Ragip Zarakolu, Shi Tao and Margaret Atwood. Which one of these authors doesn't belong?
Cut it out, right now. I don't care whether it's in news reports, letters to the editors, blogs - whatever - stop using the word ban or censorship to apply to a process that has nothing to do with either of the above.
[rssbreak]I'm referring to the most recent high-profile case here in T.O., where Robert Edwards has expressed his upset over the fact that Margaret Atwood's novel The Handmaid's Tale is on his son's reading list for a class at Lawrence Park Collegiate.
He thinks it's un-Christian and has some nasty language that he doesn't like. He's launched a complaint with the school board and, as it does in every case such as this, the board is setting up a review committee to look into the situation.
Can we be clear here?
There is nothing about this that has anything to do with book banning or censorship. To use those words is to trivialize them when they actually do apply, as when Nazis burn books. Or, how about some contemporary cases like:
- Tibet's Dolma Kyab, who was moved to the Seilong Labor Camp in Xining in early July 2007;
- China's Shi Tao, who was transferred to Prison No. 1, a high-security prison in Hunan province where he was forbidden from doing any significant writing;
- Turkish publisher Ragip Zarakolu. Zarakolu, who runs the Belge Publishing House in Istanbul, and was sentenced to a 5-month prison term.
You can read more real censorship in action at the website for PEN. When you do you'll see that censorship occurs when governments abuse their power and stifle dissent and artistic freedom. That's not what's happening at Lawrence Park Collegiate.
There, a parent is demanding his right to a hearing regarding a book he doesn't think belongs on a reading list. Edwards is wrong-headed, probably sexist, homophobic, pro-fundamentalist and right up there on the all-time loser list.
But, speaking as a mother of a child who went through the public school system, I like the fact that he has the right to lodge that complaint. I can think of tons of books that, if they had appeared on my daughter's reading list, would have pissed me off royally.
Civil, human and parental rights don't belong only to the people we agree with. I hope Edwards loses his petition but this is really a situation in which public institutions are having to balance their rights with those of parents.
In this case, the institution will win because they'll make the final decision - and that's a good thing. Shared public values should always trump parental rights (and religious rights, too, for that matter). But that doesn't make Roberts's complaint any less legitimate.
He's not a censor. And Atwood isn't worried that the cops are banging down the door of her house.