Coren: Roald Dahl was repugnant but altering books a misguided solution

Some interesting background and sensible and balanced approach:

In 1983 I was a very young writer for Britain’s New Statesman magazine. I was asked to interview children’s author Roald Dahl, who had reviewed a book about the war in Lebanon that went far beyond criticism of Israel and bordered on downright anti-Semitism.

I assumed he would explain the difference between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism and clarify his stance. What he said instead was, “There is a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity, maybe it’s a kind of lack of generosity toward non-Jews. I mean, there’s always a reason why anti-anything crops up anywhere; even a stinker like Hitler didn’t just pick on them for no reason.”

The rant continued, with references to Jewish men not fighting in the Second World War. When I told Dahl that my Jewish grandfather had won several medals and been wounded, and that Jews were over rather than under-represented he refused to withdraw his comments or apologize.

I mention this again now because Dahl’s publishers recently announced that they were to produce versions of his books with allegedly offensive words such as “fat” and “ugly” removed. Not, is should be emphasized, because generations of children and parents who read the books had complained but because, if we’re to be candid, someone, somewhere thought they might cause offence.

The angry reaction to the idea was so strong that the publishers have changed their minds, or at least hedged their bets. The criticism came not just from those who see dangerous censorship everywhere but leading authors and intellectuals. Because it was a very stupid idea. Am I still allowed to say stupid?

Dahl was an anti-Semite. I know that better than most people. He was a nasty man with repugnant ideas. He was also a gifted author who understood children’s minds and fantasies. And — this is vital — we can read and enjoy him while still detesting his racism. This entire issue requires sense, sensibility, and basic common sense.

In 2011 Peter Jackson commissioned Stephen Fry to write the screenplay for a remake of “The Dambusters.” Guy Gibson, the heroic commander of the RAF squadron featured in the 1955 movie, owned a black Labrador dog. It was named the N word. Pilots used the dog’s name to signal successful attacks. Thus it was used repeatedly in the original movie.

Quite clearly it would be deeply offensive, and just bizarre, to use the word now and Fry, a man who is extremely suspicious of any form of censorship, gently and wisely changed it to Digger. There was, however, outrage. For some people it was as if a tiny edit that did nothing to change the story was a monumental act of what they described as political correctness. They were wrong.

Source: Roald Dahl was repugnant but altering books a misguided solution

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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