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Fear of Extremist Muslim Violence Suppresses Speech in the U.S.:

The AP reports:

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....

I have some sympathy for Borders here. It seems to me that leading bookstores, like leading universities, need to take some risks -- and, yes, even risks that involve potential risks to customers and employees -- in order to protect the marketplace of ideas that sustains them. Nonetheless, I can certainly see why Borders might worry about this risk.

The real point here, though, is that speech suppression caused by the threat of extremist Muslim violence has come to the U.S. We are all Danes now. What is the West, and what are we, going to do about it?

JohnAnnArbor:
When I was little, I went to Borders when it was still just one store in Ann Arbor.

They carry all sorts of books, magazines, etc., some quite bizarre. Do they inspect each magazine/book/newspaper before putting it up for sale? Otherwise, how did they know to ban the magazine?
3.30.2006 12:45pm
cirby (mail):
Considering all of the other books (Satanic Verses, anyone?) that Borders has bragged about carrying over the years, a sudden bout of panic over the cartoons is a bit odd.

That's okay, though. They have a perfect right to not carry the one little magazine out of fear. I can get those same images online very easily.

Just like I can order books very easily from various online retailers like Amazon...
3.30.2006 12:45pm
Josh_Jasper (mail):
Interesting how President Bush seems to think that there might be an actual *sensitivity* issue in not printing the cartoons, or any other depictions of Mohammed.

I find the Borders comment to be lacking in any sense that not carrying a visual depiction of Mohammed might be declined simply due to not wanting to *offend* people.

As far as I know, Borders does not carry hardcore pornographic videos. Is it because they're afraid of violence?

I'm not saying that the threat of violence isn't real. The sick thing is that it is, and lots of Muslims on the international scene seem to ahve the idea that they get ot censor people outside of their own countries. That's wrong and abbhorent.

But on the other hand, ignoring the fact that a picture of the prophet really *is* insulting to Muslims is ignoring an entire valid side of the issue.

Sometimes I wonder if you teach using similar methods. If so, I feel sorry for your studetns.
3.30.2006 12:49pm
JohnAnnArbor:
Someone should go and special-order the issue from Borders and see if they refuse to get it.
3.30.2006 12:51pm
JLR (mail) (www):
The "marketplace of ideas," a phrase introduced by Justice Holmes in his dissent in Abrams, is a very useful concept to employ. But the theory has interesting ramifications.

A "marketplace" implies, potentially, the need for some form of OSHA. It would imply that Borders sees selling magazines that contain the Danish cartoons as being akin to selling something dangerous to the safety and health of its employees.

Such a theory appears to be at least part of Borders's argument.

As long as we have a "marketplace of ideas," it is perfectly rational for private businesses to make decisions like the one Borders has made. The only thing that "the West can do" is try to make the goods that are being sold less dangerous to health and safety of the employees selling such goods. And that is not as easy as it might seem.
3.30.2006 12:58pm
cirby (mail):

But on the other hand, ignoring the fact that a picture of the prophet really *is* insulting to Muslims is ignoring an entire valid side of the issue.


So when Borders carried the Kanye West issue of Rolling Stone that depicted him as Jesus, which was really, really insulting to many Christians, they were doing what, exactly?

Borders carries hundreds of books and magazines that are very insulting to people of various faiths, and they make a big deal about fighting censorship (they have a big push for Banned Books Week).

So, when it comes down to it, folks like Josh_Jasper are really just defending hypocrisy and the rights of some religious groups to threaten the rest of us for fairly minor reasons, and the tendency of some people to pretend they're "fighting the good fight" when they're really not.
3.30.2006 12:58pm
FXKLM:
JLR: If we need regulation of the marketplace of ideas, why wouldn't we ban Islam instead of criticism of Islam? By your standards, Islam is clearly a dangerous and defective product, which must be removed from the market.
3.30.2006 1:02pm
JLR (mail) (www):
FXKLM: No it isn't. Islam is a religion.

Which shows why the "marketplace of ideas" is a theory that has limits.
3.30.2006 1:08pm
JLR (mail) (www):
I should offer an addendum:

What "the West can do," per the "marketplace of ideas" and its concomitant need for a type of OSHA, is make the goods less hazardous to the safety and health of the employees selling such goods. That does not necessarily mean banning anything. It means improving workplace safety.

How do we go about doing that? One method is censorship. But it's not the only method. A much preferable method is to try to "win hearts and minds" and instill universal liberal (lower case l-liberal a la JS Mill) values, thus defusing the safety hazard. "Winning hearts and minds" is very difficult to do. But it's worth the fighting for.
3.30.2006 1:14pm
David C. (www):
Lets start bombing abortion clinics again and killing doctors - if intimidation works, lets go for it.

