Book ban. It functions? – DW – 21-09-2022

Published by
Peter Kavinsky

Forty years ago, in September 1982, the first Banned Book Week was held in the United States. It was organized because of a sharp increase in the ban on the use of certain textbooks, but also because of the withdrawal of some books from libraries and shops. Since then, this action in defense of the freedom of information has been held annually.

The starting point is considered a lawsuit under consideration by the US Supreme Court – “Council of Education v. Pico”. In September 1975, at the request of parents, the Island Trees County Board of Education removed some books from schools. That list of supposedly “anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic and just plain dirty” included 11 books, nine of which were immediately removed from school libraries. These include Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Naked Monkey by Desmond Morris, Down These Mean Streets by Pirie Thomas, Best African American Stories edited by Langston Hughes, Laughing Boy: A Navajo Love Story by Oliver La Farge, “Go Ask Alice” by an anonymous author and others. After the special commission’s investigation, only part of this list was put back on the shelves.

Students sued

A group of high school students led by Steven Pico have filed a lawsuit for violating their First Amendment rights. This amendment is considered part of the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution and prohibits Congress from passing laws that restrict freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, or the right to petition, to limit. It also prohibits the creation of a single state religion and federal law to favor or discriminate against individual religions.
Four of the judges involved in the trial concluded that the seizure of the books was unconstitutional, four saw no violations, and one judge ruled that the court should not consider the matter. As a result, the court ruled that local school boards cannot remove books from libraries they manage simply because they don’t like the ideas they contain. It was the first U.S. Supreme Court case to address the First Amendment right to access to libraries in libraries, but the judges’ decision left the scope of that right unclear.

US Book Society for Freedom of Information

American freedom activist Judith Krug co-founded Banned Book Week with the Free Thought Committee of the American Library Association. This week, the American book community of librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, educators, and readers is hosting a host of events to promote free access to information and the free flow of information. The initiative to hold the Weeks of Banned Books is also supported by the international human rights organization Amnesty International. In particular, she uses this platform to draw public attention to people who are being persecuted or arrested for their literary, creative or journalistic activities.

Forbidden and Classical Works

Bans on certain works of art, as well as the fight against these restrictions, have always existed. The blacklist contained not only overtly political books – such as Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” and Marx’s “Communist Manifesto”, but also books that were completely neutral in content. For example, Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” was banned for its anthropomorphic depiction of animals, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” for preaching the idea of ​​universal human equality and subverting religious ideals. And even the Bible was the subject of discussions about the prohibition.

accusations of blasphemy

The most famous example of a banned book today is The Satanic Verses. Salman Rushdie. The book has been officially banned in several countries because critics say it is a blasphemous portrayal of the prophet Mohammed. This work was published in 1988 and since then the British author of Indian descent has been forced to go into hiding under threat of death. Iran’s spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, has banned the publication of Rushdie’s works. A great reward was awarded for the murder of the writer. Ayatollah Khomeini died a long time ago and the death sentence has not been officially canceled to this day. In August of this year, a 24-year-old man attempted to kill Rushdie by stabbing the writer several times as he prepared to give a public lecture at an American institution. The alleged perpetrator called Rushdie “the one who attacks Islam” and pleaded not guilty. The writer was seriously injured as a result of this assassination attempt.

Ghosts, cults and witchcraft

Children and adults alike all over the world read stories about Harry Potter, and you may not meet a single person who has never heard of his adventures. However, this work by British writer JK Rowling has already disappeared from some American school libraries. What is the reason? Proponents of the ban believe that this book deals with ghosts, cults, and witchcraft and can harm the psyche of readers.

Galileo Galilei’s “Dialogue on the Two Great World Systems” of 1632 has long been a thorn in the side of the Catholic Church. An Italian astronomer claimed that the earth revolves around the sun – and he was accused of heresy. The ban on his work was not lifted until 1822. But the Catholic Church admitted its mistakes much later. It wasn’t until the 1990s that the Vatican officially endorsed Galileo.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, written in 1884, is considered one of the greatest books of all time. But today the book is under fire in the US for portraying racial stereotypes and using words that are now considered discriminatory. The word ‘N’ appears 242 times in the novel, leading one critic to call the book “the most grotesque example of racism I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Nabokov’s controversial work

Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita” was banned and licensed in France, Great Britain, Argentina and New Zealand, as well as in a number of other countries. In the US, this book is criticized, but not banned. This work was first published in 1955. The book tells about the love of a literature professor at the age of a twelve-year-old girl. Numerous critics see signs of pedophilia and pornography in the novel. At the same time, “Lolita” was included in the list of 100 best novels according to the magazine The Time, as well as in the list of 100 books of the century according to the French newspaper Le Monde and was filmed twice.

Critics of Forbidden Books Week argue that the action is futile because books as such — their sale and reading — are not banned by US authorities. In their view, the lists of banned books in U.S. curricula and public libraries help protect the interests of children and youth from sexual, violent, offensive or inappropriate content. Supporters of such actions, in turn, associate bans with restrictions on the freedom to receive and disseminate information, and also fear that local bans will grow into global ones. With the help of the action, they draw attention to the problem that exists from their point of view.

Peter Kavinsky

Peter Kavinsky is the Executive Editor at

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