As a writer, however, I have had the privilege of researching many stories over the years which have made me realize how fortunate I am to be living in the here and now, rather than in the over there or back then. It just takes a moment to contemplate over the things that have been banned in the past or are currently banned in other countries to know what to be thankful for. Here are my top 10:
Creating art that did not conform to the ideals of Social Realism was banned in the Soviet Republic during Stalin’s rule. Besides political and religious art, the ban included abstract art, expressionism and anything depicting nude bodies. Avant garde artists who did not adapt to the policies were often either murdered or sent to the gulag. Even after Stalin died in 1953, nonconformist art was illegal until the mid ‘70s.
I am grateful that although I am not an artist and cannot distinguish between an authentic Pollock and a kid’s spaghetti painting, I can at least admire both without fear.
All outdoor sports were banned during the Taliban regime in Afghanistan because they were claimed to be unIslamic and disturbed prayers. That meant no soccer, no basketball, no volleyball, no track and field and no kite-flying. The National Stadium was instead turned into a venue for public executions.
I am grateful that I can play all kinds of sports (if you consider wii gaming an actual sport) and that none of the non-archaeological stadiums I’ve visited have been used to showcase public executions.
Iran currently bans all Western music – that includes jazz, hip hop, rock, heavy metal and even easy listening. Interestingly, before the ban, George Michael, Eric Clapton, the Eagles and Kenny G were quite popular in the Islamic state.
What? No George Michael? The ‘80s would have totally sucked without songs like “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”. I am grateful that I can put on the Wham! whenever I like.
The Taliban are still hard at work in spreading repression. Now they are targeting dancing in Pakistan. Despite a long-held tradition of music and dance at annual Spring festivals, the Taliban have cracked down on them and are sending death threats to female dancers.
It’s quite sad actually, that cultural Pakistani dances will now have to be performed by white women in places like The Netherlands.
I’m grateful that I am allowed to break out my dance moves, even though I probably should be banned from dancing because frankly, I suck. But no matter how bad I am, at least I won’t be receiving any death threats.
There are many, many countries that ban specific movies. I will pick Burma as an example, since they are another human rights deficient country and “Banned in Burma” just has a nice alliteration.
Here’s a sample of movies banned in Burma according to onlygoodmovies.com:
Saturday Night Fever
Saving Private Ryan
Full Metal Jacket
I’m grateful to be living in a place where none of the movies above were banned because how else would I have learned the pointy point disco move? I am also grateful that the “Lady of Burna” and Nobel peace prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi has finally been released from house arrest.
6) Being able to own land
In 1913, the The Californian Alien Land Law was enacted banning Chinese, Japanese, Indian and Korean immigrant farmers from purchasing land.
I am grateful that today, I can and do own land in California (although technically, the land really belongs to the bank and I will continue to be in debt to them for 30 years.)
7) Free Press
Once again, there are many countries that don’t have free press. But I am citing China because they are the world’s second worst jailer of journalists. For 11 years they held the number 1 spot for the number of journalists in jail, but Iran leapfrogged them after that country’s crackdown on protest demonstrations earlier in the year.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, there are 24 journalists in prison in China and with Aung San Suu Kyi’s recent release, Liu Xiaobo is now the only Nobel peace laureate still sitting in jail.
The Wall Street Journal printed a listed of keywords that are banned in China which included:
– Falun Gong
– Hu Jintao
– Human rights
– Oppose corruption
– Underground church
– Taiwan independence
I am REALLY grateful for free speech in this country, because otherwise, I would be in jail right now for writing this blog.
In Saudi Arabia, the sale of pets is seen as a sign of Western influence and therefore, is prohibited. The ban on cats seems particularly perplexing since the Prophet Muhammad loved cats.
I am grateful that I own two lovely cats and they would take offense to hear that they are considered a bad influence on anyone. Well, OK, maybe my calico is a bit slovenly and my siamese spends way too much time watching YouTube.
9) Chewing Gum
Singapore may in fact be the cleanest place on earth and to keep it that way, the import and sale of chewing gum has been banned. The fine for chewing gum on a first offense runs $500 to $1,000 while a repeat offender may be fined up to $2,000.
I’m grateful I can chew gum without getting fined because sometimes I just need to get rid of that onion breath after lunch.
10) Birthday Parties
This one takes the cake (pardon my pun).
Besides pets, Saudi clerics have denounced birthday parties because they are an unwanted foreign influence. Really?
I am grateful that I can celebrate birthdays. But to be honest, there’s nothing really worth celebrating after you turn 21. From there, it’s just a reminder that you’re getting older.
So there you go. Now you have at least 10 things to be grateful for. By being reminded of the oppression and lack of basic human rights that other people faced or still face, we can see how truly lucky we are.