Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘censorship’

Another column I wrote last Friday (October 2, 2009) when the most recent issue of the student newspaper which I edit and write for, Inklings, came out. (You can check out that issue here.) I didn’t find time to post this until now, but this is actually the central column that appeared in the print student newspaper. It referred to the online Internet freedom column I had posted earlier on this blog as more of a tangent to this one, which concludes with a bit of opinion about Internet freedom but focuses mainly on the idea of censorship in general.

 

“The Pros and Cons of Censorship, Banned Books”

Haris Durrani

October 2, 2009 — Inklings

Sep. 26 to Oct. 3 is Banned Books Week, so let’s talk censorship.

I looked it up. The “Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary” defined it as “the institution, system, or practice of censoring.”

Then I looked up “censoring” – “to suppress or delete as objectionable.”

The funny thing is, we love to brag about free speech and complain about censorship, but we don’t realize that censorship is everywhere.

We censor ourselves when we refuse to tell our friends what we got on last week’s math test. We censor ourselves when we want to avoid insulting others.

Our teachers censor what we read when they choose one novel to teach over a dozen others – when they pick one history or math or science textbook over another.

According to English Department Chair Lis Comm, our English curriculum has not censored any book and has a thorough process if anyone does ask to ban anything. Obviously, this is important (and good) to know.

Nevertheless, with or without those banned books, censorship takes unintentional forms, occupying every nook and cranny of our lives – social, political, educational, or otherwise.

I know some of my examples might seem pedantic, but we’ve got to keep in mind that it’s not only governments, corporations, and schools that censor. All the time, we censor each other – and ourselves – due to societal pressures.

Race is a touchy issue, so I’ll avoid it…. No one talks about politics, so I won’t either.

At other times, we need censorship. It makes us more civil, more humane.

You can’t tell the kid next to you how stupid or annoying you think he is without making him cry or punch you. Sometimes it’s better to let a conversation die off than to keep yelling at the other guy until you both develop and ingrained hate toward each other.

If you’re looking for “real” censorship – in the books and newspapers – then think about this: Why are there fewer cartoons depicting African Americans in a derogatory manner? Censorship.

To promiscuously allow Jim Crow-like cartoons all over the place would be free speech. It would also be racist. And it wouldn’t be very nice, either.

Minority groups – such as blacks in the Jim Crow era (and, arguably, still today) – are often the brunt of this type of “free speech.”

Censorship is sometimes about tolerance and compromise – living with one another peacefully and moderately.

Censorship itself is a balancing act, however. What one person thinks is an insult another thinks is a truth.

I don’t want anyone to tell me not to read those sci-fi books I obsess over. I don’t want someone telling me to read this over that. Yet – sometimes more than governments or corporations – we as a society act as the censor for good or bad.

Majority society chooses what to censor and what to keep. Banning is a part of our everyday life whether we like it or not.

But to complain that there is no free speech here or there – that this cartoon or that book or that article was banned by whomever – might be considered silly.

All of that is all online. You can look up whatever racist or sexist or politically controversial material you want to on the Internet. No one’s stopping you. The web is a much safer place for free speech than print.

Writing never actually dies. It lies dormant for a while – copied or memorized or in the writer’s head – or it lives on.

The only way you can really kill a piece of writing is if you burn every single copy and eliminate the writer and any friends, family, and fans that copied or memorized his or her work.

You can burn paper, and you can burn data too – but the Internet allows such a rapid flow of information to such a large audience that anything censored can be copied or protected before the censor gets his or her hands on it.

The future focus of Banned Books Week, censorship, and First Amendment enthusiasts ought to be on keeping the Internet free from corporate, government, and social infringements.

I can cite much better examples – I can say so, so much more – but I’m afraid that if I do so I’ll be misinterpreted, rejected, or taken advantage of. Which means you – my readers – have unintentionally censored this column.

Happy Banned Books Week to you too.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

A web column I wrote for my school newspaper, “Inklings“:

 

 “Banned Books Week Is Getting Old”

Haris Durrani

October 2, 2009 — Inklings

I am one of the few kids around without a Facebook account. I get plenty of laughs and weird looks for that. Nevertheless, while I personally don’t use Facebook, other people do – and sometimes for good reason.

