I hoped my book would be banned. I thought it would be wonderful if some self-righteous politician convinced a court it was a danger to society. I imagined crowds gathering as copies of my book were tossed on big, public bonfires like in 1930s Germany. That would have been great.
I was joking, of course. Well, sort of. My first book, Mohamed 2.0, was almost complete. It was a biography of Mohamed El-Fatatry, a Muslim immigrant to little homogenous Finland. People in the West get quite worked up about anything to do with Islam, so I knew we could have some controversy. Mohamed wanted a famous politician to write the Foreword to the book, and we ended up getting government minister and presidential candidate Eva Biaudet to do it. I joked to Mohamed that we should ask her to ban it instead of endorse it, because nothing helps sales better than censorship. He didn’t think it was funny.
Mohamed was right: it wasn’t funny. I did have a point, though, in that few things make a book a best-seller faster than an order from a political authority not to read it. D.H. Lawrence’s best work wasn’t Lady Chatterley’s Lover, but now the book is a widely-read classic simply because the UK government tried to ban it for obscenity.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover had the support of its publisher, though. Sometimes a publisher will forget their high-minded morals and agree to censorship. The publisher Penguin recently decided to destroy all copies of the academic book The Hindus by Wendy Doniger because some Indians didn’t like how it portrayed their religion.
Free speech is often curtailed on religious grounds, and not just in the world’s largest democracy India. Harry Potter was famously challenged in American libraries by Christian fundamentalists because it supposedly promoted witchcraft. I never saw the danger Harry Potter posed to the world, but that might just be me.
Free speech is certainly under threat in America. Reporters Without Borders recently ranked good-old freedom-loving USA number 46 in the world for press freedom, behind countries like Belize, Botswana and Suriname. The American government is quite upset that we have found out they are spying on their own citizens, so they are arresting people who try to leak information and hacking the Associated Press.
America seems to be trying to shed its “land of the free” title, but there must be some places in the world where freedom of speech and the press is still respected. I happen to live in Finland, which was ranked the best in the world for press freedom. This sounds nice, but if we are number one then the world is in bad shape.
A couple of years ago a Finnish politician was convicted of “breaching the sanctity of religion” for a blog post. Jussi Halla-aho had made a careful statement in the “if-then” tradition of Aristotelian logic, comparing the Prophet Muhammad’s nine-year old wife and modern age of consent laws. This was deemed offensive and forbidden speech. It was offensive, certainly, but I don’t agree that being a jerk should be against the law. Other countries take a similar line. People in Great Britain have been arrested for being offensive on Twitter.
Finland also has a tradition of corporate censorship, when powerful companies exert their influence to stop critical journalism. The mobile phone company Nokia was rather infamous for this in years past. When I started writing my new book, The Decline and Fall of Nokia, the possibility they could try to stop us came up a time or two during meetings. Luckily Nokia seems to be mellowing, though, and they don’t seem to be too upset. The book is set for publication in April, so it looks like I will miss the censorship bullet with this one, too.
My novel Dead Romans hasn’t drawn the attention of any corporations, politicians or religious groups yet. It gives a rather frank depiction of paganism and abuse in the ancient Roman Empire. One homeschooling Mom flipped out about it, though. She wrote a review stating “I’m quite aware that this type of thing probably happened, but I don’t think it’s necessary to tell us about it.” I was hoping she would start a campaign to ban my book. That would have been great.