Alex (yakshaver) wrote,
Alex
yakshaver

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Banned with the best

It occurred to me to day that it's been a couple of years since Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, so perhaps Rowling has announced a date for the final installment. Unsurprisingly, the top Google hit for "Harry Potter" is J. K. Rowling's site — where on the main page I found this news item:

Banned Books Week

Once again, the Harry Potter books feature on this year's list of most-banned books. As this puts me in the company of Harper Lee, Mark Twain, J. D. Salinger, William Golding, John Steinbeck and other writers I revere, I have always taken my annual inclusion on the list as a great honour. "Every burned book enlightens the world" — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Aside from it being a nice expression of the contempt book-banners deserve, what struck me about this is that all but one of the authors she names was an American. I'm not at all sure what to make of that; it may just be a meaningless coincidence. But it does lead me to wonder about a tangential question: Is book-banning an especially American phenomenon, in comparison to the rest of the Anglosphere? While I know that books are sometimes banned in, for instance, the UK, I tend to suspect it is a far more unusual event there. But I have no data; merely conjecture.

Two threads of thought lead me to that suspicion. The first is that to the best of my knowledge, the US is unique in making the public education of its future citizens a political football to be kicked around amateur political wannabes. Elsewhere in the world curriculum and other school policies are set by agencies of larger (often national) units of government, staffed by professionals1. And generally, when you hear about a book being banned, it was banned from a school curriculum or removed from a school library — by a school board.

The other is quite a bit more conjectural. I find myself wondering whether having a freedoms enshrined in our fundamental law may not in fact result in people respecting it less. This thought began germinating when I noticed that most, if not all, of the European democracies have an official state religion. Yet religion plays a vastly larger role in American politics than in Europe2. Why is that? Europe endured generations of bloodbaths in the name of God — is that historical memory closer to the surface in the European electorate than in ours? Or is it that in America, the fact that religious freedom is enshrined in the Constitution give those who oppose the idea something to push against? And is it the same story for freedom of the press?


1  While I would be loathe to suggest that a government bureaucracy is good way to achieve anything. But consider what I'm comparing it to. To quote Mark Twain: God made the Idiot for practice, and then He made the School Board.

2   Or, to the best of my knowledge, anywhere outside the Islamic world and those regions of the world where Muslems and and people of other faiths coexist uneasily.

Tags: meditations, politics
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