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Tintin case puts spotlight on classics

A Brussels court is expected to rule at the end of this month on whether to ban one of the classic Tintin children's adventures for its racist portrayal of Africans. Even if the case is dismissed, it could set a precedent for litigation against classics written in the past.

Court could set precedent for litigation against 'racist' books written in the past

A Brussels court is expected to rule at the end of this month on whether to ban one of the classic Tintin children's adventures for its racist portrayal of Africans.

Moulinsart, the publishers of Tintin in the Congo, are defending the book, which first came out in 1931, as reflecting a specific time and place, and say it must be read understanding the context in which it was written.

Leo Cendrowicz, Time magazine's Brussels correspondent, said on CBC's current affairs show, Q, that he expects the case will be dismissed, simply because the man who filed it, Mbutu Mondondo Bienvenu, a Congolese student living in Brussels, is unemployed and is up against a publishing house with huge resources.

But Cendrowicz said on Wednesday that the case could set a new precedent for litigation against classics written in the past.

"That is the fear of publishers, that it will open the floodgates for … literature that is more than 50 years old.

"Everything written in the past was based on the morality and ethics of the past," he said. "We can't assume the authors of the past had the same political correctness we have today."

Belgian cartoonist Hergé (Georges Remi) was only 23 when he wrote Tintin in the Congo and had never been to Africa. Before his death in 1983, he admitted that he regretted the negative stereotypes and attitudes in the book and in Tintin in the Land of the Soviets.

Accessibility

Jian Ghomeshi, the host of Q, raised the question of how accessible books that perpetuate the racist clichés of the past should be.

"We can ban a billion books and our kids are still going to come up against racism," said Dawn Friedman, a Columbus, Ohio-based writer on parenting issues. "We need to develop their critical thinking."

Lee Maracle, an aboriginal writer who teaches in the University of Toronto's Aboriginal Studies Program, said she's against censoring and banning books.

She said she wouldn't mind seeing a book such as Tintin in the Congo in a section of a library dedicated to older children.

"But if it's used in schools, it should be used in the context of social studies, not as children's literature," she added.

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