By Can Bahadır Yüce
Since a school board in Tennessee voted unanimously to remove the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel “Maus” from classrooms, censorship has once again become a topic of conversation. The most recent book surge in banning states like Texas, which is at an all-time high according to the American Office Library Association for Intellectual Freedom, reminds me of what has happened in Turkey over the past few years.
It’s one of the most absurd cases of censorship, and it involves Pennsylvania. Between 2016 and 2019, the Turkish government destroyed more than 300,000 books. The number was announced with some pride by the former education minister. In addition, approximately 2 million textbooks were destroyed and reprinted. This includes a 6th grade textbook, which was banned in schools for referencing the state of Pennsylvania. (
The word “Pennsylvania” appears in an essay by James Michener.) What is the connection between the Turkish government’s censorship policy and an American state? For starters, Pennsylvania has been a very polarizing word in Turkish politics for quite some time because Fethullah Gülen, who is considered a sworn enemy of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, lives in the state.
Gülen, a Muslim cleric, is accused by the Erdogan regime of being the instigator of the failed military coup in 2016. Mr Gülen denied the allegation and Turkey failed to provide evidence of his involvement. While President Erdogan never mentions Mr. Gülen’s name in his public speeches and simply refers to him as “Pennsylvania,” the word has become part of political rhetoric and justification for censorship in Turkey. Probably, the majority of Pennsylvania residents have no idea that their state’s name was an “unacceptable” word in another country.
Even more absurd, a math textbook was banned for featuring Fethullah Gülen’s initials in a question containing the words “from point F to point G.” Such anecdotes may seem unreal and ridiculous, but they are real and dangerous. Banning novels, comics, or textbooks is never a good sign for a company. It indicates authoritarian tendencies, oppressive, cruelty and lack of empathy. Censorship is part of the bad side of the story.
However, while struggling against it, the consolation of being on the right side of history will not solve our problems. We need to understand where the real danger lies. It’s all about normalizing-times that people used to being censored, which will lead them to self-censorship and more oppression. It starts with a single book: whether it’s racism, anti-Semitism, or support for the protection of children from sexually explicit material, banning a book creates an atmosphere of fear.
While the government was destroying printed materials in Turkey, the books threw themselves out of fear. This is how censorship works. Even though banning printed books is practically useless in the digital age and makes people curious (“Maus” is now a bestseller), the act of banning is still a fundamental problem. He can set the norm. Challenging books, of course, is nothing new in America. It has long been a part of school board meetings. But this time it seems different ban attempts are now better organized, more politicized and polarizing. If it becomes the new normal, politics will eventually depreciate culture.
Preventing young people from reading books that deal with difficult subjects is not protecting them. As a teacher, I know that books on difficult topics can make conversation more stimulating and productive. Young people can learn to think critically about what they read. Learning from different perspectives opens their minds. The banning of books is an indication of intellectual decline and lack of self-confidence. He is a threshold; if approved by the majority of society and standardized, will be emboldened anti-intellectualism.
It means dark times ahead. And it always starts with a single book.
Can Bahadır Yüce teaches history at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, PA. He was the book review editor of Zaman newspaper. Zaman was seized and shut down by the Turkish government in 2016.