It was my privilege last week to take part in a discussion on censorship as part of the programming for the One Book, One Springfield [MA] event sponsored by the City Library.
The subject of censorship plays a large part in this year’s featured book, Fahrenheit 451. Ray Bradbury’s classic science fiction novel is set in a future where books are illegal and, when found, are burned.
Accompanying me on the panel were Daniel Russell, professor of social sciences at Springfield College, Rabbi Robert Sternberg, executive director of the Hatikvah Holocaust Education Center and Reven Jajjow Hedo, Fulbright Scholar in translation studies at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
Our moderator was Louis Battalen, director of the Arms Library in Shelburne Falls.
The questions were discussed revolved around our own experiences with censorship and self-censorship and whether or not efforts to institute elements of censorship were inevitable in a free society.
The comments were thought provoking and we probably could have stayed much longer into the night discussing the subject.
The best comments came from Hedo. He is an Iraqi citizen who had a career under the Saddam Hussein regime as a translator, specializing in Arabic and English. He has been studying in this country for the past two years and has not seen his family during that time.
A soft-spoken young man, he recounted a time before the war when a government official, prior to a translation assignment, briefed him and other translators. The official made it clear that the translators had to put the most positive spin they could on what Iraqi citizens were telling a Western inspection team. Fabricating a false statement was not out of the question.
He also said if a group wanted to speak freely about the government, doors and windows would be shut in fear that someone passing by might hear something that could land someone in prison.
He told his stories without dramatic flourishes. These were the facts of life for the people of Iraq. He said that because of his experiences he didn’t know too much about freedom of speech.
On the contrary, I told the audience, I thought he knew more about freedom of speech than any of us.
There are too many nations in which people lose their lives and their liberty simply by expressing what they think. I think many of us understand what this means on an intellectual level, but we can’t actually know what that society is like unless we experience it.
Hedo’s quiet words gave us all much food for thought.
The One Book, One Springfield programming will continue on April 12 with a lecture by Bill Yousman at 7 p.m. in the Community Room of the Central Library. Yousman is the managing director of the media Education Foundation and he will speak on the impact of mass media and media manipulation.
On April 26, there will be another panel discussion on the impact of the USA PATRIOT Act on libraries. It will also be at 7 p.m. in the Central Library’s Community Room.
The One Book, One Springfield program is a great resource for anyone who is interested in civil liberties, the media and our society today.
For more information, log onto www.springfieldlibrary.org/onebook.html
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