into every nook and cranny and spread like wildfire in the prairie provinces. Hitler’s Utopian society, a super nation, would be built up from young, blond haired, blue eyed slavic children whom he had kidnapped and raised on farms for the purpose of procreation. The acts of a madman? Hitler was no slouch. This was the time of Kafka, Nietzsche and the like. He was a well read, educated, artistic man with an incredible knack for strategizing. He knew there were planned attempts on his life, he just did not realize from his own First Officer and SS soldiers…Not at first anyway. Elizabeth Nietzsche, sister of Friedreich and good friend of Hitler’s was mesmerized by this Utopian ideology and took with her 100 ideal candidates to Paraguay in order to create her own super nation. It was not long before she returned to Germany emancipated, leaving behind a handful of survivors who had not yet succombed to the inbred diseases and sickness of the land. She too was a well informed, educated woman who got swept up in Hitler’s charisma. Man’s, and I apologize for the cliche, inhumanity to man knows no bounds. What was Hitler’s idea of a Utopian society was, for the Jewish people, a dystopic one. One I would deem the epitome of “Darkness Visible”. Oh Hitler gave the Jewish people a wide berth to get out of Germany, but likened to Bradbury’s characters, they were in a state of complacency which turned into a state of acute denial. Roots had been sown here. The very idea of giving up their home and possessions was implausible. Those that did leave became refugees as countries simply did not have the means to take them in. The Zionists of New York denounced them and took the stance with Hitler and demonized them…Mostly out of fear of being targeted themselves. Could this happen here in Canada in this day and age? I agree with Linda. It is a very real happening. From what I understand about the complacency of Bradbury’s characters, it will be a silent takeover from within if the United States has anything to say about it. Remember that democracy was not created for the masses, it was created for a market economy and if we do get swallowed up by our neighbor, the US will have superseded Hitler’s goal and we will become the largest nation on earth, but not necessarily the strongest. From a fatalist perspective, when that happens, let’s just see if we don’t all become characters, in one way shape or form, of “The Hunger Games”.

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