Banned Books Awareness: Freedom to Read Week 2013

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America tends to arrogantly think that censorship is something that only happened in Stalinist Russia, or, currently, the Middle East; America, of course, is proclaimed to be the land of the free. That stuff doesn’t happen here.

Many other countries think that censorship only happens within the borders of America due to its Puritanical history and the deepening culture war between liberals and conservatives that is supplanting logic and reason with ideological rhetoric and fundamentalism.

No one seems to be paying much attention to Canada. After all, Canada is where someone rear ends your car and you’re the one doing the apologizing. Dear, sweet, respectful Canada- where someone insults you in the worst imaginable ways and you react by thanking them for their opinion and their time before walking on down the street.

The American Library Association holds Banned Books Week in the last week of September, but our neighbors to the north celebrate Freedom to Read Week earlier, which falls between February 24 and March 2.

By world standards, Canada may seem to be the true land of freedom, but the freedom to read can never be misjudged or taken for granted. Incidents are rising of books and magazines being confiscated at the border; many schools and libraries are seeing books removed from shelves; the free expression of ideas on the internet is under increased scrutiny; and scientific organizations are being blocked from speaking out to the public or through academic mediums.

According to a report this week in the Globe and Mail, the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Clinic and Democracy Watch requested that federal Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault investigate claims that scientists are being prohibited from speaking freely with journalists and, ultimately through them, the public.

In a report called Muzzling Civil Servants: A Threat to Democracy, the researchers presented some distressing trends: Scientists are either told not to speak to journalists at all or to only release sanitized statements approved by institutional Public Relations censors. These restrictions are most controlled when a journalist is seeking information about research relating to climate change or the tar sands. Canadian environmental scientists are required to gain approval from the Privy Council Office before speaking publicly on “sensitive topics such as climate change” or on issues pertaining to, say, the protection of polar bears and caribou.

The average citizen must be protected from attaining such knowledge lest they go off on some crazy rampage upon learning of the plight of the caribou, don’t you know. Who knows just how crazy it would be. It would be panic in the streets; flotsam and jetsam; Sodom and Gomorrah; the zombie apocalypse.

The report states that government scientists are “frustrated,” which is an understatement in every sense of the word, and makes clear just how deliberate the censorship policies are: “The federal government has recently made concerted efforts to prevent the media- and through them, the general public- from speaking to government scientists, and this, in turn, impoverishes the public debate on issues of significant national concern.”

The government’s authoritarian control of scientists’ research under Harper’s administration has raised concerns around the world for several years now, including repeated condemnation from Nature magazine. Damn those tree-hugging hippies.

Thousands of scientists from across Canada marched on Parliament Hill last July to protest cuts in research in environment and climate change and other restrictions placed on their ability to speak freely about their work. They created what has to be the most awesome chant in the history of political protest: “What do we want? Science! When do we want it? After peer review!”

The tightening of the information flow is growing stronger with each new policy. Margaret Munro of Postmedia News also reported last week that a University of Delaware scientist, Andreas Muenchow, was furious over a new confidentiality agreement brought in by Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans. “I’m not signing it,” Muenchow told the reporter.

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression released a report about the freedom of information requests: “Canada’s access to information system is in a deep crisis and without urgent reform could soon become dysfunctional,” the report noted. Fewer requests are being processed, and those that do make it that far move along at a noticeably slow pace, often returning marred by the red pen of government censorship.

As a result of these policies, Canada recently dropped out of the top 10 to No. 20 in the World Freedom Index, which measures, among other things, how unrestrained a country’s media is. Jamaica, by contrast, now ranks highest in the region.

Any time is a good time to celebrate the freedom to read, but this week is an especially good time to engage in our most precious civil liberty regardless of which country we call home. Some activities are as simple as visiting a library or bookstore with your children; but rather than just reading anything off of the shelf, read something that’s banned- something controversial. Better yet, write something controversial. Who knows- you just might get banned yourself. That would be legen- wait for it- *BEEEEEEEP- We apologize for the inconvenience, but this article has been deemed by the state to be promoting subordinate, subversive activity and has been silenced for your protection.*

 

For more information on the Banned Books Awareness and Reading for Knowledge project and the complete list of titles covered, please visit the official website at http://www.deepforestproductions.com/BBARK.html

Sources: Globe and Mail, freedomtoread.ca
© 2013 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

Banned Books Awareness: Bookstore Manager Facing Prison for Selling Banned Book

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There’s more reasons to miss Borders in the United States- their willingness to stand up for their employees and their dedication to the freedom to read.