 So the fact that our school blocks Facebook is a problem.

 And in the wake of Banned Books Week (Sept. 26-Oct. 2), Internet freedom is a vital issue that needs discussion.

 There should be an Internet Freedom Week as well. The Internet makes censorship more difficult, so it’s a specific medium of speech and communication that ought to be protected.

Banning books is getting a little bit irrelevant. The question should be how we use the Internet, not only books.

On the web, you can download all the offensive cartoons everyone gets so upset about and all the bits of controversial writing you want to. You can also create all that typically censored material as well.

 Just because a book is not published or an article is cut from the newspaper does not mean either piece of writing won’t end up on the Internet.

 And even though censorship is also possible online, the solution to Internet censorship is Internet freedom, which would make it more difficult for organizations to get a firm grip on the rapid flow of online data.

 Take Cory Doctorow. He has received piles of awards and nominations for his science fiction novels and short stories (“Makers,” his upcoming novel, will come out around the end of October), writes a regular column for the “Guardian,” is a co-editor of the popular blog BoingBoing.net, and has landed multiple times on “Forbes’ ” Top 25 Web Celebrities list. Even “Writer’s Digest” did their September issue cover feature on Doctorow.

 While successful, he never even thinks about – let alone allows – his books to be signed off without Creative Commons licenses. Each of his novels is available free at his website, craphhound.com.

 A strong supporter of Internet freedom, Doctorow believes that even when publishers or movie companies try to prevent people from stealing copyrighted information, the data can always be leaked, so you might as well keep things available in the first place.

 He makes his money when people read his books for free online and buy the hardcopy out of respect for his mission of Internet freedom or out of a traditional desire to have the actual novel in hand. In fact, many of his fans discover his work via the Internet – not the bookstores.

 If a government, corporation, librarian, or publisher removes a book from the shelves, it can always end up online – but it won’t get read as much if it’s not free. If it is, then who knows? The novel can circulate more easily on the web, generating more support for a potential print publication.

 But online information reaches lots of people, and quickly. Even if it’s deleted, the ideas behind the author’s work would remain preserved in minds of anyone who got a chance to read the piece.

 Obviously, it’s not always that simple. Governments – China, Saudi Arabia, Iran – can censor the Internet too. But, as Jim Giles mentioned in his Aug. 21, 2009 “Newscientist” article (“Worldwide Battle Rages for Control of the Internet”), there are existing methods of bypassing government censorship online.

 One of them, Tor, was created by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. In fact, the protagonist of Doctorow’s recent young adult novel, “Little Brother,” used Tor to evade his school’s Internet censorship programs, and Doctorow himself is former European director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

 If governments improve their blocking methods, programmers – like anything else in nature – will adapt.

 When things get really bad, we can always take it to the next step. It went from verbal story-telling to books to the Internet. The next thing you know, we’ll have computer chips in our brains. Censorship might become a literally painful process.

 Doctorow wrote an interesting June 2, 2009 “Guardian” article, “Search is too important to leave to one company – even Google,” about the potential for bias in the seemingly harmless process of categorization and search functions. As a solution, he suggested a system in which users can control the methods their search engines use.

 The point here is control.

 Different societal, economic, and political groups can burn all the books they want to, but it’s harder for them to do the same online. Especially if they’re not the ones in control.

 If we want to protect our free speech, books shouldn’t be the number one priority. The Internet should be – and it ought to be free.

 A Jan. 21, 2009 article from “Time” by Lev Grossman – “Books Gone Wild: The Digital Age Reshapes Literature” – did a great job talking about the shifts publishing is going through today from print to the Internet.

 So if we’re going to go crazy about free speech, we may as well start thinking, and thinking early. The “next thing” everyone seems to be raving about is Internet publishing. Let’s make it uncensored. Let’s make it free.

 Let’s celebrate Internet Freedom Week instead.

… or read the article here.

Read Full Post »