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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.

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