What’s at Stake: Freedom of Thought

Updated: Aug 16

This post is the second in a series about what is at stake in these coming midterms. Read the first one, What's at Stake: Voting Rights, here.


Listen to the audio track here:

I write this blog on a day that brings the tragic news of author Salman Rushdie being stabbed at an event in New York where he was the guest speaker; he is expected to lose at least an eye, with other more severe damage possible. Rushdie, a prize-winning novelist and outspoken critic of organized religion, incurred a fatwa on his head after the publication of Satanic Verses, a novel in which a dream sequence has a fictionalized narration of Prophet Muhammad’s life. The fatwa was placed 34 years ago by Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran, and while Khomeini passed in 1989, the fatwa lives on in the minds of radical Islamists, and today possibly one of them, a man named Hadi Matar, was responsible for the attack.

For the longest time the West has looked on radical elements in the Islamic faith with disdain, pointing to the lowered status of women and the ban on free speech and action in certain Islamic nations. But it appears that a certain segment of the American right has been looking at these ideological constraints on freedom as inspirational – a state where a very small segment of society holds the power to make decisions over the rest. This has become very, very explicit in the age of Trump, whose nominated Supreme Court justices have reversed gains made in women’s autonomy over their bodies, and now right-wing activists are launching an all-out assault on our freedom to believe, to say, to live and love in independent ways.


Here’s what is happening in schools and libraries all over the United States –


- In a rural Iowa town, the public library is facing calls for LGBTQ book bans.

- Virginia Republicans are testing a new way to ban books and restrict their sales.

- Residents of Jamestown, Michigan, voted to shut down the town’s library rather than tolerate certain LGBTQ books.

- Fifty-two books by 41 authors were scheduled removed from the libraries of the Alpine School District in Utah, the state’s largest district, later reversed to being placed in restricted areas.

- A Pennsylvania school district moved ahead with a controversial library policy giving residents the ability to challenge books available in schools.


Nearly all of these books are by or about minorities, whether by color or by sexual identity. And most of them have nothing to do with age-inappropriate content; rather, they present as normal and natural the diversity in individual lives and family organizations, something that is deeply terrifying to a certain segment of American society that is yearning for an idealized time where White heteronormative families lived uncomplicated, prosperous lives at the cost of other people's freedoms.


This is just the tip of the iceberg, such initiatives are sprouting all over the country. It is only a matter of time that such fundamentalist ideas spill over to television, movies, and other aspects of cultural life. Much was made of an emotional obscenity uttered by Beto O'Rourke when confronted with the callousness of an audience member over the deaths of children in Uvalde; it conveniently deflected attention from the topic of gun reform to "appropriateness."


Once restricted to showy appearances and protests at school board meetings, book banning activists have escalated to harassing teachers on social media and pressuring school districts to let go of educators who don’t toe the moralistic line drawn by these Christian religious fundamentalists.


It is alarming that in 2022 we are having to re-litigate many freedoms that we thought we had already decided were meaningful and necessary. The only way to put an end to this is to elect progressive, diverse candidates with a strong interest in intellectual, religious, and individual freedoms. Make no mistake, book banning is the first step in the slippery slope to fascism. Strange as it may seem to voters steadily fed a propaganda about Republican values and the woke, PC culture of liberals, it is the Democratic party and its progressive representatives who will fight to keep this country equal, accessible, and safe for people of all color and types.


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