Censor the History Books and You Poison the Culture

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), December 21, 2002 | Go to article overview

Censor the History Books and You Poison the Culture


Byline: Mario Basini

THE evil of the nightmarish fascist state in Franois Truffaut's film Fahrenheit 451 is measured by the fact that the firemen spend most of their time burning books. The film shows the trust we who live in liberal democracies place in great novels, collections of poetry, philosophical works, volumes of history and the knowledge they contain. We use the way we treat them as a gauge of how much we value our free and progressive civilisation. Their destruction symbolises the malevolence of those who want to dominate and enslave us and to destroy that civilisation.

Only a short step behind those who want to burn books in the list of our enemies come those who want to censor them, imposing their own harsh and authoritarian view of the world on the rest of us.

So it was no surprise this week when Forza Italia, the rightwing political party headed by Italian Prime Minster Silvio Berlusconi, stirred up a hornet's nest of protest by suggesting that school history textbooks should be censored by the gov-ernment. The books should be edited and, if necessary, rewritten to rid them of their ``left-wing bias''. Forza Italia's suggestion prompted Umberto Eco, the best-selling novelist and professor of philosophy at Bologna University, to launch a protest campaign on the internet. It quickly attracted thousands of declarations of support from Italy's academics and intellectuals. Sixty more came from teachers at the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, London and Manchester.

The suggestion carries a particular resonance in Italy where 60 years ago Mussolini's fascist regime tried to control everything the people heard on their radios, read in their books and newspapers and saw on their cinema screens. But the issue is also an important one for all of us who live in Wales.

Censorship does not have to be confined to editing out or rewriting bits of history that make us feel uncomfortable or do not fit our vision of the world. Often, what we choose as the subject matter of our textbooks can have a drastic effect on the way our children see the world and their place in it. …

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