A Congolese man living in Belgium is trying to have Tintin in the Congo banned in the boy reporter’s native country, almost 80 years after Tintin first donned his pith helmet and headed for Africa to patronise its people, slaughter its animals, and spark an undying controversy.
Tintin and his creator, the cartoonist Hergé, who launched the strip in black and white in the Petit Vingtieme newspaper in 1930, are national heroes in Belgium, where a multimillion-euro museum celebrates his adventures and the 2m books still sold every year in 150 languages.
However, Bienvenu Mbutu Mondondo, who has been campaigning for years to have the book removed from Belgian shops, says its depiction of native Africans – including a scene where a black woman bows before Tintin exclaiming “White man very great. White mister is big juju man!” – is ignorant and offensive, and he has applied to the Belgian courts to have it banned.
“It makes people think that blacks have not evolved,” he said.
The verdict, originally expected today, has now been delayed until next week.
It’s understandable why people want such things banned. It’s painful. It’s insulting, right? But I don’t think literature like this ought to be hidden from public view. On one hand, it’s a historical artefact – and one that shows how far much of the world has moved on in terms of equality. If it makes people uncomfortable, then surely possesses some kind of value. Also, if you open that door of removing books throughout time, you also let through the potential for historical revisionism in broad strokes. I’d like to moot the ol’ Chomsky sentiment of “If you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech for views you don’t like.” This is still a form of censorship, after all.
Even as a person of half-colour (though I rarely like to play that card in debates on art), I might not like what I read, but I like my freedoms to read whatever I decide, and not what the law dictates. Still, it makes for an interesting debate, and who knows what those courts will decide.