Blue State Blues: Burning Books in America, Burning Cities in South Africa

Shrier book

I was going to devote this week’s column to the nationwide looting in South Africa, which ought to remind Americans of what happened here a year ago.

But then the American Booksellers Association apologized for promoting a book that is critical of transgenderism among teenage girls, even calling it a “violent incident.”

That, to me, is an urgent warning sign about the state of freedom in America — and, as it turns out, is linked to the chaos on the streets of South Africa today.

Abigail Shrier is the author of the book Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters. She is married to one of my best friends from college, and has been a friend more than a decade. She is a lawyer-turned-writer who has balanced her literary ambitions with the daily challenge of raising three wonderful kids in an observant Jewish community. She is a person of deep empathy, who writes with great compassion, and has a wonderful sense of humor.

Irreversible Damage is not an “anti-trans” book, as anyone who has actually read it will tell you. Shrier does not oppose adults making the decision to choose a different gender identity than the one they were “assigned” at birth. Rather, she raises questions about why a disproportionate number of teenage girls are suddenly announcing that they are boys — and why they are being told by schools and doctors to take hormones or undergo surgery whose effects cannot be undone.

Abigail’s book is not a threat to anyone — but it does open a debate that the radical left-wing ideologues who are running point for the Biden administration on this issue would prefer to suppress.

Recently, President Joe Biden himself tweeted that state laws to protect children from hormone “therapy” or “top surgery” should be regarded as “bullying.” That is an exact inversion of reality: the laws are there to shield kids from what would be regarded as abuse in any other context.

It is no surprise that Irreversible Damage is a controversial book. What is shocking is that the people calling to ban the book are not illiterate rubes but the country’s literary establishment.

When the American Booksellers Associated calls a book a “violent incident,” we have turned back the clock to the medieval era. The idea that the book is “violent” also paints a target on Abigail and her family: if her ideas are “violence,” violence may be used against her as self-defense.

That is how the rioters at University of California Berkeley justified violence against controversial speakers on campus. But a book is not even a “speaker.” It is a passive medium, one that does not “speak” until it is willfully opened and read.

The most odious regimes in history have always begun by banning and burning books, as a prelude to banning and burning people. That is what the “progressive” transgender movement has become: a vanguard of left-wing tyranny.

We saw that tyranny in last summer’s riots, ostensibly sparked by protests for “social justice” in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. But those marching with “Black Lives Matter” against “systemic racism” also destroyed communities, looting stores and defacing monuments.

Here in Los Angeles, they vandalized a synagogue on a Jewish holiday. And in nearby Santa Monica, the rioters vandalized public buildings, including the public library — the repository of civilization.

The riots in South Africa were partly the result of decades of economic mismanagement, and ongoing coronavirus shut-downs. But they were also triggered by a political grievance: the imprisonment of the country’s former president, Jacob Zuma. His supporters see him as a black man, and a Zulu man in particular, singled out by an unjust system, when there are so many others who are just as corrupt. Political outrage soon became an opportunity for mobs to loot and destroy.

These are the worst riots in post-apartheid South Africa, but they are not the first. Poor, black South Africans have used riots to express their grievances in a country where the ruling party, the left-wing African National Congress, has almost no chance of losing a national election.

The opposition exists, but it is often delegitimized by false claims of racism. The “woke” cancel culture of the U.S. has existed in South Africa for decades; political alternatives are made unthinkable.

The situation is similar in American cities, where the Democratic Party enjoys one-party rule. New York City revived under 20 years of Republican and independent governance, but it is sinking again under Democratic, and “democratic socialist,” rule.

The people who are left behind in American cities have no political alternatives, and so the only form of opposition is unrest. Meanwhile, the ambitious and the wealthy leave for the suburbs, or other states.

When freedom of speech is stifled, the targeted group does not respond violently, except in isolated incidents. Generally, they simply retreat. Like South Africans with skills, they emigrate; like suburban Americans, they quietly withdraw.

When riots come, they will load their guns, illegally if necessary, knowing that the underfunded — or “defunded” — police will not save them. They cannot speak against rule by mob; the only “right” left is the animal instinct of self-preservation.

Our salvation, in America, has been the Constitution and Bill of Rights. But our elite, through Critical Race Theory, is inventing a false apartheid past to cast our liberties in doubt.

The Biden administration demands the suppression of speech online, and invites the world’s most repressive dictatorships to judge us, while its ideological kin demand that a book defending girls from abuse be banned as “violence.”

Once that starts, the American experiment is in danger, and South Africa is our future.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). He is the author of the recent e-book is How Not to Be a Sh!thole Country: Lessons from South Africa. His recent book, RED NOVEMBER, tells the story of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary from a conservative perspective. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.


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