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Yet there was something slightly alarmist in Blume's remarks.In somber, insistent tones, she spoke as if the authorities were lurking behind the doors of the Marriott Marquis ballroom ready to burst in at any moment and break up the party.
In accepting a lifetime achievement award from the National Book Foundation at a black-tie gala in Manhattan last month, Judy Blume, the doyenne of young-adult fiction, delivered herself of the following admonition: "Your favorite teacher -- the one who made literature come alive for you, the one who helped you find exactly the book you needed when you were curious, or hurting, the one who was there to listen to you when you felt alone -- could become the next target."A target, that is, of censorship.
Blume's books, which address sexuality and religion with a frankness that has made many a grown-up squeamish, have been among the books most frequently banned from public school libraries over the years, and so the author certainly knows whereof she speaks.
OFAC devotes most of its resources to investigating terrorist financing and narcotics trafficking, and the regulations are largely intended for those aims.
Some of the regulations at issue have been on the books for decades -- the Trading With the Enemy Act dates to 1917 -- and since the 80's amendments have been added to exempt "informational materials" from being subject to sanctions.
The very mention of the Patriot Act is enough to drive many publishers, writers, librarians, bookstore owners, readers and concerned citizens into a near-paranoid frenzy at the idea that the government is intruding into their personal business, although few can cite specific instances in which that is the case.
Indeed, the marketing department of any given publishing house probably has far more power over free expression in America than any government office; if it decides a smart book won't sell, the publisher may not sign it."I think libraries will be more attentive because they will have to be.Booksellers, too."You can't help getting the sense that there is a certain amount of public relations going on here."If even people like me -- those who advocate peace and dialogue -- are denied the right to publish their books in the United States with the assistance of Americans, then people will seriously question the view of the United States as a country that advocates democracy and freedom everywhere," she wrote."What is the difference between the censorship in Iran and this censorship in the United States?Today, most defenders of the written word are focusing their energies on opposing certain sections of the USA Patriot Act, chief among them Section 215, which states that federal investigators can review library and bookstore records under certain circumstances in terrorism investigations.Larry Siems, the director of international programs at the PEN American Center, strikes an oft-heard chorus when he denounces "the growing use of government surveillance and government intrusion into your creative space." This, in turn, feeds a concern "that the government is able to see more deeply into our intellectual lives," Siems says.Attitudes are rampant, but facts are harder to find.And ultimately, grandstanding and self-righteousness obscure the fact that some cases do approach government censorship. This fall, a group of publishers and Shirin Ebadi, a lawyer and leading women's rights advocate in Iran who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003, filed two separate lawsuits against the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, or OFAC, which places serious restrictions on importing written work by authors in Iran, Sudan, Cuba and other countries under United States trade embargo.It isn't about government harassment, even though that's what Blume seemed to be implying.The definition of censorship has loosened so much that the word has become nearly devoid of meaning.