MLK Day & Freedom of Speech

Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968. he day before he was murdered, King was discussing a court injunction which made a planned rally illegal. Of this, he said:

“All we say to America is to be true to what you said on paper. If I lived in China or even Russia, or any totalitarian country, maybe I could understand some of these illegal injunctions. Maybe I could understand the denial of certain basic First Amendment privileges, because they haven’t committed themselves to that over there. But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right. And so just as I say we aren’t going to let any dogs or water hoses turn us around, we aren’t going to let any injunction turn us around.”

Despite his claim that freedom of speech is one of our First Amendment privileges, it  is still being denied today around the world and in the U.S., including in the form of banned books.

Books are banned for a number of reasons, and there is no country that doesn’t have a restriction of some kind. Some of the reasons why books are banned include racial issues, encouragement of “damaging” lifestyles, religious blasphemy, sexuality, violence, witchcraft, unpopular religious affiliations, political bias or blasphemy, or age inappropriateness.

In starting to write this post, my reaction was, “Why would we have any censorship in the U.S? Doesn’t the first amendment protect us?” However, there are some censorship laws that are actually beneficial. For example, hate and violent speech is legal in the U.S., but it is illegal to encourage others to act out the violence or do so yourself. There is business censorship which prevents a corporation from using its power to prevent speech of another corporation or person. Also, any form of written child pornography is banned.

Censorship on Translations

In translation, there is censorship depending on language. As I previously wrote in the Arabic Language Day post, many Muslim Arabic translators refuse to translate anything that they consider inappropriate or blasphemous against Islam. During Mussolini’s rule, he created the Ministry of Popular Culture with the goal to censor translations of books into Italian that had too much western influence. Nazi Germany believed translations were a threat to the perfect society and would not allow books that were translated into German (Translation Journal).

Censorship in translation is extremely harmful because it closes off the ability to read about and understand other perspectives. There are several studies and evidence to show that the language you speak can limit the thoughts you have. That being the case, limiting translations is literally limiting ideas.

I first experienced what this meant when someone gave me the book Las Venas Abiertas de América Latina by Eduardo Galeano when I was living in Uruguay (translate into English: The Open Veins of Latin America). During a visit to Brazil, Hugo Chavez also gave this book to President Obama as a gift. I see both gifts as moves to educate, as the book contains a hugely different view of history than what we learn in the U.S. The book is both emotional and angering and is extremely anti-U.S./colonialists. Despite any reaction President Obama and I may have had though, we most definitely gained perspective in the process of reading this translated book. As a nation that has a profound impact on world affairs, it is important to have knowledge of a wide range of views.

Honor The King

Therefore, this week, in honor of MLK Day and his fight for freedom of speech, read a translated book. Better yet, read a translated book that is banned somewhere. If it is banned, it probably contains some pretty interesting opinions!

Check out these top ten books that are banned in libraries across the U.S.:

Check out this map of banned books:

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