Writing was invented to keep records of produce and population, and to facilitate taxation thereof by the rulers, thus ostensibly assisting the economy and, some naïve people may say, progress. From the time writing was first misused by non-bureaucrats to record people’s myths, memories and hopes, any texts not entirely under rulers’ control were considered dangerous. In ancient Egypt the names of no longer politically correct Pharaohs were chiselled out of the stone. Three thousand years later we have the Google censors selecting what is, in George Soros’ opinion, suitable for preservation and without any physical effort deleting all those inconvenient facts/truths and replacing them with readily available convenient lies.(Al Gore anyone?)
If the ex-human-rights lawyer, now unfortunately a Federal minister, Stephen Conroy (born in England, never done a day of honest work in his life, pseudo-catholic) is let loose in Australia, people would reminisce about Savonarola’s inquisition with fond nostalgia. That is; only those few people who read and remember. Comrade Conroy, for tactical reasons, temporarily abandoned his plans for internet censorship. Those increasingly frequent calls for censorship ought not to be taken lightly – governments, even those ostensibly conservative, manipulated by the media, pander to minuscule minorities. The rulers’ self-preservation, not citizens’ freedom, is paramount. Once in power, suppression of dissent is natural, unless you are an honest human being. Just joking – but let me know if you ever happen to meet a politician (in his or her second parliamentary term) you would trust with your daughter/son or your superannuation.
Ms Rebecca Knuth, Assistant Professor of the University of Hawaii wrote a book, the title of which is the same as the heading of this article.* The word as such means “the killing of a book”. According to Ms Knuth, “Libricide (as well as genocide and ethnocide) is not the sum of spontaneous crimes of passion committed by barbarians, … but a method of problem-solving that is deliberate and systematic. It is a solution that employs violence and compromises human rights in serving a collective good that is narrowly defined by ideology.” So far so good, but she spoils it a few lines later by stating, “Organisations like the United Nations, operating in the interests of human rights, multiculturalism, and world peace, deliver this disapproval [of libricide] through resolutions, conventions, and coalitions.” Perhaps the got lost somewhere.
Her list of extremist ideologues who perpetrated mass murders comprises Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Saddam and Milosevic. I missed the likes of Lenin, Pol Pot and the Castro brothers there. One hopes it was not a deliberate and cowardly omission. The breadth or otherwise of her research can be seen from the Contents:
- Books, Libraries and the Phenomenon of Ethnocide
- The Evolution and Function of Libraries
- A Theoretical Framework for Libricide
- Nazi Germany: Racism and Nationalism
- Greater Serbia
- Iraq, Kuwait, and the Politics of Thuggery
- China’s Cultural Revolution
- Tibet: A Culture in Jeopardy
- The Collision of Ideas
There are extensive references, approximately forty per chapter, including even Milan Kundera’s Book of Laughter and Forgetting in the Mao’s chapter (7). Ms Knuth selected five examples of libricide: by Nazis everywhere, by Serbs in Bosnia, by Iraqis in Kuwait, by Chinese Communists during the Chinese Cultural Revolution and by Chinese Communists in Tibet. She carefully explains her reasons; some important ones she could not do because of the lack of records (USSR), some were quantitatively insignificant (Croatia), and some too similar to Nazis (Japan). It is her prerogative, and I accept that. However, on occasions, her approach makes me uneasy. For example, she writes (p.11), “[t]he world discovered to its horror that in the 1970s Pol Pot’s regime killed off all vestiges of literacy and modernity in addition to massacring one-sixth to one-seventh of all Cambodians. But in each of these cases, knowledge of the acts against humanity reached the global public after the fact.” It is only partially correct – the world knew and could have known more, if not for political, academic and journalistic dishonesty.
Ms Knuth states at p.24, “With the advent of the printing press came an increased use of vernacular languages (a change from the dominance of Latin in the intellectual world); along with the development of regional literatures came a consciousness that would eventually be expressed as nationalism.” While the statement is undoubtedly correct, it begs the question: which was first, the chicken or the egg? The demand or supply, the game the economists engage in? In any case it would seem that Gutenberg has Nazism and today’s youths’ practical illiteracy to answer for.
