Friday, 6 January 2012

Book burnings are still with us

Book burning is the practice of destroying by fire, often ceremoniously, one or more copies of a book or other written material. In modern times, other forms of media, such as phonograph records, video tapes, and CDs have also been ceremoniously burned, torched, or shredded. The practice, usually carried out in public, is generally motivated by moral, religious, or political objections to the material.

On April 6, 1933, the German Student Association's Main Office for Press and Propaganda proclaimed a nationwide "Action against the Un-German Spirit", to climax in a literary purge or "cleansing" ("Säuberung") by fire. On May 10, 1933 the students burned upwards of 25,000 volumes of "un-German" books, presaging an era of state censorship and control of culture. More were burned later.

For years, school boards have banned text books and books of fiction from school libraries because of their objection to the contents of the books. For the most part, their objections are ludicrous. Here are some examples:

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Maya Angelou. Reason: Rape scene, "anti-white"

Of Mice and Men John Steinbeck. Reason: Profanity Go Ask Alice Anonymous. Reason: Drug use, sexual situations, profanity

A Day No Pigs Would Die Robert Newton Peck. Reason: Depiction of pigs mating and being slaughtered.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain. Reason: It has the word, ‘Nigger’ in it.

Do we remove mythology and Arthurian legends because of its references to magic? Do we strip the shelves of medieval literature because it presupposes the existence of saints? Do we remove Macbeth because of the murders and witches?

In 1978, an Eldon, Missouri library banned the American Heritage Dictionary (1969) because it contained 39 "objectionable" words. And, in 1987, the Anchorage School Board banned the dictionary for similar reasons, i.e., having slang definitions for words such as "bed," "knocker," and balls.

The Olathe, Kansas school system ordered all copies of Annie of my Mind removed from high school library shelves. It is a story of two women who meet and fall in love and struggle with declaring their homosexuality to family and friends.

In 1986, Graves County, Kentucky, the school board banned As I Lay Dying (1932) by William Faulkner, a book about a poor white family in the midst of crisis, from its high school English reading list because of 7 passages which made reference to God or abortion and used curse words such as "bastard," "goddam," and "son of a bitch." None of the board members had actually read the book.

The book, Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger is a perennial favorite of censors and has been banned in the U.S. and Australia. In 1960, a Tulsa, OK teacher was fired for putting the book on the 11th grade reading list. The teacher was reinstated, but the book was permanently removed from teaching programs. A Minnesota high school administration was attacked for allowing the book in the school library.

The book, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury is about censorship and those who ban books for fear of creating too much individualism and independent thought. In late 1998, this book was removed from the required reading list of the West Marion High School in Foxworth, Mississippi. A parent complained of the use of the words "God damn" in the book. Subsequently, the superintendent instructed the teacher to remove the book from the required reading list.

A young children's book called Families written by Meredith Tax is a book that creatively describes different family structures. It was removed by the Fairfax County school board. Meredith Tax's beloved book had been under attack for a long time, during which many individuals and organizations rose to its defense. What's more, Families was praised by the board's own review committees.

The book, Forever by Judy Blume is a wildly popular teen novel. It was attacked for its frank treatment of adolescent sexuality and was removed from an eighth-grade optional reading list in a school in Rib Lake, Wisconsin, The school district principal had the book removed from the library after confiscating a copy from a student in the lunchroom, finding "graphic descriptions of sex acts."

I could go on listing banned books for hours but time and space forbids it however, I want to bring to my reader’s attention, a recent banned book in Toronto.

A nationalist Turkish group has succeeded in banning a recommended high school book on genocide. The banned book, which included a chapter on the WWI extermination of Ottoman Armenians, has been replaced by works of two genocide deniers.

The book, Extraordinary Evil: A Brief History of Genocide is about genocide and has been pulled from the recommended reading list of a new Toronto public school course because of objections from the Turkish-Canadian community.

The Turks have for over a century repeatedly denied that their ancestors massacred over a million men, women and children in Armenia, despite enormous evidence to the contrary.

