Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Taking a Stand on Banned Books, Part 1

A friend pointed me to a The Standard-Times report today about a student at U.Mass Dartmouth who requested a copy of Mao Tse-Tung's "The Little Red Book" for a research paper. The student was visited by agents of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and never got access to the book. (NB: Story About "Little Red Book" was a Hoax)

The shocking thing about this is not that the Patriot Act is being abused. We all knew that would happen. The shocking thing is that the student wishes to remain nameless because he "fears repercussions", according to the report. Similarly, the student's professor is considering canceling plans for a class on terrorism because "because it might put his students at risk".

Should we stand idly by while strong-arm tactics are applied to our civil liberties, or should we defend our right to read the dangerous, inciteful, often mistaken but certainly educational books of our enemies? Sun Tsu and Clauswitz agreed on the first principle of war, "know your enemy". Sun Tzu, for example, said "The more you read and learn, the less your adversary will know." How can we know them if we can't read what they have written?

Commenting on the possible relationship between "The Little Red Book" and the War on Terror is nearly beneath me. Why is this book on a watch list at all? Under which general principles is this book a danger to our society? Its contents are even well known and widely quoted.

I have decided to take a stand. Immediately after this posting, I am headed to my local library (conveniently located in Ashburn, VA, close to the Washington, DC headquarters of the FBI) to request a copy of "The Little Red Book". I will be careful to request the version directly translated from the Chinese via inter-library loan and published in Beijing. Naturally, I will post the results here.

See also Part 2.

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