Sometimes Ms Knuth makes, for my taste, too sweeping assertions, as for example at the beginning of Chapter 3; “Because libraries express the humanist and democratic values that have come to characterize modern society and internationalism, violence directed at them is also an attack on these ideals, serving instead a world view in which the individual being exists solely to serve the collective mission of the state.” With respect, not all libraries “express the humanist and democratic values”. In fact many libraries in socialist countries expressed or strived to express the opposite values, and I dare to say that those in North Korea, Communist China, Vietnam and Cuba still do. Also, faced with such a categorical statement, I am forced to mention a private library of a paedophile.
The book contains a number of factual mistakes, mostly of no importance, so I mention just one, which could even be a typing error. The Teutonic Knights did not seek to “introduce Christianity and a German and Catholic culture into the Balkans” (p.78). Yes, at one stage they fought against Muslim invasion in what is now Hungary, close to the Balkans, but were predominantly active in Prussia and in what are now know as the Baltic states. Maybe the “spell-checker” confused Balkan with Baltic.
Still in the same chapter she writes about Croatian President Franjo Tudjman “a general-turned-military historian-turned-university professor-turned-politician” and of his “glossing over war crimes [of Ustashas]. “Tudjman’s promotion of Croat nationalism was tainted by the fact that Croatia, after eight hundred years of statelessness, had achieved independence for the first time during World War II …” I am not sure how deep is Ms Knuth’s understanding of European history, but the identical allegation could be made about Slovakia, and if collaboration with Nazi’s Germany was seriously examined, hardly any nation in Europe could afford not to “gloss over” it.
I am also somewhat uneasy about her description of the shelling of the National Library in Sarajevo. I could not find any evidence that the building, former Town Hall, was targeted by Serbs because it was a library. I am not looking for any excuses for Serbs involved in a silly civil war. But Ms Knuth could ask herself, what would she do if she were an artillery commander, ordered to shell a town without any specific military target, (‘harassment and interdiction’ is the military term, I believe) where any building could hide armed opponents. Would she shell a church, a library or civilian dwellings? Perhaps it was, in fact, a deliberate destruction of the library’s irreplaceable collection of Church Slavonic, Latin, Hebrew, Spanish, Russian, German, Turkish, Italian, Arabic and Persian texts. But I learned not to accept the first available version of war events.
I disagree with the statement, “…the root of violations perpetrated in Kuwait lies in the ideologically rationalised sociocultural violence perpetrated first within Iraq itself.” I would not wish to minimise the malicious mischief the modern ideologies are causing, but in the case of inter-Semitic conflicts surely the real roots lie in the time-honoured desert tribal warfare.
I have nothing of significance to add to the chapters concerning the Nazis or Mao’s Cultural Revolution. I have read a lot about those previously and Ms Knuth’s treatment thereof is unobjectionable. The chapter relating to Tibet was enlightening, though it did not mellow my assessment of Chinese communists a bit. It is definitely worth reading and in my opinion even saving the whole book.
An obligatory libricide anecdote at the end – a very good friend of mine spent a year or so in a Polish jail during the last martial law period, that is during Solidarity, General Jaruzelski and Lech Valesa episode. He told me the prison library contained a surprising number of banned books, and besides the predictable ones by Tocqueville, Trotsky, Sarte and Spengler, also some writings by Marx, Engels and disenchanted communists like Djilas. Either somebody cannily wanted to preserve the knowledge somewhere where Służba Bezpieczeństva would not bother to look or, less heroically, but unfortunately more likely, some prison official made a deal with a local paper mill, got hold of the books about to be pulped and applied the money allocated for a prison library to a different, less educational and less futile purposes. Be that as it may, my friend considered his time of incarceration well spent.**
**/ Should anybody consider enhancing his or her philosophical and political horizons by this method, I am obliged to warn them that to the best of my limited and possibly out of date knowledge the Queensland prison libraries do not hold any worthwhile books
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