On April 6, 1933 the German Student Association (GSA) made the most important announcement in its history. In what it described as an “action against the un-German spirit,” the association described plans for a “cleansing” by which texts, deemed incompatible with the sensibilities of resurgent German nationalism, would be thrown onto bonfires.
They made good on those plans on the night of May 10, 1933, with the "Säuberung", or cleansing by fire, in which 25,000 books were incinerated in German towns. Texts from almost every field of human endeavor were taken from schools and libraries and cast into the flames, heralding an unprecedented era of censorship in modern Germany.
Today, children around the world learn about the book burnings in history classes. There are plaques and memorials at the sites where the bonfires took place. As a society, as a very species, we declare ourselves repulsed by those grainy, black and white images and are insistent that we will never repeat those mistakes. But despite such lofty protestations those mistakes are happening again and in a way that is likely more sinister than what took place over eighty years ago in Europe.
When a Tumblr feminist burned a copy of Christina Hoff Sommers' book The War Against Boys last year, predictable comparisons to the Säuberung immediately followed. Sitting by a hearth, a bespectacled, pony tailed young woman looked over her shoulder and smiled broadly. She wore a simple white t-shirt, and playfully rested her chin in her palm as she committed pages of Hoff Sommer's text to the flames.
Benjamin Weingarten, writing in The Blaze (sorry) argued that unlike the Säuberung, the point of this literary barbeque was not to eradicate unclean thoughts or ideas, but to make a statement on contemporary perceptions about feminism. Most North Americans view feminism with jaded disdain and increasingly, fewer people are identifying as feminist.
Resentment has grown in recent years against the never-ending laundry list of comically petty feminist gripes. The stereotype of feminists as joyless, prescriptive, overly sensitive and censorious gave birth to new a term in the vernacular lexicon, the “feminazi.” According to Weingarten, it is the existence of this caricature that makes the burning of Hoff Sommers' book “ironic”; our cheery fireside feminist is actually involved in a piece of performance, a visual representation of the reducto ad absurdum position of those, like Hoff Sommers, who oppose contemporary feminism.
It's a fair, but somewhat shallow observation. The pictures do show an antagonizing, trollish feminist at play but Weingarten's analysis ignores that whether intended or not, there is potent symbolism in those images. The burning of Hoff Sommers' book is a striking visual synecdoche for the malaise afflicting free expression across not only North American college campuses, but those of the entire western world. We have reached a point where ideas and conversations, similar to those espoused by Hoff Sommers in text form, are effectively verboten.
On November 16 2012 a lecture by Dr. Warren Farrell at University of Toronto turned violent when a large group of feminist protesters attempted to shut the event down. Farrell, a former head of the New York chapter of the National Organization for Women was at the university to talk about the “boy crisis” in America—a blanket term used to describe a panoply of issues affecting boys and young men such as addiction; suicide; educational attainment; and unemployment. Feminists, angered by Farrell's presence on “their” campus, blockaded the entrance to the event and physically intimidated attendees.
Kingston Ont. film maker Steve Brulé was at the scene and captured the incident which has since been viewed millions of times online. “When I got there the atmosphere was pretty hostile. There was a group of people who identified themselves as feminists blockading the doors,” says Brulé. “I started asking people what the protest was about. They [the protestors] said they were there under the direction of gender studies professors at the university.”
The images in Brulé's video are shocking, but are all too familiar for those who attempt to proffer views that confront feminist and leftist ideology. Dr. Janice Fiamengo, a professor of English literature at University of Ottawa (UofO) has also had her events disrupted. For Fiamengo, herself a former radical feminist, seeing her lectures protested was initially shocking. “I thought there would be angry questions but never protestors with masks on their faces or people pulling fire alarms,” says Fiamengo.
“I was shocked at first but afterward I was kind of satisfied that it proved my point; this ideology is repressive and is a silly, hysterical movement.” Her last lecture, a discussion of the apparent double standards inherent in feminism, was successfully shut down by feminist protestors who took advantage of lax security measures to make the event unworkable.
According to Fiamengo, while it is students who are at the front lines causing mayhem, it is ideologically-aligned administrators and professors who are working in the background orchestrating the disruption. “Progressives have taken over the universities. They're not interested in educating students. They're interested in changing their minds and producing obedient, leftist revolutionaries. They've (students) been taught to think correctly. It's the embrace of various orthodoxies that their professors tell them about.”
Fiamengo describes a frightening picture. The notion that universities are indoctrinating Canadian youth with extreme ideologies is a disturbing one, but as recent events have shown, it is also an accurate one. While we may be thankful to never see another act like the Säuberung in our lifetimes we should still beware, and realize that even today, it is still possible to censor and to silence.
It just might not be as obvious.
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