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Thursday, March 30, 2006

Borders Runs

From Tim Blair (via Instapundit), it seems as though Borders Books will not carry the next issue of Free Inquiry magazine because it contains four of the cartoons of Muhammed that were published in the Danish newspaper Jyllends Posten.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle,
Borders and Waldenbooks stores will not stock the April-May issue of Free Inquiry magazine because it contains cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that provoked deadly protests among Muslims in several countries.

"For us, the safety and security of our customers and employees is a top priority, and we believe that carrying this issue could challenge that priority," Borders Group Inc. spokeswoman Beth Bingham said Wednesday.

The magazine, published by the Council for Secular Humanism in suburban Amherst, includes four of the drawings that originally appeared in a Danish newspaper in September, including one depicting Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban with a lit fuse.

Well, at least Borders is being honest, unlike the New York Times, which claimed it wasn't running the cartoons because they "didn't further the story."

Of course, the unfortunate thing here is that it sends the message to Islamists and others that if you threaten or commit violence, you get your way, particularly in the West. It even backs up bin Laden's idea that America and the West don't have the stomach for a fight, whether it's militarily, culturally or philosophically.

I would argue that the ability to mock other people's beliefs -- be they religious, political, or whatever -- is an essential component of our freedom. What too many people (including the UN and half of Europe, naturally) don't understand is that you can't put limits on what is fair game, and that if you try to, those limits will inevitable come back to haunt you. I'm tired of hearing that of course freedom of speech is important, but these cartoons are offensive and unnecessary. Nothing could be further from the truth. Before the burning of embassies and the signs calling for beheadings it was possible to make this argument, but no longer. The cartoons became necessary because they are offensive, and every newspaper in the US should have run them because they are a symbol of the difference between "shouldn't" and "can't."

Even repressive regimes allow non-offensive speech. But these regimes do not make a distinction between "shouldn't" and "can't." If Kim Jong-il or the mullahs in Iran decide you shouldn't say or do something, then they make it so you can't say or do it. What separates us is that we must tolerate -- cheerfully or not -- speech we don't like. Philosophically, there is no difference between banning anti-Ba'athist speech, banning anti-Stalinist speech, and banning anti-Muslim or anti-Semitic speech. No "ism" can be above disagreement or mockery, whether it's fascism or libertarianism, racism or egalitarianism, liberalism or conservatism, Catholicism or Judaism. As soon as one belief is elevated to a special status, the whole system is done. If I can't offend Muslims, then Christians can't offend Jews. But isn't asserting the divinity of Jesus offensive to some Jews? And isn't Jewish disbelief in that assertion offensive to some Christians? And isn't the non-acceptance of Mohammed as a prophet offensive to many Muslims? And isn't the baring of any skin by women offensive to many Muslims? There is no end. (And it's no accident that American liberals, who champion the banning of "hate speech," and European liberals, who have criminalized Holocaust denial, find themselves in an unholy alliance with right-wing theocrats such as Pat Buchanan on this issue. They all represent the "I'm all for free speech, but..." lobby.)

Unfortunately, we are learning more and more that Islam may be purely and simply incompatible with freedom and individual rights. I don't want to hear anymore that it's a "religion of peace," and that it's a small minority of extreme Muslims who are the problem: opinion polls among European Muslims don't back this up. I'm certainly not saying that all Muslims pose a danger to the West, but it's clearly more than a tiny number of extremists. There are those of us who have been saying this for quite some time, and we've been dismissed as dangerous and shallow and called bigots. But there is only one major religion that thinks blowing up people and buildings is an acceptable response to perceived offenses. Every day comes more evidence that "nuance" has no place in this debate, and every grotesque incident hammers home the fact that my tolerance for your culture must end the second you try to tell me I have to live my life according to your tenets.

I'm sympathetic to the position that Borders executives find themselves in: how do you weigh the safety of your employees against the principle of free expression? I think Borders should be held to a different standard than the NY Times, Washington Post, network and cable news, and any other news outlet. Those organizations have a responsibility to the public, a responsibility they are always ready to assert when it gains them special privileges, legal or otherwise. Their cowardly abstention from this battle is a disgrace to journalistic principles. Borders is a solely commercial company, in business to make money, and its execs have no obligation to put their employees in danger. Much as I wish they had decided to carry the magazine, I can't really fault them for making the decision they did.

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