I pronounce myself guilty of reading banned books. Did I hear someone gasp? Probably not. Because reading banned books may not seem like a big crime, if a crime at all. Would I get a death sentence for perusing a copy of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses? If yes, then I better get my Last Will And Testament in order.
Reading the book might not implicate me to such an extent, writing one such book might mark me for life. My hard labor could be burned right on the streets, angry maulvis might take out a fatwa against me, and if that wasn’t enough, kill the poor souls who had the guts (read: audacity) to translate my work of art into a couple of different languages. If I were Salman Rushdie, I’d be happy to still be alive.
In this age we pride ourselves on having freedom of speech. We can speak out about anything, against anything. We think we are free to use our words in any way we like, and anyone who wants to read them can. There’s truth in that, but only some. Censorship exists. Our degree of intellectual freedom depends on what our socio-political and religious leaders deem appropriate, anything unorthodox or unpopular is first challenged, and then banned.
Great gems of literature have gone through severe censorships. Ulysses by James Joyce was burned in USA, Ireland, Canada and England for being ‘obscene’. Gone with the wind by Margaret Mitchell was banned for the use of the word nigger. Even J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings was removed from libraries and bookstores for containing supposed ‘satanic elements’.
Books influence lives, propagate culture and cultivate and spread ideas. Adults can tell between right and wrong, reality and imagination. Young minds are unable to make distinctions; they take the written word quite seriously. Harry Potter was challenged for this very reason. Parents and teachers expressed concern over their children being strongly influenced by witchcraft and wizardry.
Even the increasingly popular Twilight series has a case against it for being too sexual and having anti religious beliefs. Fahrenheit 451, a book about censorship and those who ban books for fear of creating too much individualism and independent thought too faced implications.
So whether it’s Rushdie, for being blasphemous, or Orwell, for being a communist and because his book Animal Farm contained a talking pig, freedom of speech comes heavy with limitations.
Censorship in Pakistan is nothing new; Jinnah of Pakistan by Stanley Wolpert was banned for mentioning our Quaid’s taste for pork and wine. Books criticizing and providing insights into the military and political practices are constantly under consternation. But books that should be banned, for example pamphlets propagating militancy and communal hatred remain widely available.
But is banning books effective? Can banning stop people from reading the contested titles? And to what extent can the government dictate the thoughts of its citizens.
I, for one, am a curious reader. Banning a book gives me reason enough to find out what made it the mark of censorship in the first place. With the books available online, removing them from libraries and bookstores does not ensure that they won’t be read.
Complete freedom has to be fought for, after all.
Aspiring novelist, not-really-a-closet poet, blogger; Maryam is a
sophomore at Kinnaird College, majoring in Media Studies. She is
forever ‘adopting’ words that have been forgotten. She writes letters
to Sylvia Plath whenever she is bored .
She hates being told that she should be studying Literature.