Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Nat Hentoff on Cuba

In his latest column for the Washington Times, Nat Hentoff takes on the issue of book burning in Cuba:

From kangaroo-court records I have seen, when independent librarians are sent to the gulags, certain confiscated books and sometimes all books in their libraries are ordered incinerated by the presiding judge. A biography of Martin Luther King was sent to the flames because, said the judge, it "is based on ideas that could be used to promote social disorder and civil disobedience." And the nonviolent King's own books have been burned.

Even works by Jose Marti, the 19th-century organizer of Cuban independence, have been incinerated. Maybe because of the pamphlet he wrote during his exile in Spain, planning the liberation of his homeland. Marti's pamphlet was about the horrors of political imprisonment in Cuba under a pre-Castro dictator.

Among thousands of other incinerated "subversive" books and pamphlets are those books by George Orwell, Pope John Paul II, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (particularly dangerous) and reports by Human Rights Watch.



Hentoff goes on to give Freadom's Read a Burned Book campaign a ringing endorsement:

Now, like the resisters in Mr. Bradbury's novel, who were determined to preserve the freedom to read, a group of American and international librarians, authors and human-rights activists have started a liberating Read A Burned Book campaign including a curriculum aimed at high school and college students. The campaign is also encouraging people in the United States and around the world to read the books that dictators, not only Castro, burned.

The independent American librarian members of FREADOM -- the generators of this project -- have created, among other classroom and research activities, a discussion inquiry on the history of book burning in ancient and modern times. There will also be a classroom inquiry on what made the books burned by Castro so "dangerous" to the dictator and officials who will remain in power after Castro dies. He has famously said that "history will absolve me!" But as long as these condemned books keep rising from the ashes, they will bear witness to his reign of fear and destruction, not only of books but of so many Cubans who believe in their right to be free.



Mr. Hentoff has been among the most prominent critics of ALA's inaction on Cuba. While he has undoubtedly extended his persona non grata status with that organization, his support for Freadom is to be welcomed.

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