Essay from Mark Young

Battle of the Bans

I grew up in an age & a country where banning books was commonplace. Authors – Henry Miller & William S. Burroughs. Titles – Lolita & Lady Chatterley’s Lover. I seem to remember that Ulysses was not long off the list; & there is a marvellous story, which I’ve never checked in to preferring to keep the memory intact, that Barchester Towers & Doctor Thorne were banned for almost a century because they appeared under the author’s name of A. Trollope.

Not that I’m against banning things. I marched calling for an end to nuclear proliferation – ban the bomb. I marched in support of outlawing racial discrimination. I believe commercial whaling is wrong, that industry should have an incredibly strict set of environmental guidelines. I believe capital punishment is totally wrong, & have written earlier of how its legality in New Zealand depended on which political party was in power until a conservative Attorney General broke with his party & said it should be outlawed forever if it could be (re)introduced on a political whim. (& a little later, I remember reading an essay by Camus – Reflections on the Guillotine? – where Camus describes his father, who was a strong advocate of the death penalty, attending a public execution & coming home totally opposed to the State taking lives.)

But never books, or movies or records, no matter how distasteful & offensive they might be.

I have seen nationalists like Ho Chi Minh & Fidel Castro basically forced into the Communist Bloc because their leftwing views were unpalatable during the Cold War. I have seen the Russians crush a revolution in Hungary, & felt it quite strongly because of the protests outside the Russian Embassy which was directly across the street from where we lived. I thought JFK was the hope of the world & mourned his death. I was shattered when later Martin Luther King & RFK were also assassinated. Mandela – happy birthday, Nelson – was a figurehead in prison for most of my life & I remember weeping with joy the day he was released.

I am ambivalent about nuclear power.

The coming of Nixon fucked the world. L. blames most of the current troubles on “my generation” – the beats, the hippies, free love, lotsa drugs, lack of censorship. There’s some truth in it, but for a different reason. I do not believe we went far enough! Not quite sure what I mean by that; but I feel that at some point we decided we’d done enough, got sidetracked or comfortable or aged, & stopped pushing. Stepped back to revel in our small achievements. Got steamrolled.

I am anti-terrorism where the innocent are killed or maimed yet I am pro-Palestine, feeling their cause is just & they’ve always had a rotten deal. Where do you draw the line? I think the U.S. & its allies are reaping what they sowed – the seeds of Bush’s arrogance; Le monde, c’est moi – in Iraq & Afghanistan though again it is the innocent who suffer. At least in the Cold War there were sides. Now, with just one megapower, there is no-one else to turn to, no-one to stand up & get in the way.

I have seen in an earlier time in N.Z. laws enacted which gave the police the power to raid houses if “they suspected drugs were there”. Up until the time someone blew the whistle, this power was used probably 50 times & only once for drugs. I watch the new anti-terrorism laws in many countries with horror. The presumption of guilt instead of innocence, & such gobbledygook! We can’t tell you what you’ve been detained about, & because of this you can’t tell us what we want to know because we don’t know what we want to know & you don’t know what we want to know & don’t know what you know or don’t know. & & &…..

I see that the trial against the last Australian in Camp Delta at Guantanamo is to go ahead, even though it has been proved there is no chance of a fair trial.

& why this rant, this scattershot diatribe? Because on the news today the Australian Government is talking about banning, outlawing, charging Islamic bookshops because they might be stocking ‘dangerous books.’

The thought police are breaking open my head.