TinTin in the Congo and Tintin in America book covers. Photo by ciberisland_ysk. License: Creative Commons

Book Banning by Yann Bourdeau

Aug 31, 2023

For those who don’t know, I’m against any form of censorship, be it for a progressive reason or conservative one. These two kinds of censorship don’t have the same purpose. In the first draft of this column, I was directly equating the censorship of different values of the far right to the ones of the left. For the left, censorship is a tool to remove old racist and colonialism books from circulation. For me, censoring a book it is a judgment call based on the values of the censor.

In the case of the far right, they want to ban any book that doesn’t reinforce heteronormative, white, Christian values. I’m against all the censorship, like the “Don’t Say Gay” bill of Ron DeSantis in Florida. The ostracizing of the LGBTQ+ people will not make this community disappear. Removing all the LGBTQ+ books from school will just keep and reinforce the prejudice against this community and make some young teenagers in search of the sexual and gender orientation very confused and with fewer resources. I find it tragic.

I’m white and privileged. I can resent the colonialism and racist tones of old books without wanting them banned, but I was not the oppressed target in their pages. Sure, I think racism and colonialism are wrong. I will not support newer books that support these topics. But the old books were a product of their time and they can be used as cautionary tales of how not to slip into these regressive, pervasive mindsets. Sure, in the early 1900s there were progressive authors, but they were not embraced or championed by the majority. I think the left by banning this type of book makes a mistake. They can be used as educational tools to prevent the return of these types of harmful tropes.

Mein Kampf is available in my province but it is annotated and contextualized. It’s not just the original manuscript. I think this is a good way to remember the evil and the incalculable amount of human suffering the author of this book has caused and to never repeat it. (Never again.) I don’t plan on buying the book, but it is available for those interested. By banning books, we erase our history. Much of that history is ugly, and, in hindsight, unforgivable. We need to learn from societies’ mistakes. This citation, which seems to have not a definitive author, reinforces my thought: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Sure, if I had children then TinTin in the Congo and Tintin in America would not be books I would provide them. If my hypothetical children wanted to read those two Tintin books, then we would first discuss colonialism and racism and the relation between the white, Black, and the Indigenous people during that the time. How colonialism and racism are wrong. I’m all for keeping books in print with explicit annotations and historical context to explain why in the past it was wrong, and our values should not reflect these views. These books should be a warning to the newer generation to do better and don’t follow in these steps.

I assumed that punks would be against any form of censorship when I first wrote this column. I found that is not the case. Like I said, the left censorship doesn’t do it for the same reason as the far-right censorship, but it’s still censorship when books are banned from public libraries. Or burned.

In Québec, thankfully, there is not much censorship from the left or the right. In this cited article, it reports that the right censors more than the left and not for the same reason. Two years ago, Suzy Kies a person who identifies herself as an Indigenous person organized book burning in Ontario schools. It was to cleanse books that uplifted colonialism and caused the suffering of Indigenous people. In a plot twist, some Indigenous communities have challenged Kies’s indigenous ancestry and brought it into question. She burned comic books like Asterix, Tintin in America, and other books. It caused a minor uproar of condemnation in my province. There was incomprehension why such books should be burned.

Asterix and Tintin are well beloved in French-speaking countries, even if their first few books (in the case of Tintin) were colonist and racist. For Asterix, the books occur mainly in Europe/Africa. It has been a long time since a read an Asterix, but there were a couple of stories with Indigenous people. In these stories, are harmful stereotypes. The Indigenous—regardless of tribe and where they live on the land—are portrayed as people wearing large feather headpieces whose dialogue is limited to “ugh.” What Suzy Kies found offending is an Indigenous female in one of the comic books who pined for Obelix too easily. It gives an image that Indigenous females were “loose” and wanted to make out with anyone, where a “respectable” woman would show restraint.  I understand that bad portrayal of Indigenous is offending for the native people. I cannot feel what an Indigenous person feels when they see their cultural background being characterized, minimalized, and degraded like this. However, banning the book will not correct all the past and current wrongs that have been done to this community. Education, with Indigenous people at the table—with those who have been directly adversely affected by colonialism and racism—will. I prefer to work on the future to make it great for everyone. It is not necessary to erase the past to accomplish this. These colonialism books could be loaned with a contextual explanation about colonialism from those who it harms. However, I don’t think removing the choice for parents to provide these books to their children is the correct solution. These books can be used as examples of what not to do in the future.  

Censorship, be it on the left or the right (I really despise the right censorship because it goes against my values), is still a judgment call by a person or a group. Different folks have different values, hence the censorship from the right is not based on the same values than the left. For me, it’s a dangerous slope to censor based on our values because I’m sure the far right feels right—and righteous—about their censorship, as well does the left. Personally, I cannot tell the far right that banning books is wrong while I ban books for other reasons that match my values. If everybody wanted to censor books based on their values, then we wouldn’t have many books left.