Dec. '99/Jan '00
Not God's Eyes
|By Reginald Lewis|
IMAGINE BEING A PERMANENT RESIDENTof a small, densely populated town, patrolled around the clock by squadrons of cold-eyed, black-booted guards. At different intervals during the night, a powerful searchlight sweeps across the groups, across the rooftops and down the sides of the buildings. Endless spools of razor wire glistens atop the high stone wall. A security clearance is needed to pass through the steel and glass checkpoints. Every resident is frisked for contraband, shaken down. Three times a day, a head count is taken to insure that no one has escaped. Satellite dishes that reach across continents and computer modems that cut endless unobstructed highways through cyberspace are banned.
In the mailroom, the employees are a fastidious brood who perfunctorily sifts through mail before it is delivered to the citizens. Recipients of letters questioning authority are rounded up and thrown into isolation. The slightest glimpses of flesh in photographs, mailed to spouses or loved ones, can fit the narrowest definition of pornography -- and are destroyed. Drug-sniffing dogs are brought in for larger, suspicious looking packages. Magazines and newspapers of "questionable content" are microscopically examined, then sent onto the "Publications Review Committee" for further deliberation and final judgement. And, do not use the telephone. The automated system is connected to a single line that serves the entire town. A pre-recorded voice -- cold and impersonal -- warns the callers that "this call is being monitored and recorded."
It is so easy to envision these harsh conditions being imposed upon the inhabitants in oppressed countries like China, Bhutan, North Korea and Iran. Yet, this is a cold, daily reality for thousands of inmates trapped in the industrialized prison gulags across America. This is the direct result of the rhetoric and dispassion of vote-getting politicians projecting their fears onto the larger society, where the automatons who control the prison bureaucracies are plucked. They are the sole architects of the repressive policies. They are your neighbors, your friends, who pass you on the street, say "Good morning" and sit beside you in Church. Great cruelty seethes beneath the thin veneer of polite civility. But doesn't history, and the tragic events of the present, remind us how the fanatical politics of men who lust for power and dominion over their Countrymen can affect the entire world?
If the free expression of art is the revolution of the people -- the vehicle for radical change -- then the danger of censorship, anywhere, is that it is often a deliberate attempt to suppress the voices of minority artists and other "undesirables."
Just ask Rudolfo Anaya, whose book Bless Me, Ultima was recently banned by the Laton Joint Unified School District in California. The parents of the 9th grade English students cited the flimsiest reasons in support of the book's ban -- it uses vile Spanish language, glorifies death, the practice of witchcraft and sexual promiscuity. Mr. Anaya said, "I think it's symptomatic of a backlash against any literature or art that has to do with our [Chicano] community. Some people don't want to adapt these things into our curriculums ... There's an element out there that is very fearful of our culture. We have to be vigilant."
Mr. Anaya could have easily argued that the banning of his novel was an extremist reaction to the recent school massacre in Littleton, Colorado -- a tragedy of national proportions. On talk shows, a gaggle of conservative mandarins debated vociferously with free speech advocated. On Capitol Hill, the Republicans blamed the usual suspects -- it was those dirty rap lyrics, Marilyn Manson, Steven Speilberg, those decadent Hollywood movies, the lack of school prayer, the breakdown in family values. The right-wingers introduced flurries of bills. They were defeated, justifiably so.
But the sovereignty of the artist cannot be subjugated by oppressive wardens seeking to imprison the intangible creation of human thought and the free flow of ideas. Censoring speech, literature and art is just dead wrong.
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|Reginald S. Lewis in on death row in Pennsylvania for a 1983 murder. The facts of the case point to his innocence: At the time of the murder, Lewis was in California visiting relatives; Documents (including bus tickets and sales receipts) were removed by police from Lewis' briefcase between the time of his arrest and the trial, never to be seen again; The court appointed attorney, although allotted $2500 to ensure several witnesses to Lewis' presence in California would testify, only secured one witness Lewis' brother; Lewis' case was heard before an all-white jury and the judge was Albert F. Sabo, who has sent more black defendants to death row than any other acting judge (he also sentenced Mumia Abu-Jamal). To contact Reginald S. Lewis write to: Reginald S. Lewis, #AY2902, 1040 E. Roy Furman Highway, Waynesburg, PA 15370-8090