It’s that time of year again; Freedom to Read Week is just around the corner! This year, it’s February 26 to March 3, and once again WordFest is teaming up with the Writers Guild of Alberta to celebrate this special week. In my humble opinion, Freedom to Read encompasses such a wide range of things; freedom of speech, freedom from censorship, freedom of expression, etc. Although we may not realize it at first, so many stories in the news these days holds the violation of this basic human right at its core, and that’s why I wanted to post something about this topic.
Take for example the Salman Rushdie debacle in Jaipur just a few weeks ago. A video link including Rushdie had to be cancelled due to violent threats placed against Festival organizers and attendees, should the event go ahead as planned. Our Festival Director, Jo Steffens was there to witness it, and took this telling snapshot of the crowd before the event. The Skype chat was ultimately cancelled and an impromptu discussion on the importance of freedom of expression took place. You can watch the panel discussion here.
Look at a little closer-maybe squint a bit. No, your eyes not deceiving you, those are people holding machine guns in the middle of a crowd of Festival goers. As a fellow event organizer, this is an especially troubling scene. The people who are sitting in those seats are not even expressing their own opinions, they simply want to listen to someone speak their thoughts, which horrifically, put them in physical danger. Why does the thought of someone expressing an idea that is contrary to your own beliefs arouse such hatred in some people? That’s obviously a loaded question to ask, one that I will never have enough blog posts to answer, but this is why Freedom to Read Week is so important.
As a booklover, I look forward to reading things that question my own opinions. To me, this is an exercise in self-growth and cultivation of intelligence. The world would be a boring, uninspired and uncreative place if we all held the same opinions. So why do we persecute other people for disagreeing with our own way of life? The Jaipur Literature Festival—as is WordFest—is a festival of ideas, ideas that can be found between two covers. The right to your opinion is important, the right to express your opinion is really important, and the right to read about other opinions is of the utmost importance, and this is why Freedom to Read Week is part of WordFest’s yearly repertoire of events. We welcome dialogue, and we hope to hear more of it on February 29 at the Barley Mill. Please come and make your opinion heard!