The Guardian has two opinion pieces this week on attempts by fundamentalists to censor books.
When I heard that my novel The Golden Compass (the name in the USA of Northern Lights) appeared in the top five of the American Library Association’s list of 2007’s most challenged books, my immediate and ignoble response was glee. Firstly, I had obviously annoyed a lot of censorious people, and secondly, any ban would provoke interested readers to move from the library, where they couldn’t get hold of my novel, to the bookshops, where they could. That, after all, was exactly what happened when a group called the Catholic League decided to object to the film of The Golden Compass when it was released at the end of last year.
My basic objection to religion is not that it isn’t true; I like plenty of things that aren’t true. It’s that religion grants its adherents malign, intoxicating and morally corrosive sensations. Destroying intellectual freedom is always evil, but only religion makes doing evil feel quite so good.
Jo Glanville, Respect for religion now makes censorship the norm:
The firebomb attack this weekend on the publishing house Gibson Square in London was an assault on one of the bravest publishers in the business. Three men were arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000 on Saturday morning, suspected of attempting to set fire to the premises. Martin Rynja, who runs Gibson Square, is due to publish Sherry Jones’s novel about Mohammed’s wife Aisha, The Jewel of Medina, next month. Random House had pulled out of publishing the novel in August, stating that it had been advised that “the publication of this book might be offensive to some in the Muslim community” and that “it could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment”.
Random House’s actions show just how far we have lost our way in this debate over free expression and Islam: the level of intimidation, fear and self-censorship is such that one of the biggest publishers in the world no longer felt able to publish a work of creative imagination without some kind of dispensation. Jones’s book does not claim to be a piece of history – it’s a work of invention.
It was also disingenuous of Random House to suggest that the novel might incite violence. Certain members of the population might choose to commit an act of violence, but that is not the same as the book itself inciting violence.
Respect for religion has now become acceptable grounds for censorship; even the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, has declared that free speech should respect religious sensibilities, while the UN human rights council passed a resolution earlier this year condemning defamation of religion and calling for governments to prohibit it.