As my co-editor has remarked (in the beginning of an editorial he didn't finish) in a way great because of its simplicity some days are better than others. However, lately I have become concerned with all of the ways that so many days are not any better than others. More precisely, I am concerned with the way in which we rationalize to ourselves that they are.
This past month marked the celebration of Banned Books week, an event that I feel strongly should be observed as loudly and widely as possible. The very act of bringing censorship to light enhances our precious, though not perfect, freedom of expression. But while we are patting ourselves on the back not only for recognizing censorship, but also for the distance we have come towards eliminating it, I think we overlook the simple fact that it still exists, and that our progress can not hide the fact of how far there is to go.
Banned Books Week is, as far as I know, an idea originating in the United States-- but its significance is one that should register in our world-wide view. Censorship is alive and well in the United States, be it at the local, school board level, or the state and national level through funding of the arts and other politically motivated attacks on American freedom of expression. But in many ways, this is much more minor than the life-threatening attacks going on in other parts of the globe. Salman Rushdie is still in hiding after seven years with a price on his head, as his poem in this issue of Eclectica illustrates. Eastern European writers often must operate covertly, if at all, at risk of losing their livelihoods, if not their physical freedom. China is a vast empire of endless creativity bounded by archaic and cruel laws which effectively criminalize any expression which could be construed as even tangentially negative toward the monolithic state. Finally, people who are exercising their freedom to express themselves, like Ken Saro Wiwa, are losing their lives for daring to speak out when their homelands are taken and their people decimated by economic forces which we ourselves are partly responsible for.
At what price comes our satisfaction with the progress we have made? Our lives today are not bound by the geographical restrictions that existed even 50 years ago. Today, each of us is part of a recognizable global community, and the wrongs perpetrated elsewhere should be of direct concern to us. Ken Saro Wiwa's last act was to compose and smuggle out a long letter affirming his stance and the freedom he was going to exercise even if it was going to cost him his life. Like Socrates, he refused to participate in acts that could potentially free him-- or at least save him-- whether they involved recanting or escaping.
When faced with the ultimate choice, Saro Wiwa chose an action that deprived him of his life. He was not content to rest because some progress had been made; he was not content to rest when he himself had gained acclaim and the possibility of settling comfortably somewhere else. Why should we, who generally face no such life-threatening consequences do any less? If you are reading this essay right now, you have access to a tool (the World Wide Web and a computer) which allows you to fight for your right to speak and express yourself without ever even having to leave your chair, much less march up the steps of the gallows!? (See below for information on some places you can go to start getting active.)
I am very thankful for the freedom I have as a writer and as a thinker (as little or as great as my talents might be), and I recognize the progress that has been made. But without constant vigilance these, like all rights, will be eroded away by forces who have far more to gain from our silence than from our voices. Many have paid, and continue to pay, prices far beyond any we will ever be asked to afford... the least we can do is to continue to do the most we can.