Yesterday on my personal blogs, I posted about Fahrenheit 451, where firemen don’t put out fires, they start them. They burn books. In keeping with Banned Book Week, which runs from September 29th through October 6th, I wanted to talk about books that have been burned as opposed to just being pulled from the book shelves.
Ideas and Freedom of Expression
Books are about ideas. Ideas that are expressed in the most powerful way known to humankind—the written word. Benjamin Franklin said, “Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.” Throughout history the suppression of ideas has been a well-used tactic of dictators, conquerors and closed governments. When you take away an individual’s freedom to think and express themselves, you keep them under your control. But the wonderful thing about ideas is this, they cannot be suppressed. No matter how hard a governing body tries to suppress an idea, there is always the need to rebel against such suppression. As we have seen in the 20th century, and even in recent weeks, people eventually rebel against any tyranny that seeks to silence those they attempt to rule.
For centuries, books have been destroyed or removed from shelves based on content some people have found offensive. Interestingly enough, some of those books have been ranged from great spiritual texts such as the Bible and the Talmud to recent works such as J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye or Toni Morrison’s Beloved.
Below are a number of books that have either been thrown on the fire. These books were deemed to be offensive based on a singular viewpoint rather than allowing people to think and choose for themselves.
After being “charged” and “found guilty” in the 1242 Paris trial (sometimes referred to as the “Paris Debate”), the French crown burned all Talmud copies in Paris
Martin Luther’s Bible
In 1624, the Pope ordered Martin Luther’s (founder of the Protestant religion) German translation of the Bible be burned.
Jewish and anti-Nazi books
In the 1930s and 1940s, the Nazis burned over 18,000 works of Jewish authors, and other works deemed not to correspond with Nazi ideology, which were publicly burned.
Personal Note - I specifically included this item simply because I found it ironic that fear of something can drive people to the extreme. I firmly agree with this quote…
“If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.”—Noam Chomsky, speaking in a BBC television interview with John Pilger on The Late Show (1992)
In 1953 Senator Joseph McCarthy provided a list of books to the press and demanded the State Department remove the material from bookshelves. Some of the libraries burned the newly-forbidden books.
The Satanic Verses
The 1988 publication of the novel The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie, enraged Muslims around the world. In the United Kingdom, book burnings occurred in Bolton and Bradford. Rushdie was forced into hiding as a result of the book due to threats on his life. Two bookstores in California were firebombed for selling the book.
Harry Potter books
Harry Potter has enraged conservative churches across the United States for the use of magic in this fictional work. Deemed unholy, book burnings of J.K. Rowling’s popular series have occurred in New Mexico, South Carolina, and Iowa.
Be sure to Visit Samhain’s Reader loop (Samhain Cafe) for great prizes and more info on Banned Books Week today through Saturday!