The manager of a Borders bookstore in Malaysia has been charged with distributing a book by controversial writer Irshad Manji.

A statement by the owners, published on the Borders Malaysia official Facebook page on Wednesday, in support of the manager has gone viral.

Nik Raina Nik Abdul Aziz, 36, from the Borders store at The Gardens Mall, in Mid Valley City, was charged on June 19 in the Shariah High Court with distributing “Allah, Liberty and Love,” which was published in June 2011.

The charge, under Section 13(1) of Shariah Criminal Offences Act (Federal Territories) 1997, carries a fine of up to $1,200 or up to two years in prison, or both, upon conviction.

Following the charge against Aziz, Borders Malaysia Chief Operating Officer, Yau Su Peng, expressed the company’s disappointment over the accusation by the Federal Territory Islamic Affairs Department (Jawi).

Peng said Aziz had “done no more than perform her duties as a store manager and that she did not have influence or control over the selection of books at Borders.”

Peng also contended that the raid on the bookstore was made at a time when the book had not been banned, and that there was no prior notification or warning to Borders prior to the raid that any book was in question.

The statement can be read, in its entirety, on the Borders corporate website.

The agency had banned the book on the grounds that it contains elements which “misleads the public,” is “detrimental to public order,” and is against Shariah law as prescribed in the Qur’an and Hadith.

The owners have instructed employees, both Muslim and non-Muslim, to assist JAWI with its investigations, despite the company not being subject to the jurisdiction of JAWI, as it is a non-Muslim entity.

No plea was recorded Tuesday against Aziz. She has been granted bail and the next court date is set for September 19.

Her lawyer, Rosli Dahlan, said the shop has filed a lawsuit to declare the raid illegal because Islamic officials raided the store before the book ban was officially announced. Rosli reinforced that Aziz had no authority over deciding which books the store sells and is being singled out because those in charge of merchandising were Chinese non-Muslims. Non-Muslims cannot be charged in Islamic courts, which run parallel to the country’s civil courts and administer civil matters for Muslims.

Manji released the book, together with a Malay-language translation, at an event in Kuala Lumpur on May 19 amid criticism by Muslims.

Her previous internationally-acclaimed book, “The Trouble with Islam Today,” is already banned in Malaysia, where books are frequently banned, especially those deemed obscene or against Islamic teachings.

New York-based Human Rights Watch has called on the government to reverse the book ban, saying it was “old-fashioned state repression” and “cowardly.”

Irshad Manji, who was born in Uganda and moved to Canada at the age of 4, is a supporter of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) movement.

Manji describes her book, Allah, Liberty and Love, as being about “how to reconcile faith and freedom in a world seething with repressive dogmas.”

She says that the ban “is an insult to a new generation of Malaysians. Censorship treats citizens like children. Censorship denies human beings their free will to think for themselves.”

“The irony is that this book makes the case for faith. It empowers readers to reconcile Allah and freedom, showing that Muslims can be independent thinkers and profound believers in a loving God,” she added.

Allah, Liberty and Love “paves a path for Muslims and non-Muslims to transcend the fears that stop so many of us from living with honest-to- God integrity: the fear of offending others in a multicultural world as well as the fear of questioning our own communities.”

One of the most vocal Muslim reformers today, Manji draws on her experience in the trenches to share stories that are often touching, frequently funny, and always revealing. The book discusses such topics as what scares non-Muslims, liberal voices within Islam, honor killings, and how people forgo dogma while still keeping faith. Above all, it shows how each of us can embark on a personal journey toward moral courage and have the willingness to speak up even when everybody else wants to shut you up.

 

For more information on the Banned Books Awareness and Reading for Knowledge project and the complete list of titles covered, please visit the official website at http://www.deepforestproductions.com/BBARK.html

Sources: AsiaOne News, Borders, Irshad Manji, Amazon, Associated Foreign Press, CBC
© 2012 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions