I was just forwarded this article about an undergraduate student at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. Apparently, agents from the US Department of Homeland Security paid him a visit, after he had checked out a copy of Mao's "Little Red Book" through the library's inter-library loan service. Ironically, the student had requested the book so that he could write a paper about the dangers of totalitarianism.
Though I've been aware of US librarians' efforts to safeguard patrons' borrowing information, I hadn't caught wind of the fact that some, clearly, aren't doing so. I'm chilled further by the fact that this occurred through a university library's borrowing program. I happen to work at a university, and I suspect many of you reading D&R do, too.
I read the aforementioned article with a sense that things have changed here in the US--particularly since the coming online of the USA Patriot Act (a painfully laughable name for such a pernicious piece of legislation). It's clear that there's a growing climate of fear here among intellectuals, and no doubt others, too. Yet, I am forced to remind myself how intellectuals have been persecuted for decades, even centuries, around the world for just these kinds of activities, often by more than just a "visit" by local security agents. I also am compelled to reflect on the fact that I came of age at a relatively safe, and thus privileged, time in the US academy, when nobody seemed to care if you checked out a copy of Mao's "Little Red Book," Marx and Engels' "Communist Manifesto," or some other politically charged ("unpatriotic") piece of writing.
I suppose, ultimately, the article I've linked to is very clarifying. It underscores the stakes of doing meaningful, engaged intellectual work at a time when it's unpopular (from the government's standpoint) to dissent. Visits by homeland security for checking out Mao's "Little Red Book?" Those clearly must stop--and the climate of fear and intimidation that goes along with them.
P.S. If you decide to comment, watch what you say. "They" may be reading, too. . . .