Barbara Coloroso’s book was originally part of a resource list for the Grade 11 history course, Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, set to launch across the Toronto District School Board this fall.
The book examines the Holocaust, which exterminated six million Jews in the Second World War; the Rwandan slaughter of nearly one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 1994, and the massacres of more than a million Armenians in the years of 1895, 1909 and 1915.

The Turks have mounted a worldwide campaign objecting the book, which is not surprising because of their ongoing denial of the genocide. Her book was replaced by works by Bernard Lewis and Guenter Lewy, who are deniers of the Armenian genocide.
The Armenian Genocide was carried out by the "Young Turk" government of the Ottoman Empire in 1915-1916 (with subsidiaries to 1922-23). One and a half million Armenians were killed, out of a total of two and a half million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.

The Armenian Genocide was directed by a Special Organization (Teshkilati Mahsusa) set up by the Committee of Union and Progress, which created special "butcher battalions," made up of violent criminals released from prison. Some righteous Ottoman officials such as Celal, governor of Aleppo; Mazhar, governor of Ankara; and Reshid, governor of Kastamonu, were dismissed for not complying with the extermination campaign. Any common Turks who protected Armenians were killed.

First the Armenians in the army were disarmed, placed into labor battalions, and then killed. Then the Armenian political and intellectual leaders were rounded up on April 24, 1915, and then killed. Finally, the remaining Armenians were called from their homes, told they would be relocated, and then marched off to concentration camps in the desert between Jerablus and Deir ez-Zor where they would starve and thirst to death in the burning sun. On the march, often they would be denied food and water, and many were brutalized and killed by their "guards" or by "marauders." Bodies of starved mothers and their children were found everywhere along the route. The authorities in Trebizond, on the Black Sea coast, did vary this routine: they loaded Armenians on barges and sank them out at sea.

The Turkish government has always denied the killed that many Armenians and even to this day, they still deny that there was an Armenian genocide. They claim that Armenians were only removed from the eastern "war zone." The Armenian Genocide, however, occurred all over Anatolia [present-day Turkey], and not just in the so-called "war zone." Deportations and killings occurred in the west, in and around Ismid (Izmit) and Broussa (Bursa); in the center, in and around Angora (Ankara); in the south-west, in and around Konia (Konya) and Adana (which is near the Mediterranean Sea); in the central portion of Anatolia, in and around Diyarbekir (Diyarbakir), Harpout (Harput), Marash, Sivas (Sepastia), Shabin Kara-Hissar (þebin Karahisar), and Ourfa (Urfa); and on the Black Sea coast, in and around Trebizond (Trabzon), all of which are not part of a war zone. Only Erzeroum, Bitlis, and Van in the east were in the war zone.

The Armenian Genocide was condemned at the time by representatives of the British, French, Russian, German, and Austrian governments—namely all the major Powers. The first three were foes of the Ottoman Empire, the latter two, allies of the Ottoman Empire. The United States, neutral towards the Ottoman Empire, also condemned the Armenian Genocide and was the chief spokesman in behalf of the Armenians.

In any case, this piece is not about the Armenian genocide. It’s about the fools in the Toronto school board who are so willing to bow down to the pressure exerted by Turks who will forever deny that Turkey killed so many innocent men, women, children and babies in the early part of the last century.

If these fools had the intestinal fortitude to stand up for the rights of all school children, they would permit the book Extraordinary Evil: A Brief History of Genocide to be read by the students along with the books written by the deniers. Needless to say, for such a book to be included in the school’s libraries would require the OK by the school board and unless those in the school board have brains and intestinal fortitude, the book will not be included.

Remember Galileo? Cardinal Bellarmine, acting on directives from the Inquisition, delivered him an order not to "hold or defend" the idea that the Earth moves around the sun and the Sun stands still at the centre. Suppose the schools adhered to that principle, where would we be now in the field of astronomy?

History books are the legacies left behind so that those that follow us will have a better understanding of what occurred in the past. If we destroy these books or even ban them from our children, what will they learn on their own about their ancestors and the world they lived in?

I think Jesse Lee Bennett said it best when he said and I quote;

“Books are the compasses and telescopes and sextants and charts which other men have prepared to help us navigate the dangerous seas of human life.”

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