A daily blog on the thrills, spills, and frequent absurdities of the world's one and only 'non-imperial empire' - as Barroso himself called it - the European Union.

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Friday, 4 November 2011

Censorship of Tintin is Wrong-Headed

President Roosevelt's Four Freedoms. Picture by dbking.

'I would oppose the banning of any book,' says human rights lawyer David Enright, right after he calls for the banning of a book. Or, more correctly, banning the sale of Tintin in the Congo to children. You can probably guess why. As is commonly known, the book was written by Hergé, a Belgian cartoonist, in 1930. Hence it's attitude towards black people - particular the inhabitants of the Congo, run as a private enterprise by King Leopold II from 1885-1908 -  is less than hyper-modern. David Enright and several other commentators have stated that the book has a propensity to warp young minds, and want it removed from the children's sections of book shops forthwith.

The odd thing is, the author thinks the books have the potential to warp young children's minds and 'undermine' decades of progress - yet he himself confesses to reading them when he was younger, and, judging by his impressive CV as an anti-racism campaigner, they obviously did him no harm. The progress he says Tintin can undo if allowed to fall into the hands of the impressionable was made with the books on the shelves - long before any modern liberals popped up with their censorious antics.  The civil rights movement grew up with the books as bedtime reading. It was incredibly popular with the same schoolchildren who went on to pass the Race Relations Acts 1965, and every piece of anti-racist legislation since. Progress was not hindered by the presence of Tintin books back in the 50s, when racist attitudes were far more prevalent. How will not be undermined by it now?

Other than that, the proposal is strikingly illiberal. Calling for children's books to be removed from the children's section because you don't think that children - the people supposed to be reading them - should actually being doing so is censorship, at the end of the day. It is making it unnecessarily complicated for the people most likely to want a book to actually find it. If one person - or, for that matter, any number of people - take exception to its content, then they don't have to trouble themselves by reading it. But no-one has any right at all to impose their personal moral values and opinion of the text onto anyone else, for the simple reason that no-one's personal moral values and opinion of the text is worth any more than anyone else's.

To paraphrase the article itself, the UK has come a long way since books were arbitarily removed from shelves because they were perceived to violate social norms, or, worse, because someone said that they violated social norms. Self-appointed moral arbiters - no matter how well-intentioned they may be - cannot be allowed to undermine that progress.

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