By Michael Blackwell, Guest Blogger
The sickening and tragic violence being perpetrated by the Iranian government on its citizens reminds me of an oversight on the part of the ALA. The same government whose leader issued the Fatwa against Mr. Rushdie continues its oppression, but now women are courageously fighting back for their personal freedom. It reminds me that number of librarians have reached out to the Intellectual Freedom Round Table (IFRT) to ask for a statement about the attack on Mr. Rushdie. Round Tables are not allowed to make such statements on their own authority. Members are allowed to blog. I do not speak for the IFRT, much less for the ALA. I can only speak for myself, while wishing I were now using “we” and not “I.” Still, I speak for many when saying it is long past time for librarians and library associations to show our support for Mr. Rushdie.
I am delighted to see Mr. Rushdie continue his recovery from a recent attack. I condemn that vicious, heinous, and, yes, cowardly act of violence. No belief, whether religious, political, or philosophical, justifies violence in response to the expression of thought. It is a cliché and yet always true that the answer to speech one disagrees with is always more speech. I call for appropriate justice to be served and dismiss any possible defense of this act on ANY grounds as intellectually and morally bankrupt. Mr. Rushdie has been grievously wounded, but this attack spreads his fame and his words ever farther. In attempting to strike down one of our greatest exemplars of intellectual freedom, the attacker has only enhanced Mr. Rushdie’s stature. I celebrate his indomitable spirit and wish him well, joining him in saying “Two things form the bedrock of any open society – freedom of expression and rule of law. If you don’t have those things, you don’t have a free country.”
We in libraries can do nothing to ameliorate Mr. Rushdie’s physical pain. We can and should, however, proudly display and recommend his works. To support Mr. Rushdie and to celebrate his works is not to attack a religion. It is only to excoriate, as we should, the mindless and soulless adherence to the wrong-headed, hateful, and evil interpretation of a religion promulgated by mere–and mistaken–men.
Speaking of Iran, I’d like to call attention to a far more authoritative voice than my own, that of Ms. Frieda Afary, an Iranian American. Freida has written a blog piece well worth reading, “Iran Protests Against Compulsory Hijab and State Violence.” She writes, “At this time, international solidarity with women in Iran is critically important in order to help the continuation of the current courageous wave of protests in defense of women and against state brutality. Iranian feminists have already begun this outreach for dialogue and solidarity.” The bravery of women standing up against a regime they know to be ruthlessly violent is as inspiring as it is laudable. With our own country seeing recent judicial attacks on women’s rights, and possible attacks on whom we might choose as a marriage partner, now is the time to speak strongly for Intellectual Freedom. Even those who would support this oppression must be allowed to speak. We are then free to say back, with passion and logic, why women’s right to autonomy is absolute, speaking powerfully for the majority who already support that autonomy. If we are to be at all worthy of Mr. Rushdie’s great example, and words, we must ever condemn violent suppression of thought and ever speak for the rights and dignity of all. And with the women in Iran, we must ever speak, and in our case vote, against those who would wrongly use religion to oppress others.
Michael Blackwell is the Director of St. Mary’s County Library (MD). He came to Maryland from Ohio, where he worked at Columbus Metropolitan and Worthington Libraries. He is the project manager for ReadersFirst, a member of the ALA Joint Digital Content Working Group, Co-chair of the CORE Architecture for Public Libraries Committee, Project Manager for deploying SimplyE in Maryland, a frequent presenter at conferences and author of posts and articles on digital content, and a two-time winner of Dublin’s (OH) Best Legs in Kilt Contest and Grand Leprechaun. In his spare time, he enjoys sailing, cycling, community engagement, and spending time with his spouse Lisa.
Established December 1, 1967, the Office for Intellectual Freedom is charged with implementing ALA policies concerning the concept of intellectual freedom as embodied in the Library Bill of Rights, the Association’s basic policy on free access to libraries and library materials. The goal of the office is to educate librarians and the general public about the nature and importance of intellectual freedom in libraries.