The worst crime committed by totalitarian mindsets is that they force their citizens, including their victims, to become complicit in their crimes. Dancing with your jailer, participating in your own execution, that is an act of utmost brutality.Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books
I’ve been listening to Azar Nafisi’s memoir which today’s quote comes from on audiobook, and I think it’s a timely read considering all the attempts at censorship which are taking place in the United States right now. For example, Gene McGee, the mayor of Ridgeland, Mississippi, is withholding $110,000 in funding from the Madison County Library System until such time as they remove all LGBTQ+-affirming content from their shelves. His personal religious beliefs are being used as the arbiter for the distribution of public tax monies, which is reprehensible. The matter is being brought before the city’s board of alderman, which will make the final decision. You can read more about the Madison County Library System’s fight to keep diverse content available to the community here.
On January 10th, just 17 days before Holocaust Remembrance Day, the school board of McMinn County, Tennessee voted to have Maus, Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel about the Holocaust, removed from the 8th-grade curriculum. In a statement released by the school board, they said the book was removed on the grounds “of its unnecessary use of profanity and nudity and its depiction of violence and suicide.” Art Spiegelman’s parents were survivors of the Auschwitz extermination camp, where 1.1 million people were murdered; nearly a million of the people murdered were Jews. Spiegelman’s mother later died by suicide. What do these adults expect? Shall the Holocaust be sanitized to accommodate their puritanical squeamishness? How is reading Maus any more traumatizing than the active shooter drills these children must endure?
There are more examples of attempts at censorship sweeping the country. Just googling the word “censorship” will bring you up dozens of results, most of which are from incidents occurring in the past couple of years. The books which these people want to limit or remove access to are books which tell the truth about the world and about its history, a history which closely mirrors our present reality. What is that reality? A world in which the horrors of the past are silenced while the suffering of the marginalized is ignored in the present. And the world turns on: business-as-usual.
It is important that we talk about the ideas, themes, and events in these books. It is important for our children to have access to narratives (historical and contemporary) about people with lived experiences divergent from their own. It is important that we say no every time someone tries to distort, sanitize, or artificially alter the reality of the past or the present. Our future depends on it.
World War II wasn’t that long ago. The concentration camps of the Nazis are not that long shut down. Anti-Jewish crimes are on the rise. Black people are still being murdered by police. We cannot afford to be silent.
Ridgeland Mayor Demands LGBTQ+ Book Purge, Threatens Library Funding by Nick Judin, published online by Mississippi Free Press on January 25th, 2022
School Board in Tennessee Bans Teaching of Holocaust Novel ‘Maus’ by Jenny Gross, published online by The New York Times on January 27th, 2022
Auschwitz: How death camp became centre of Nazi Holocaust by BBC News, published online on January 23rd, 2020
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