Monday, November 09, 2009

There are no "Banned Images"

So, I was one of the signatories on the "statement of principle" regarding the newly published book, "Muhammed: The 'Banned' Images." (The book)

Eugene Volokh announced it, and rightly so.

Here is the "Statement of Principle," excerpted:

A number of recent incidents suggest that our long-standing commitment to the free exchange of ideas is in peril of falling victim to a spreading fear of violence. Not only have exhibitions been closed and performances cancelled in response to real threats, but the mere possibility that someone, somewhere, might respond with violence has been advanced to justify suppressing words and images, as in the recent decision of Yale University to remove all images of Muhammad from Jytte Klausen's book, The Cartoons that Shook the World.

Violence against those who create and disseminate controversial words and images is a staple of human history. But in the recent past, at least in Western liberal democracies, commitment to free speech has usually trumped fears of violence. Indeed, as late as 1989, Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses continued to be published, sold, and read in the face of a fatwa against its author and in the face of the murder and attempted murder of its translators and publishers. In 1998, the Manhattan Theater Club received threats protesting the production of Terrence McNally's play Corpus Christi, on the ground that it was offensive to Catholics. After initially canceling the play, MTC reversed its decision in response to widespread concerns about free speech, and the play was performed without incident.

There are signs, however, that the commitment to free speech has become eroded by fears of violence. Historical events, especially the attacks of September 2001 and subsequent bombings in Madrid and London, have contributed to this process by bringing terrorist violence to the heart of liberal democracies. Other events, like the 2004 murder of Dutch film director Theo Van Gogh in apparent protest against his film Submission, and the threats against Hirsi Ali, who wrote the script and provided the voice-over for the film, demonstrated how vulnerable artists and intellectuals can be just for voicing controversial ideas. Under such threats, the resolve to uphold freedom of speech has proved to be lamentably weak: in the same year as Van Gogh's murder, Behzti, a play written by a British Sikh playwright, was cancelled days after violence erupted among protesters in Birmingham, England on opening night.

...The failure to stand up for free expression emboldens those who would attack and undermine it. It is time for colleges and universities in particular to exercise moral and intellectual leadership. It is incumbent on those responsible for the education of the next generation of leaders to stand up for certain basic principles: that the free exchange of ideas is essential to liberal democracy; that each person is entitled to hold and express his or her own views without fear of bodily harm; and that the suppression of ideas is a form of repression used by authoritarian regimes around the world to control and dehumanize their citizens and squelch opposition.

To paraphrase Ben Franklin, those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, will get neither liberty nor safety.

Discuss. (I'll go first: I have never co-signed anything with the head of FIRE, IJ, and the head of the AAUP. A first...)

(UPDATE: FIRE posts.)

(UPDATE II: Already, some confusion. I do not endorse the publication or contents of the book. The whole point is that the publisher does not NEED endorsement, or permission. If the book were a collection of cartoons blaspheming Jesus (yes, I'm Catholic), I would still have signed the SoP.)


Carpe Web said...

"The whole point is that the publisher does not NEED endorsement, or permission."

Indeed, it's not nearly as meaningful to defend the freedom of speech that you want to promote. It's much more meaningful to insist on the same freedom for those with whom one disagrees.

Anonymous said...

"(UPDATE II: Already, some confusion. I do not endorse the publication or contents of the book. The whole point is that the publisher does not NEED endorsement, or permission."

It is to avoid just such a confusion that the SoP appears in the back of the book with the following disclaimer.

DISCLAIMER: The above signatories agree with the ideas expressed in the Statement of Principle. However, they were not involved in the creation of Muhammad: The "Banned" Images, and have no responsibility for its contents.

Thanks, Mike, for you courage on this.

Gary Hull

Paul Gowder said...

Good for you.

Anonymous said...

I bought it just to support free press.