Monday, September 27, 2004

Thoughts on Banned Books Week

Sunday, September 25 marks the beginning of Banned Books Week. BBW is an annual event sponsored by the American Library Association, a week-long warning of the dangers posed by the evils of censorship. This is, of course, entirely justifiable and appropriate. So, why am I unhappy about BBW?

The problem I have is not with BBW or the ideas it represents, since I agree with them for the most part. I would be more than happy to support ALA in its commitment to intellectual freeedom if I thought they actually meant it. Unfortunately, BBW, as worthy an endeavor as it is, has come to symbolize the hypocrisy of the association and its leadership.

While ALA devotes the next week to the dangers posed by the ignorant yokels who want to have the Harry Potter books removed from their local school library, it continues to ignore and even condone the brutal suppression of intellectual freedom that is taking place just 90 miles from the tip of Florida.

Today in Cuba, the network of totalitarian control exercised by the Castro regime is being challenged by a grassroots network of independent libraries that seek to provide the Cuban people access to the books that Fidel doesn't want them to read. To quote the Friends of Cuban Libraries Web site:

In response to a public statement by President Fidel Castro that "There are no prohibited books in Cuba, only a lack of money to purchase them," Cuba's first independent library, named in honor of Felix Varela, was opened in 1998 in the city of Las Tunas. The Felix Varela Library was established in the apartment of Berta Mexidor, an economist, and her husband, Ramon Colas, a psychologist. Approximately 100 independent libraries, located in the homes of volunteers, now flourish in Cuba despite an unprecedented campaign of harassment, threats, intimidation, police raids, arrests, physical assaults, evictions and confiscations. Most of the libraries are affiliated with the project begun by Ramon Colas and Berta Mexidor, while others have been established by groups of teachers, journalists, religious denominations, etc. In addition to offering public access to uncensored books, Cuba's independent librarians also sponsor uncensored debates, seminars, public meetings, art exhibits, literary contests and children's programs, all free of government control.

The Cuban independent librarians stand for every ideal that ALA claims to uphold. They defend intellectual freedom against a brutal police state, and many of them have paid a fearsome price. In 2003 19 of the independent librarians were arrested and sentenced to long prison terms in Castro's gulag (one of the 19, who was in severe ill health, has since been released). Noted freedom fighters such as Vaclav Havel and Yelena Bonner have expressed their support. Even the French have stated their solidarity with the independent librarians. Surely the American Library Association, vaunted defender of intellectual freedom, stands with them as well?

Unfortunately, the answer is no. A proposed resolution brought before the ALA Council at the January 2004 Midwinter meeting calling for the release of the imprisoned librarians was voted down almost unanimously. Renowned civil libertarian Nat Hentoff was so disgusted by the vote that he immediately renounced the Immroth Award for Intellectual Freedom that he had received from ALA in 1983.

The vote, of course, is symptomatic of the left wing orthodoxy that dominates the top levels of the association. The hard left, in spite of their disproportionate influence in ALA Council, is not the problem. It is a given that the Chomskyite/Stalinist wing of ALA will be open in its adoration of Fidel and willingness to engage in their typical grovelling apologetics for his thuggishness. Intellectual freedom for them is not a principle, just a tool to undermine the "evil capitalist system" and replace it with their so called Utopia. The problem is with the liberals and moderate leftists who profess to support intellectual freedom, but refuse to stand up to the hard left in defense of this belief. Sadly, it seems that the majority of ALA's leadership would rather remain silent when a totalitarian gangster burns books and imprisons people than be on the same side of an issue as the Bush Administration and Cuban exile community. Many of the same people who fantasize about being the only thing preventing John Ashcroft and his jackbooted minions from ransacking the libraries and subpoening the library records of anyone who ever read a Chomsky book, are content to stand idly by when a totalitarian police state really does ban books and crush intellectual freedom.

While it ignores the beleaguered independent libraries ALA has continued to maintain a good working relationship with the state-run Cuban library system, whose commitment to intellectual freedom rivals those of the libraries in Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. The pretext often given by ALA is that the independent libraries are not "real libraries". It's true that the independent librarians are not professionally trained. Surely that's reason enough to ignore them. After all, what does standing up for intellectual freedom against a police state matter compared to being able to properly catalog your collection using AACR2? It's good to see ALA has its priorities in order.

When ALA begins to take its own principles seriously, I will be happy to as well.

For more on independent libraries in Cuba, visit the following sites:

Friends of Cuban Libraries


Blogger scott h, doran said...

As one whose politics that lie mildly left of center, I appreciate an objective voice for justice in any country. The repressiveness of the Castro regime is best understood in it's historical context. I see Castro's paranoia as the result of a well orchestrated cyop's campaign by our CIA. There have been many attempts to assassinate Castro, including a plot to dose him with LSD in a cigar. Yhe US was intent upon making an enemy out of him even before his regime became so repressive. This despite the fact that Cuba offered to pay for seized properties at a modest interest rate. But the US twisted the arm of other countries not to accept the offer by threatening them with economic santions if they accepted the offer. Castro visited the US with the intention of developing a constructive relationship with the US, but was treated extremely rude and left for hours waiting in a hallway. The CIA was quite sucessful in driving him into the arms of the Soviet Union, a move which helped to insure Castro's survival, but also to marginalize him in the global arena.
My comments are not intended to justify the brutality of the Castro regime, but to help lend understanding to how his regime evolved in the manner in which it has. And it is a mixed bag. When Bastista was in power most Cuban's didn't even know how to read. Now most citizens receive a basic education, and the truly motivated commoner willing to serve the community has the opportunity to become a Doctor, I would venture to say that more people died of disease, malnutrution, and ignorance under Bastista than of murder under Castro. Cuba has developed a state of the art microbiology program, not for weapons research as we have done, but to protect their people, It was Cuba as a matter that discovered a Hepatitis vaccine, a feat our own scientist were unable to achieve. To this day Cuba send health care professionals into third world countries to help alleviate the suffering of the poor, not just to spread communist doctrine.

I make these comments, not as an apologist for the crimes of Castro, but to offer a perspective to promote understanding of how and why things are the way they are in Cuba. The US is also guilty of secret detentions, murder, criminal medical experiments on black citizens who were allowed to die untreated with Syphiliis. Mankind as a whole is in the process of killing off thousands of species, sitting idle at traffic lights while global warming becomes an increasing reality, and millions starve when a plan to prevent this could be developed if there were the political will. Even though so many more have and will die, it is so much more acceptable because it is much harder to identify the "bad guy", because we all share some of the guilt, either by being lazy citizens or by being benefactors of the status quo.

I understand that i may be missing the tree by my preoccupation with the forest. I guess a comprehensive understanding of reality requires a focus on singularities as well as from standing back and loking at the world from a distance. my intention is only to add depth to perception through comparative analysis and acknowledgment of how things turn out as they do. I do beleive that there are hidden influences which affect the flow of history and the outcome of events in time. I do believe that the best outcome is most likely when citizens have free access to the truth and are able to make rational decisions based upon that.

8:16 PM  

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