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The woke mob are headed down the same well-trodden book-burning road as the Conquistadors and the Nazis

Charlie Stone
Charlie Stone

Charlie Stone is an author and journalist who has worked for the BBC, several national newspapers in the UK and international media.

Charlie Stone is an author and journalist who has worked for the BBC, several national newspapers in the UK and international media.

The woke mob are headed down the same well-trodden book-burning road as the Conquistadors and the Nazis
Most people would struggle to find kids’ classics ‘Little House On The Prairie’ and ‘Dr Seuss’ offensive. But a UK university is failing to learn the lessons of the past by insisting they carry warnings for ‘harmful content’.

Book banning and book burning – the attempted annihilation of a culture by attacking the written word – is nothing new.

Just ask the Qin Emperor of China a couple of thousand years-or-so ago – he of the Terracotta Army. He liked to roast a book or two. As did the Romans a few hundred years later, and the Spanish invaders of the Americas in the 16th century. They had a blast burning books.

Take, for example, the impact they had on the indigenous Mayan people, who lived on the land that is now Central America for thousands of years. They had hundreds of beautiful, hand-scribed books made from bark. They were experts on the movements of the stars and wrote what they’d learnt down in those tomes. They had a cool system for counting days, and such like. They were pretty damn good at it, too.

Then along came the Conquistadors, who’d crossed the Atlantic from Spain. They – or to be precise, their priests – didn’t much like the Mayans having their own thoughts on anything, and they certainly didn’t approve of their religion. It was Catholicism or bust for these godly folk. So, they burnt their books. Guess how many are left now? 

Three. They’re called the Mayan Codices, and the fact these books survived – by accident, as the priests missed a few – is the only reason we know exactly how much they’d learnt about the sky above them. Imagine our culture if it was reduced to just three books?

The Nazis didn’t like books much, either. In 1933, the Hitler Youth and Nazi-dominated student groups in 34 university towns and cities in Germany had a jolly old time building book bonfires from Jewish, liberal and leftist texts that they felt were ‘un-German’.

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When Islamist militants invaded Mali and the ancient trading town of Timbuktu in 2012, guess what they hunted down to destroy in order to enforce their narrow view of the world and rewrite history? Yup. Books.

And in 2021? Now it’s the woke mob who are doing the ‘burning’. Loads of classic kids’ books in the digital archive at Cambridge University’s Homerton College will be labelled with ‘trigger warnings’ by researchers in the future, so sensitive souls can be made aware of “harmful content relating to slavery, colonialism and racism”.

More than 10,000 books and magazines are being analysed to highlight authors deemed – by these self-appointed ‘experts’ – “offensive to historically enslaved, colonised or denigrated people” before being uploaded to a digital archive. Any scarily offensive words or images will be highlighted and flagged, and then a warning will be included at the beginning of the offending book. 

Writers receiving digital doctoring include Laura Ingalls Wilder, the author of ‘Little House On The Prairie’, for her “stereotypical depictions of Native Americans”. And, of course, Dr Theodor Seuss Geisel gets a few dabs from that electronic red pen, for his Dr Seuss books. That’s for “overt blackface” and cultural insensitivities.

L Frank Baum, author of ‘The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz’, gets chastised for “white supremacy” in his book ‘Bandit Jim Crow’, which he wrote under a pen name. Meanwhile, ‘The Water Babies’ by Charles Kingsley, a 19th-century novel about a kid chimney sweep, could have the potential to “harm readers without warning” for its depiction of Irish and black people. 

And, hey! Guess what? If you’re a British taxpayer, you’re actually paying for this, as the programme is being funded by a £80,633 UK Arts and Humanities Research Council grant. All to make the digital collection “less harmful in the context of a canonical literary heritage that is shaped by, and continues, a history of oppression”. And the justification? It’d be “a dereliction of our duty as gatekeepers to allow such casual racism to go unchecked.”

According to a funding bid document for this idiocy, “Problems are encountered continually with respect to the history of demeaning terms associated with disability and indigenous cultures, as well as the immigrants who have shaped modern America and Britain. Trigger warnings, with indications of harmful content for intersectional identities, will protect researchers, children and general readers from offensiveness or hurt that can emerge in otherwise safe search queries or acts of browsing.”

The University of Florida is in on this, too, so don’t feel too left out if you’re on the wrong side of the Atlantic. It’s being funded by the US National Endowment for the Humanities and will give priority to online versions of children’s books by “people of color” and texts that “showcase diversity”.

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It’s not just kids’ books, though. Of course it’s not – don’t be silly! The woke mob wants to warn you, an adult, about scary texts, too. Or just to delete them altogether.

They’ve already managed to get Harper Lee’s classic novel ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ banned from some schools in (of course) California due to racism concerns – er, despite its theme of racial injustice. Other classics to make the banned list include Mark Twain’s ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ and John Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’.

Here’s the thing, though: the originals of all these works are worthy of protection – and that’s exactly what we should do. Every book, surely, is offensive to someone, or it’s probably not worth reading.

Let’s take a leaf out of the book of those Islamist raids on Timbuktu. ‘Badass librarians’ there managed to save thousands of priceless texts from armed-to-the-teeth murderous Al-Qaeda thugs by using donkey carts, boats and teenage couriers to smuggle them away to safety.

We should be taking inspiration from these heroes rather than deleting our past.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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