Friday, July 20, 2007

Moral Clarity from Nat Hentoff

Nat Hentoff is the first non-musician to win the NEA Jazz Master Award for Jazz Advocacy. He is also the recipient of the American Library Association’s Immroth Award for Intellectual Freedom, which he has since disavowed in protest of the ALA’s refusal to condemn the arrest and torture of Cuba’s independent librarians. He continues to turn up the heat on the Castro apologists in the first of two editorials in the Washington Times this week. Hentoff pointedly writes:

“Bearing such signs as ‘Book Burning Is NOT A solution to Cuba's Energy Problems’ and ‘Ray Bradbury (author of "Fahrenheit 451") Says: “Free The Jailed Librarians,"’ the Freadomistas also handed out fliers that quoted the core ALA policy: ‘The American Library Association believes that freedom of expression is an inalienable human right... vital to the resistance of oppression... and the principles of freedom of expression should be applied by libraries and librarians throughout the world.’ Another ALA policy cited on the flyers ‘deplores the destruction of libraries, library collections and property.’ Yet, as I have reported previously, the ALA ignores the fact that Cuban court documents (validated by Amnesty International and the Organization of American States) reveal that the entire collections of at least six independent libraries were ordered destroyed. . . .

And the ALA council — in defiance of a Jan. 25, 2006, poll in the official American Libraries e-mail newsletter, AL Direct, in which 76 percent of the rank-and-file membership urged emancipation — continues its refusal to call for the release of what some ALA leaders deride as ‘so-called librarians.’ Yet the library associations of Poland, Estonia, Latvia, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have vigorously demanded their release. Those countries know what it is to live under communism.

At the ALA conference, a Freadomista flier ended with a reminder from Martin Luther King Jr., whose biography was burned by Castro judges: ‘In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.’ The next time you visit your local library, you might express your support for the extraordinarily courageous independent librarians whose devotion to Cubans' right to read have put them in these gulags.”

Hentoff is a rare public intellectual who refuses to wear ideological blinkers. Whether it be championing the Jazz Foundation of America or publicizing the plight of Cuba’s independent librarians, the Village Voice and Jazz Times columnist has always aligned himself with the underdogs of the world. Although generally a man of the left, he is a consistent and independent thinker who brings real moral authority to issues of intellectual freedom. Look for part two of his editorial next week.