“History has taught you nothing if you think you can kill ideas,” warned American author Helen Keller in an open letter to students who were preparing to burn thousands of books, including her own, in Nazi Germany . It was May 1933. Unfortunately, almost a century later, this pearl of wisdom has still not been assimilated by everyone.
Published at 12:56 a.m.
Updated at 5:00 a.m.
Quebec sexologist Myriam Daguzan Bernier was left speechless last week when she watched the video of a Trumpist candidate burning her book with a flamethrower. “I stayed in front of my computer, my mouth wide open,” she confides. I didn’t understand what was happening… the violence of the gesture… Let’s see, a flamethrower! »
“I will burn all the books that indoctrinate and sexualize our children,” promises Valentina Gomez, candidate for Missouri secretary of state, in her incendiary video. Great program…
It’s obvious, but let’s make it clear: Myriam Daguzan Bernier’s book does not aim to indoctrinate children. On the contrary. All naked! The caring dictionary of sexuality talks about puberty, consent, sexual diversity, in short, all those important things about which young people inevitably end up questioning themselves.
After disbelief came fear, for the sexologist. Well, not for herself, but for young members of the LGBTQ+ community. It is they, she believes, who are targeted through her book. By destroying the book in such a violent way, we let them know that they are unwanted, abnormal, perverse. That they shouldn’t exist.
That they are good for the stake.
This affair is absurd, grotesque. After Hitler, Franco and the Taliban, is there any politician left on this planet who thinks it’s a good idea to burn books? Apart from Valentina Gomez, I mean.
If the video is caricatured, the gesture nevertheless reflects a worrying trend, which has been gaining momentum in the United States for three years. According to the American Library Association, calls for censorship of children’s books reached an all-time high last year.
PEN America’s latest report1 warns that “the freedom to read is under threat in the United States, particularly in public schools.” During the 2022-2023 school year, the organization recorded 3,362 cases of books removed from classrooms and libraries. Most of the works dealt with issues related to race, sex or gender identity.
So the tide has turned. Not so long ago, we were worried about the culture of banishment promoted by a certain left. In 2021, thousands of books were removed from French-speaking schools in Ontario2. In the name of reconciliation with indigenous peoples, albums of Tintin, Lucky Luke and Asterix were burned in a “ceremony of purification by flame”…
From now on, it’s the right that wants to ban children’s books that they don’t like. In the United States, it is extremely effective. Activists, who present themselves as defenders of parents’ rights, set up committees, finance electoral campaigns, “pack” school assemblies, etc.
In short, they transform schools into battlefields.
This is far from trivial. At the heart of the culture wars that continue to tear the United States apart is what Americans decide to teach, or not, to their children.
In three dozen states, laws are being drafted to prevent young people from learning about their country’s history or their own sexual identity. Regulations are being developed to punish librarians who seek to preserve their collections. We suggest dismissal or, for the most recalcitrant, prison.
The dungeon, no less, for wanting to protect books…
It takes place in 2024, in the United States. It may be less spectacular, but it is much more serious than a flamethrower in the hands of a Trumpist candidate from Missouri.
Those campaigning to remove books from shelves say they want to “put parents back in control.”
But the parents never lost control. It is up to them to supervise their children’s reading. They think the library is a dangerous place? Let them prevent their offspring from accessing it. But they should not attack books that could be useful to others.
To children confused about their gender identity, for example. “In the clinic, there are people who tell me: I didn’t have a role model growing up to know what it was like to be non-binary or to be a trans person,” says Myriam Daguzan Bernier. A well-written book can help these young people understand themselves better.
And that’s still not nothing.
The good news in this story is that the National Assembly of Quebec unanimously condemned3 the gesture of Valentina Gomez. “We had to reiterate the Quebec consensus against this conservative drift that we see in the United States,” explained solidarity MP Sol Zanetti, after tabling the motion. We can’t just let it go without saying anything, because otherwise, this form of ignorance and violence could spread. »
Fortunately, we are not there in Quebec. Politicians from all parties are speaking out against censorship. We must salute him. But the identity debates that are tearing the United States apart too often end up catching up with us – and this is not without consequences, these days, for young LGBTQ+ Quebecers. “What puts them in danger,” regrets Myriam Daguzan Bernier, “is above all incomprehension and ignorance. »
And to combat this ignorance, nothing better than reading books, lots of books.
1. Read the PEN America report
2. Read the column “A smell of ashes and barbarity”
3. Read the article “The National Assembly condemns “episodes of censorship””