And forget peacefull protests - just think what 500,000 people really could of done to this country - screw immigration law, lets burn the country down until they kneal before us and give us whatever we are asking for.

Fairly soon we can be France West. Protest enough and get what you want. Pay the Danegeld - it always worked, didnt it? well, it worked for the Danes
3.30.2006 1:18pm
RBG (mail):
While I fully support Borders' right not to stock certain products, I thought Borders should be aware that I am determined to exercise my own right to shop elsewhere. From my email to their customer service department this morning (not that it will make a difference . . .):

I am writing in response to your decision not to carry the upcoming issue of Free Inquiry. An inveterate book-buyer, one of the few reasons I frequent brick-and-mortar bookstores (primarily Borders and BN) these days is to make unexpected discoveries of interesting, provocative reading material that I might not otherwise encounter. Your acquiescence to the heckler's veto demonstrates that you're no longer serious about performing that service for your customers, at least when the hecklers are sufficiently vociferous and violent (and how long till other groups--fundamentalist Christians, anyone?--learn they can remove, say, the Vagina Monologues from the shelves by threatening violence?). Until you recover your spine and your sense of responsibility toward your customers, I will be shopping elsewhere.
3.30.2006 1:23pm
ray_g:
What I find really strange about this is that Free Inquiry is a very obscure magazine (I know, I used to subscribe), and probably no one would have noticed if the Borders group hadn't made a big deal out of it. So, is this extreme cowardice, or is something else going on?

And this is essentially a no-cost action, since Free Inquiry is obscure not selling one month's worth will have nearly zero effect upon Border's income. Would they have done the same if it was Time or Newsweek? Sadly, we won't know since those magazines aren't publishing the cartoons.

Well, I will no longer patronize Borders or Waldenbooks, and I am composing a letter to the Borders Group telling them why. I encourage others to do the same.
3.30.2006 1:25pm
David C. (www):
It is always a temptation to a rich and lazy nation,
To puff and look important and to say:—
"Though we know we should defeat you, we have not the time to meet you.
We will therefore pay you cash to go away."

And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
But we've proved it again and again,
That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
You never get rid of the Dane.

Rudyard Kipling
3.30.2006 1:28pm
Ray (mail):
They didn't have to worry about angry Christians blowing up their stores whenever the Kayne West thing came out.

Likewise with much of the other fringe stuff they carry.

But of course, the threat here is very real.

I was unaware that Borders started in Ann Arbor. If this is so, do they have some kind of headquarters there, and would the threat level be increased because of the proximity to so many Arabs living in that area?
3.30.2006 1:43pm
Ben Coates:
Borders deserves at least some credit for not pretending their decision to refuse to sell the issue is some sort of concern for not offending people, or even admitting that there's anything in the cartoons to be offended about. Therefore it's not hypocritical of them to sell other things which might offend other people. Perhaps an unacceptably selfish or short-sighted decision, but not as bad as Time magazine's attempts to dress up cowardice as virtue.
3.30.2006 1:46pm
Ray (mail):
I like RBG's email. I frequent the brick and mortar several times weekly; I'm just weird like that. Book browsing is therapeutic in a way, whether I'm in a good mood or bad.

And I just got one of those Rewards cards too. I'll still browse I suppose, but perhaps I'll exercise my own freedom of choice as well, and buy from Amazon. (Can I buy this magazine from Amazon?)
3.30.2006 1:47pm
JohnAnnArbor:
I was unaware that Borders started in Ann Arbor. If this is so, do they have some kind of headquarters there, and would the threat level be increased because of the proximity to so many Arabs living in that area?

Yes, the headquarters is in Ann Arbor.

LGF is reporting that a Borders employee was told not to put Korans on the bottom shelf. Interesting, if true. Some reporter should ask Borders about this.
3.30.2006 1:57pm
Pessimist:
The solution---which will likely NEVER happen---is for tens of thousands of newspapers to agree to simultaneously publish the cartoons, have millions of people simultaneously wear T-shirts of the cartoons, and have broadcast outlets agree to simultaneously broadcast the most newsworthy cartoons in memory, as an act to demonstrate that people will not be intimidated for free speech. Again, it'll NEVER happen.
3.30.2006 2:01pm
Silicon Valley Jim:
Well said, Professor V, as always.

While I agree with what you say, I do think that David C. makes a valid point with regard to the action that Borders and Walden have taken. If a bookstore will sell material that many find offensive but will not sell material that offends a group that will kill in order to prevent its sale, purchase, perusal, etc., there is an incentive on the part of any offended group to resort to violence.
3.30.2006 2:18pm
Silicon Valley Jim:
(Can I buy this magazine from Amazon?)

