Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Censoring Ourselves? The Charlie Hebdo Lesson

The events in Paris surrounding the Charlie Hebdo slayings has  caused many to rethink and challenge the idea of whether it is better to remain silent then to draw, write or say something that may spark an angry outburst from certain groups or organizations.   Charlie Hebbo's depiction of the Prophet Mohamad was deemed offensive by two Muslim men.  They took it upon themselves to be judge and executioner of those in and around the publisher's office, whether these individuals were directly involved in the cartoon publishing, it didn't matter.  The objective of these men was to have revenge on anyone who crossed their path because they were offended.  It won thought or remorse the pleas were ignored.  What does this violent act have to do with libraries?  More than one can imagine.   Especially when considering  "offensive" materials in a library's collection.  Should libraries remove books that may be too controversial or spark rage? Should libraries subscribe to publications like Charlie Hebdo?   These questions can be viewed as complex with no right answers.  That might be true if librarians didn't believe in the ideals of Intellectual Freedom.  Thankfully, the profession has been on the forefront of Intellectual freedom and hopefully will stay the course.

Now is not the time to ban books, burn magazine or destroy cartons because they have a view of the world that is different than our own.  It is also not the time to kowtow to a specific group who is easily offended and threatens violence in retaliation for printing materials that are offensive.  In recent history, there have been no incidences of Christians, Buddhists, or even Atheists who have killed in the name of being offended.  They voice their objections.  They may even ask for the removal of "offensive" material but they don't respond with violence.   In the past, librarians who promoted Intellectual Freedom and protected the "freedom to read"in their libraries,  felt their biggest threat would come from groups with the Religious Right, but reality is setting in that the true enemy to Intellectual Freedom is political correctness.

Christopher Hitchens is not a stranger to controversy for his written works and debates.  When reading this statement attributed to him, one has to admit his observation is spot on.    “I'm very depressed how in this country you can be told "That's offensive" as though those two words constitute an argument.”  Anyone who is reasonable will agree with that statement.  However, not everyone is reasonable, especially one with a semi-automatic weapons. However, this is exactly what political correctness has done to debate in our country and around the world.  If words are spoken that are offensive or pictures are drawn that inflame emotions the knee jerk reactions is to quickly denounce the publication and censor it.  Really?   What was the response when protests were made against Harry Potter books based on the theory that the spells were "real" and satanic?  Librarians and educators alike defended the work stating that it encouraged children to read.  To censor the book was  considered radical.  Agreed it is radical. It's just as radical to censor books and magazines due to their satirical expression.  Isn't satire suppose to make people think?  To show readers a view of   absurdity and reality at the same time?   Librarians in every library, small or large, public or private, should not be afraid to continue to defend their patron's  right to read.   Not only that  but political correctness should be tossed out on it's ear to allow for honest,  thoughtful debate about the issues.

Censor ourselves at this time?  Nope. Not now. Not ever.   The freedom to read is too important to lose because if it is lost, all freedoms are lost.   Come to think of it... libraries will be lost too.

Post a Comment