I’ve been following the discussions at The Guardian concerning the upcoming London Book Fair, where China will be the focus of the events next week. I found this article very engaging. I am a person who has given some attention to censorship in my postgraduate studies. And while I am no supporter of censorship, I am also aware that there is another side to the issue that often gets overlooked by those of us who enjoy the greatest levels of freedom of expression and want to push it on nations that haven’t quite reached the same place we have. What I mean is this — for many, the way to fight censorship is to take a firm stand, and to have nothing to do with any nation that practices censorship. That’s not, however, a very realistic way of making any headway with those entities. I am convinced that the only way we will make any headway against censorship is to open up the dialogue on whatever level it is possible to do so at this point in time. Isolationism is never the best way to help us come to better mutual understanding. Only dialogue can do that. And where fully open dialogue is not possible, we have to take what we can get and not be too pushy in insisting that more be forthcoming. If we allow one another a bit of space, confidence and trust can grow, and prospects for further dialogue in the future will look much brighter. Idealistic? Sure. But even so, it is the only way that there will be any progress in the relationship.
And, best of all… it is a relationship that works both ways. Those of us who claim to stand against censorship might find, in the course of our dialogue, that we have been guilty of some similar strong-arming or silencing tactics that are commonly used by those we like to point fingers at. We might find that, in standing against censorship, we have a tendency to censor those who disagree with us. If, for instance, we refused to highlight a particular nation’s literature at our cultural events because they practice censorship, isn’t that in itself a form of censorship too? That’s the point that is hinted at toward the end of the article linked above. If we want to cut off dialogue with anyone whose ideologies clash with our own, how can we hope to build greater understanding with them? How can we hope to influence and be influenced by them? And in the long run, with a stance like that, who really suffers? The government? No, the writers and us, their potential readers.