Where they burn books they will burn people


“Would there be freedom of the press or of speech if one had to reduce one’s vocabulary to a bland and harmless euphemism?” Judge Clayton Horn wrote in 1967 deciding Allen Ginsberg’s Howl was not obscene. “An author must be real in his treatment of his subject and be allowed to express his thoughts and ideas in his own words.”

Howl was released; too many other creative works are increasingly challenged by hysterical censors trying to both criminalize and delegitimize the voices of the marginalized and oppressed; censors trying to preserve the racial and religious hierarchies that served them well from 1619 through the mid-1960s when America attempted to fully extend all rights to all Americans regardless of race, class, ethnicity ethnicity or religion.

It didn’t go well.

In 1982, books removed from a Long Island, NY school library as “anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic, and just plain filthy,” included such seminal works as “Slaughterhouse-Five,” “Best Short Stories of Negro Writers,” “Black Boy,” “Soul on Ice,” and “The Fixer.”

In 2021 in Texas, an event showcasing a new book, “Forget the Alamo,” which examines the role of slavery in the Battle of the Alamo, was canceled hours before its scheduled start, allegedly by the Lt. Governor Dan Patrick who tweeted: ‘As a member of the Preservation Council I told the staff to cancel this event as soon as I found out. This factless rewrite of TX history has no place @BullockMuseum.

Telling the truth, to Lieutenant Governor Patrick, apparently has no place in history,

On January 10, 2022 — the day before Holocaust Remembrance Day — the McMinn County TN School Board voted unanimously to remove the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel Maus from their eighth grade curriculum, citing the “eight curse words” from the book and the nudity of the mice with a board member saying, “It shows people hanging. It shows them killing children. Why does the education system promote this stuff? »

What euphemisms, I wonder, would they find acceptable to describe the horrors of the Holocaust?

Today, creator Art Spiegelman’s Maus, which tells the story of his relationship with his Holocaust survivor father, depicts Jews as mice and Nazis as cats, has joined the ranks of canonical books as Animal Farm, Beloved, Catcher in the Rye, Great Gatsby, Grapes of Wrath, The Fixer, To Kill a Mockingbird, Lord of the Flies, Of Mice and Men, Invisible Man, which some people fear the most.

Understand: It is important to recognize that this perverse critique of books like Maus or To Kill a Mockingbird – or the critique of the teaching of concepts like diversity, equity, inclusion and justice – are all designed to reinforce the belief that America was founded as a cis-gendered white Christian nation and should be restored as such.

Understand: these book-banning moments aren’t just 21st-century iterations of medieval manuscripts, or loving displays of parents trying to have a greater voice in their children’s education, but parallel manifestations of the fear of history, knowledge and truth.

Fear of loss of privileges and power.

It’s no coincidence, I believe, that it was on Holocaust Remembrance Day that Tucker Carlson presented hateful anti-Semitic myths in a ‘special’ presentation glorifying white Christian nationalism while nastily blaming a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust, the American George Soros, to wage a “secret war” on Western civilization; that Soros’ goal was to make society “more dangerous, dirtier, less democratic, more disorganized… less cohesive …a program of destruction aimed at the West”.

In Katy, Texas, a parent has asked his school district to remove a children’s biography of Michelle Obama, claiming it promotes “reverse racism” against white people.

In York, Maine, a college book from the school library, ‘It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex and Sexual Health’, has been challenged by a grandmother who finds it contrary to its values.

Following:York school committee votes to keep ‘It’s perfectly normal’ after proposing to withdraw book

Absurdly, the cover story of such manifestations of bigotry is supposed to protect schoolchildren from exposure to uncomfortable history, rude words and disturbing images, but the bottom line, I believe, is that they don’t want not that American children are exposed to thought-provoking books or concepts that challenge this nation’s cult of whiteness.

Understand: this is what it is all about.

Afraid to tell the truth, afraid that their children will be allowed to express their thoughts and ideas in their own words without being held back by prejudice.

Too many adults try to inhibit students when they should be intellectually stimulating them to learn about life as it has been lived and experienced by humanity beyond their immediate experience.

Too many adults regard books as dangerous, fearing that if children read widely, they will have different – ​​perhaps broader – values ​​than their parents.

Too many perpetrator-fearing adults voicing their First Amendment rights and inviting their fellow citizens to join them in the public square — and those citizens could include their children.

Too many adults regard books as dangerous, fearing that if children read widely, they will have different – ​​perhaps broader – values ​​than their parents.

As I attend this debate, I remember my last trip to Berlin. There, with my daughter and granddaughter, I visited the Bebelplatz, where a plate of glass set into the cobblestones of the square reveals an underground room filled with empty shelves of sufficient capacity to store the 20,000 books burned by the Nazis on May 10, 1933; books written by journalists, philosophers, poets and scholars whose stories were no longer allowed to be told.

Today, a bronze plaque on Bebelplatz reads: “It was only a prelude / where they burn books / they will end up burning people too.” – Henry Heine 1820

Prelude, if we allow it.

Robert Azzi, photographer and writer who lives in Exeter, can be contacted at [email protected] His columns are archived at theotherazzi.wordpress.com.


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