September 17, 2009

Banned Books Week offers leading center of intellectual freedom opportunity to stop censoring books


September 26th through October 3rd is Banned Book Week. Since 1982 Banned Book Week has been celebrated by publishers, libraries and freedom loving folks everywhere. It’s an opportunity to remind ourselves about the importance of the precious freedom to read, without fear of censorship or reprisal.

The Association of American Publishers press release calls it, “A time to stop and appreciate our right as Americans to read and to think freely,” and notes that the “annual celebration was created in 1982 by the American Library Association, along with the American Booksellers Association and AAP, in response to the growing number of attempts to remove or restrict access to books in public and school libraries, classrooms and bookstores.”

Meanwhile, contrary to this spirit of open inquiry is the on-going debacle of Yale University Press‘s “decision not to publish the infamous Muhammed cartoons in a book about those very illustrations. The Cartoons That Shook the World, by Brandeis Prof. Jytte Klause – set for publication within weeks – details the 2005 events in which Muslim preachers seized upon 12 drawings in a Danish newspaper to orchestrate a global campaign of violence that led to the deaths of 200 people,” according to a report by James Kirchick in New York Daily News.

Kirchick, along with other Yale alumini, sent an open letter to Yale University Press protesting the its decision to self-censor and not publish the cartoons. He writes, “Let’s be clear about the stakes here: By censoring the cartoons, Yale has allowed religious totalitarians to dictate terms to free people living in an open society.”

There is still a chance for Yale to do the right thing and publish the book in its entirety. And Banned Book Week would be the perfect time.

Valerie Merians is the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.