Most of us have heard by now of the many books that Americans have tried to get banned—and have even succeeded in banning—over the years. Some of us even know of books that have been banned simultaneously in the U.S. and in other countries, such as Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. However, we are just one country in this giant world, and it seldom occurs to us to think of the writers and works being censored and banned across the globe.
Unfortunately, those feelings that compel Americans to ban books aren’t limited to the Americans. In fact, many other countries ban books for the exact same reasons that we do—we just don’t hear about it. For example, while President Nixon tried to block the publication of The Pentagon Papers because he considered it a national security threat, last year the Danish military challenged Thomas Rathsack’s “Jᴁger” on the same grounds, because Rathsack gave details about military missions that he had participated in. And then there’re books that challenge ideas of a given time: Uncle Tom’s Cabin was banned in the Southern U.S. when it came out because it expressed anti-slavery ideals, and Lysistrata was banned in Greece nearly 2400 years after it was first written because of its anti-war messages. And there are scores of books similar in plight to Lolita. Norway, for example, banned several books as obscene during the second half of the twentieth century (these bans have since been lifted). Finally, there are books being censored for the safety of people: France blocked reprints of Claude Guillon’s essay of suicide recipes, and Australia has banned How To Make Disposable Silencers.
It’s important to remember that book banning, and censorship of the written word’s many other forms, is not just an American issue. It’s not just an issue of English-speaking countries, first, second or third world countries, or certain kinds of government. It’s an international issue.