I’m currently editing Jake Bannerman’s first full-length novel, ‘Family of Dog: The Harvest’. Though it isn’t scheduled for release until December 24th, there’s already a massive storm brewing around it; just yesterday a well-known website who had been sponsoring it were forced to pull their support after the number of complaints they received about their sponsorship.
And do you know what? No-one but the author, the publisher and I have even read the damned book yet! All they know is the few brief snippets that have been revealed and the outline of the story, and that’s been enough for people to rage against it.
Perhaps I’m a little defensive because I consider the author to be a close friend and I want ‘Harvest’ to succeed with as much fervour and passion as I devote to any of my own stories, but I’ll confess that I found myself more than a little angry that people are so outspoken against what is, after all, a work of fiction!
Some of the greatest literary works of all time have found themselves censored or banned completely, from the Bible to ‘Frankenstein’ taking in everything from ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, ‘Ulysses’, ‘Canterbury Tales’ and ‘1984’ in between. What right, though, does anybody have to dictate what someone else can or cannot read? So many people have died in the battle for freedom of speech for all, and surely banning a book outright goes against that?
Censorship of any kind leads down a very dangerous path. I live in a city that was one of the focal points of the recent riots in Britain. I spent four evenings locked in my flat with my baby daughter listening to the sirens in the not-so-very distant streets, my eyes switching between the news channels and Twitter for the latest updates on what was happening. But one of our MPs, Louise Mensch, recently backed calls for Twitter and Facebook to be temporarily blocked to UK users should the riots start up again.
Now, Louise Mensch is a highly-educated and intelligent woman whom I have a great deal of respect for. I was astounded to read her views; via Twitter, of course! But isn’t that very action she is calling for something that we all railed against with such fury when we heard that China had taken such action (albeit for different reasons)? And when Egypt blocked Twitter in the midst of their rioting earlier this year, did we not all speak up for the rights of the Egyptian people to have free speech and know what was happening in their country?
British Prime Minister David Cameron was one of those with the loudest voices. He said at the time that social media was a tool for those who have had “enough of corruption, of having to make do with what they’re given, of having to settle for second best.” Now, whilst I want to make it very plain that I in no way support the mindless violence that took place during the British riots, a civilised society does NOT just break down the way that it did for no reason.
Perhaps it is not just the Egyptian, the Libyans, the Tunisians and the Chinese who have had enough of corruption. Attempting to silence the voice of the people and ignoring what they have to say is, in my opinion, a recipe for disaster.
Equally, though, a government has a duty to protect its citizens. If someone is attempting to incite violence or anything else that is illegal, be that in print or via Twitter, then surely it is only right that the police attempt to silence that voice? But then my fear is that once that is employed once, then it is only the smallest of steps to silence those who speak out against the government under the guise of ‘anti-terrorism’.
So is censorship something that should be employed or not? Frankly, I don’t know. I’ve been debating with myself for nearly twenty four hours now and I’m still no nearer to reaching a conclusion than I was when I first began thinking about it. But one thing I do know is that any form of oppression is a dangerous tool indeed, and any government or organisation that attempts to use it could be setting themselves up for a very large fall.
It might be a book that they ban today, but it could be your voice that is being silenced tomorrow...