Yale University Press has removed from an upcoming book, The Cartoons That Shook the World, twelve cartoons that Muslim extremists deemed offensive.* Some of you may recall that, just over a year ago, Random House elected not to publish a book entitled, Jewel of the Medina, because they feared Muslim backlash. That book was published by Beaufort Books, a small publisher that proved to have a much stronger spine than the big boy on the bookseller’s block. Is it too much to hope that a small publishing house will publish a supplement to Cartoons that actually includes, you know, the cartoons?
These decisions disappoint and infuriate me. They disappoint me because publishers, particularly a university press, should have the balls to stand up for free speech and a free press. If nothing else, it’s in their own self-interests to do so – no need to worry about censors if one is willing to censor oneself. They infuriate me because decisions like these tell extremists that, if they throw temper tantrums and get violently nasty, then the rest of humankind will accede to their demands, no matter how unreasonable or oppressive those demands may be.
We in the west like to talk big about what we’ve fought for and how much we’ve accomplished. If we stop fighting for things that are worth fighting for – like freedom of expression – then we will lose those things to extremists who are willing to fight and die for nonsense. And, once we lose those freedoms, the chances are that it won’t be long before we’re not accomplishing anything worthwhile anymore. The USA is supposedly fighting terrorism and extremism in the Middle East, at least in part, to protect our freedoms (unless I missed the latest pronouncement about what we’re trying to accomplish over there this week). I’ve got news for the people who continue to waste precious financial, material and human resources in those wars, and to those who continue to justify that waste: if we willingly surrender our freedoms right here at home, just because some people may be offended by what we say or do, then we’ve already lost those wars. There’s no need to fight “them” over there, because “they” won’t have to bother coming here – they’ve already beaten us. Or, to be more precise, we’ve beaten ourselves.
* If nothing else, this seems to be a marketing fiasco: who in her right mind is going to read a book about controversial cartoons and their effects, yet settle for not seeing firsthand what all the brouhaha was about?
– the chaplain