Apart from the obvious issue — freedom of speech — there’s an even bigger problem when governments try to ban books in the crude manner used by Attorney-General Philip Ruddock (who ordered the removal of three books from the University of Melbourne library because of the possibility they could incite terrorism). It’s the problem of drawing vastly more attention to the books than they would have attracted if they’d just sat, unknown and unpublicised, gathering dust on the shelves of a university library.
Thanks to Mr Ruddock and his heavy-handed thought police, we now know that Defense of the Muslim Lands, Join the Caravan and The Lofty Mountain are books about terrorism. And because of that revelation, we also know that the first two can be found on the IslamistWatch website.
In its exuberance to appear tough on terrorists, the government has actually achieved something it would never have achieved had it remained silent and resisted the temptation to display its machismo — it has drawn a big audience to three obscure books that would have remained almost completely unread.