Amazon will certainly sell you a subscription; whether the subscription will start in time for you to get this particular issue is not a question that I can answer. Here's the link for a subscription:

3.30.2006 2:22pm
cirby (mail):

They didn't have to worry about angry Christians blowing up their stores whenever the Kayne West thing came out.


...but there have been threats of violence against Borders for that sort of thing in the past, and there were threats (and actual actions) of violence against most book chains when The Satanic Verses came out - and they mostly didn't fold. Funny how a million-selling novel is worth defending, even though it annoys most of the Moslem world, but a minor magazine printing something that's been all around the world (the cartoons were even published in Egypt, incidentally) is suddenly something they need to discontinue.

Borders, incidentally, will happily sell you books on how to make bombs (The Anarchist Cookbook, $21.95), but are suddenly dodging the issue of what happens when someone uses that knowledge in the real world.
3.30.2006 2:23pm
Silicon Valley Jim:
Well, the link didn't work. If you go to Amazon, however, and search for "Free Inquiry", the subscription page comes up first in the search.
3.30.2006 2:23pm
Dick King:
Do you know where I can buy a T shirt with the cartoons? metrospy.com has this which I'll get if I give up on finding the T shirt.

It is copyrighted material ... perhaps nobody can make a T shirt with the cartoons for that reason.

Thanks in advance...

-dk
3.30.2006 2:28pm
Jeremy Pierce (mail) (www):
You can't compare this to offensive material against Christians unless we've got Christians going around blowing people up over material that offends them. I don't see that happening. This is about safety, not about offending. That's how they presented it, and it's the only thing that explains why they would single this out and not other things. That doesn't mean this is the best policy, but there's no inconsistency.

By the way, it would be wrong to call this hypocrisy anyway. Inconsistency is not holding to your own standards. Hypocrisy is not doing what you tell others to do. Borders isn't telling anyone what to do, so even if there were an inconsistency in their policies it wouldn't thereby by hypocrisy.
3.30.2006 2:35pm
cirby (mail):

By the way, it would be wrong to call this hypocrisy anyway.

Also for sale at Borders:

The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie. $27.95 hardback. Also available in trade paperback.

Tell us about this new definition of "hypocrisy" you've developed.
3.30.2006 3:09pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
Anyone remember the Jock Sturges case in 1997-8? Good summary position statement here from the American Booksellers' Association:

http://www.bookweb.org/news/abffe/496.html

I was working at the Emeryville (CA) Borders at the time, and I don't think we had any books destroyed, though there were loud individual protesters, and our copies were shrinkwrapped and put so high on the wall that you had to use the ladder to get one down. (For those unfamiliar with the book, it consisted largely of naked portraits of prepubescent children. They weren't overtly sexual, and were made with the parents' consent.)
3.30.2006 3:30pm
Josh_Jasper (mail):
cirby: You seem to be infering that I'm in support of Borders' policy.

Let me be clear. You are wrong. I'm not. ALL I am doing is sying that there is potentially more than one side to the issue.

I'm not in favor of any censorship. But a bookstore owned by hypocrites is not censorship. It's free enterprise.

And please, before you put forth any more straw men about what my views on the subject are, ASK.

Is it at all possible to be opposed to showing the cartoons, but suppor the right of them to be published, because I belive in free speech? Or is that somehow supporting terrorism, which is the stock right-wing response to anyone who's not in lockstep agreement?
3.30.2006 3:31pm
cirby (mail):

Let me be clear. You are wrong. I'm not. ALL I am doing is sying that there is potentially more than one side to the issue.

There's always potentially more than one side to an issue, but some of those sides are very, very small sides, and not equivalent in importance. You were defending Borders on a fairly trivial practical issue when, in the past, they've made huge noises about moral stances in similar cases.

Note that I didn't claim that Borders was censoring anything. I just pointed out that their claims of being worried about this one particular bit of risk pale in comparison to previous risks that they've happily faced in the past (when much more money was involved). This is, by the way, true hypocrisy (pretending to have a strong moral stand on some issue until it impacts the bottom line certainly qualifies).


And please, before you put forth any more straw men about what my views on the subject are, ASK.


I didn't need to, your words were right there to be read by all. If you have problems with what you said, take it up with the author.

