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ZGram - 12/9/2004 - "Book Bans in the US: You thought it couldn't happen here?"

zgrams at zgrams.zundelsite.org
Fri Dec 10 07:09:36 EST 2004

ZGram - Where Truth is Destiny:  Now more than ever!

December 9, 2004

Good Morning from the Zundelsite:

Censorship coming to America!


By Scott Martelle | Associated Press
December 7, 2004

In the summer of 1956, Russian poet Boris Pasternak -- a favorite of 
the recently deceased Joseph Stalin -- delivered his epic "Doctor 
Zhivago" manuscript to a Soviet publishing house, hoping for a warm 
reception and a fast track to readers who had shared Russia's 
torturous half-century of revolution and war, oppression and terror.

Instead, Pasternak received one of the all-time classic rejection 
letters: A 10,000-word missive that stopped just short of accusing 
him of treason. It was left to foreign publishers to give his 
smuggled manuscript life, offering the West a peek into the soul of 
the Cold War enemy, winning Pasternak the 1958 Nobel in literature 
and providing Hollywood with an epic film.

These days, Pasternak might not have fared so well.

In an apparent reversal of decades of U.S. practice, recent federal 
Office of Foreign Assets Control regulations bar American companies 
from publishing works by dissident writers in countries under 
sanction unless they first obtain U.S. government approval.

The restriction, condemned by critics as a violation of the First 
Amendment, means that books and other works banned by some 
totalitarian regimes cannot be published freely in the United States, 
a country that prides itself as the international beacon of free 

"It strikes me as very odd," said Douglas Kmiec, a constitutional law 
professor at Pepperdine University and former constitutional legal 
counsel to former Presidents Reagan and Bush. "I think the government 
has an uphill struggle to justify this constitutionally."

Several groups, led by the PEN American Center and including Arcade 
Publishing, have filed suit in U.S. District Court in New York 
seeking to overturn the regulations, which cover writers in Iran, 
Sudan, Cuba, North Korea and, until recently, Iraq.

Violations carry severe reprisals -- publishing houses can be fined 
$1 million and individual violators face up to 10 years in prison and 
a $250,000 fine.

"Historically, the United States has served as a megaphone for 
dissidents from other countries," said Ed Davis of New York, a lawyer 
leading the PEN legal challenge. "Now we're not able to hear from 

Yet more than dissident voices are affected.

The regulations already have led publishers to scrap plans for 
volumes on Cuban architecture and birds, and publishers complain that 
the rules threaten the intellectual breadth and independence of 
academic journals.

Shirin Ebadi, the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner, has joined the 
lawsuit, arguing that the rules preclude American publishers from 
helping craft her memoirs of surviving Iran's Islamic revolution and 
her efforts to defend human rights in Iranian courts.

In a further wrinkle, even if publishers obtain a license for a book 
-- something they are loathe to do -- they believe the regulations 
bar them from advertising it, forcing readers to find the dissident 
works on their own.

"It's absolutely against the First Amendment," fumed Arcade editor 
Richard Seaver, who hopes to publish an anthology of Iranian short 
stories. "We're not going to ask permission (to publish). That reeks 
of censorship. And `censorship' is a word that gets my hackles up 
very quickly."

Officials from the U.S. Treasury Department, which oversees OFAC, 
declined comment on the lawsuit, but spokeswoman Molly Millerwise 
described the sanctions as "a very important part of our overall 
national security."

"These are countries that pose serious threats to the United States, 
to our economy and security and our well being around the globe," 
Millerwise said, adding that publishers can still bring dissident 
writers to American readers as long as they first apply for a license.

"The licensing is a very important part of the sanctions policy 
because it allows people to engage with these countries," Millerwise 
said. "Anyone is free to apply to OFAC for a license."

Critics say they shouldn't have to.

"We have a long tradition of not accepting prior restraint," said 
Wendy Strothman of Boston, who hopes to serve as Ebadi's literary 
agent should the regulations be struck down. "The notion of getting a 
license seems to me to be completely counter to the spirit of the 
First Amendment. ... It's really, for me, mostly about the notion of 
freedom of expression."

The literature that might be lost to American readers is impossible 
to measure, but in recent months the bestseller lists have been 
dominated by Azar Nafisi's "Reading Lolita in Tehran," a memoir she 
wrote in exile. And Marjane Satrapi's graphic novel, "Persepolis: The 
Story of a Childhood," written and published after her family left 
Iran for France, has found an international audience.

Tom Miller, author of "Trading With the Enemy: A Yankee Travels 
Through Castro's Cuba," said the regulations not only "nullify the 
First Amendment" but would dampen the hopes of censored Cuban writers.

"It would be all the more depressing," said Miller, who travels to 
Cuba several times a year under U.S. licenses for journalistic, 
academic or cultural purposes. "There are two places Cubans get 
published outside of Cuba -- Spain and the States. To cut that short 
list in half is devastating. In the U.S., it means less artistic and 
literary infusion from overseas."

Curt Goering, deputy executive director for the Amnesty International 
human rights monitoring group, criticized the regulations as "a 
violation of some fundamental human rights."

Goering said international covenants recognize the right of people to 
receive and distribute information regardless of political 
boundaries. "It's yet another example of the hypocrisy of this 
administration on human rights," Goering said, adding that while the 
United States defends its role in Iraq as a defense of liberty at 
home it is "blocking" publication of dissident voices.

Kmiec, who is not part of the legal challenge, said the First 
Amendment -- and subsequent court rulings -- generally preclude the 
government from restricting publications before they are made.

"It does allow for limitations where there are clear and present 
dangers and compelling foreign policy or other interests that can be 
tangibly and authentically demonstrated," Kmiec said. "But short of 
that special application and very rare circumstance, government 
censorship is properly off-limits. These efforts to restrain in 
advance are almost sure to fail."

The dispute centers on a Treasury Department interpretation this year 
of regulations rooted in the 1917 "Trading With the Enemy Act," which 
allows the president to bar transactions with people or businesses in 
nations during times of war or national emergency. A 1988 amendment 
by Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif.,relaxed the act to effectively give 
publishers an exemption while maintaining restrictions on general 

In April, OFAC regulators amended an earlier interpretation to advise 
academic publishers that they can make minor changes to works already 
published in sanctioned countries and reissue them.

But the regulators said editors cannot provide broader services 
considered basic to publishing, such as commissioning works, making 
"substantive" changes to texts, or adding illustrations.

The regulations seem shaded by Joseph Heller's classic novel "Catch-22."

American publishers are allowed to reissue, for example, Cuban 
communist propaganda or officially approved books but not original 
works by writers whom the Cuban government has stifled.

In a letter to Treasury officials this past spring, Berman described 
the regulations as "patently absurd" and said they form a "narrow and 
misguided interpretation of the law."

"It is in our national interest to support the dissemination of 
American ideas and values, especially in nations with oppressive 
regimes," Berman said. "At the same time, (the Berman amendment) is 
intended to ensure the right of American citizens to have access to a 
wide range of information and satisfy their curiosity about the world 
around them."


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