The "straw man" is pretending that Borders suddenly came down with a case of manners when it comes to people's feelings, when they certainly made a buck off of hurting those same people's feelings in the past (one more time: "The Satanic Verses," which caused at least as much uproar, generated the same sort of threats, but which sold a whole lot more copies than an issue of some little magazine that 99% ofthe population never heard of).
3.30.2006 4:30pm
jaed (mail) (www):
I wonder just how serious they believe the threat of violence is. There's a possibility, of course... but as far as I remember, there have been no violent acts or public threats by Muslims protesting the cartoons in this country. (Am I wrong, or forgetting some incident? It's possible.)

I also wonder, mordantly, whether The Satanic Verses would be publishable if Rushdie wrote it today. I suspect publishers and booksellers would put paid to the project before it was even published.
3.30.2006 7:02pm
Ray (mail):

most book chains when The Satanic Verses came out - and they mostly didn't fold.


Yes, but the threat today is far more credible and certain in light of the current world state. Riots over the cartoons, etc.

I don't agree with Borders' decision, and I do plan to make more purchases from Amazon now, However, the point at hand is that there is now, today in the United States, there is much higher level of threat from Islamic violence.

A second observation; I typically try to stay away from pointing out hypothetical double standards that can never be proven. You know the type; if a conservative had said that, . . . . Anyway, here goes.

If a Christian or Jewish group had made a strong enough reputation for certain violence, and a book was published condemning them or mocking them in some fashion, how would this same scenario play out? Would Borders not run the item? If not, would the NYTimes accuse them of being part of a religious right conspiracy? Or would the need to make a stand be all the more obvious since the threat was coming from a perceived majoritarian sector such as Christians or Jews?

Just a thought. . .
3.30.2006 8:34pm
Ray (mail):
One other thing; this has been mentioned already, by Eugene in particular, but it seems to be getting buried, and that is that Borders didn't hem-haw around with their reasoning. They've done what they've done simply out of fear of violence, not out of some contrived effort not to offend.

For whatever reasons, those threats of violence in the past didn't rise to the level of action (or non-action, depending on you shape the sentence). Now they do.

In a way, it's a slap at the Muslim community to regard these threats so seriously.

There's a lady with whom I work that I just can't get along with. She takes everything as confrontation, and so I am always being accused (behind my back) of being hot-headed. The problem is her emotional state, really, but it irks me that there are people within my larger social circle that think I'm a tempermental nut.

Point being, is that this indirectly confirms the radical nature of Muslims as a whole, whether it's true or not. As a Christian, I would feel a little sheepish if people were afraid of me, because of a perceived radicalism or tendency towards violence.
3.30.2006 8:48pm
Josh_Jasper (mail):
cirby:

I find the Borders comment to be lacking in any sense that not carrying a visual depiction of Mohammed might be declined simply due to not wanting to *offend* people.

I think this squares pretty well with the idea that, were it *only* offensive, they wouldn't carry it.

Again, I'm *not* defending Borders. I'm trying to make the point that people, *including President Bush* have condemned the publication of the cartoons for the reason that it offends pepole, and somehow that side of the issue is getting ignored here, or worse made unimportant in the rush to publish the cartoons in order to defy the people who protested violently.


The "straw man" is pretending that Borders suddenly came down with a case of manners when it comes to people's feelings


Except I never pretended that. Sheesh.
3.30.2006 11:38pm
Josh_Jasper (mail):
Excuse me. The first quote was from me, the second from cirby.
3.30.2006 11:39pm
ECS (mail):
Borders main store in lower Manhattan is on Broadway near Wall Street - it wasn't always there. I work five short blocks away from its original location. I would go in at lunch or on the way home to browze and buy.

I have to wonder now how many customers that morning passing through the mezzanine who stopped at Borders and grabbed a Times, a Post or a coffee and croissant before stepping into the elevator to their deaths that September morning.

Islamofacists literally destroyed our Borders that morning and now they have destroyed their corporate soul.

Doesn't Borders owe something to the customers who made that last purchase?
3.31.2006 12:46am
ray_g:
This is making less and less sense. As others have pointed out, they still carry The Satanic Verses and other items potentially offensive to Islam; the magazine The Weekly Standard was the first major publication in Canada to publish the cartoons and they have had no demonstrations or threats (there is a pending law suit courtesy of Canada's stupid "hate speech" laws) which indicates to me the actual threat is low; Free Inquiry is an obscure, low circulation publication that you have to look hard to find on the shelves (I know, I've looked for it in the past) so I doubt many people would have even noticed. It is not like this was Time or Newsweek which are usually prominently displayed. Can they really be that cowardly?
3.31.2006 10:41am
Pendulum (mail):
My email to them suggested that they do business in a different sector, possibly as a shoe store or a hot dog stand, since books are evidently too controvertial for them.
3.31.2006 3:32pm